When the editorial board of the New York Times last month endorsed an urgent withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, no matter the consequences, I worried that the nation's newspaper of record had wandered into a dark wood of hazy thinking where genocide was permissible.
"Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave," the Times editors wrote. "There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide."
But those were acceptable consequences, they reasoned without a hint of irony because a U.S. withdrawal would "stop the chaos from spreading."
It turns out my concerns were well-founded. Barack Obama stumbled into the Times' genocide quagmire on July 19, when he dismissed the possibility of mass murder as a reason to temper an American withdrawal from Iraq:
"Well, look, if that's the criteria by which we are making decisions on the deployment of U.S. forces, then by that argument you would have 300,000 troops in the Congo right now where millions have been slaughtered as a consequence of ethnic strife which we haven't done. We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea."
There are just a few curious things about Obama's statement. In fact, there is a U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, nearly 17,000 strong. It is, in theory, a model of the kind of multilateral cooperation that people such as Obama like to tout as the solution to international crises.
In practice however, MONUC as it is known by its French acronym has been plagued by scandal. According to Amnesty International, MONUC civilian, police and military personnel have been responsible for rape and sexual exploitation of women and girls. The United Nations is investigating media reports that MONUC peacekeepers are trading weapons for gold with known human rights criminals.
There won't be a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Iraq if the United States and its allies abandon the country, not even a scandalous one. The U.S.-led multinational force has the U.N. mandate under Resolution 1723 to establish security and stability in Iraq. Might it be better to prevent slaughter as a consequence of ethnic strife rather than allow it to occur and then struggle in vain to find a remedy?
Obama's invocation of Darfur, where decent people are trying to get a robust peacekeeping force on the ground to stop the slaughter, is even more curious. The Illinois senator has been one of the leading political lights of the Save Darfur movement. I was standing only a few feet away from him last year when at the Save Darfur rally on the Washington Mall, Obama said:
"In every corner of the globe, tyrants and terrorists, powers and principalities will know that a new day is dawning and a righteous spirit is on the move and that all of us together have joined hands to ensure that never again will these kinds of atrocities happen."
Evidently Iraq, where bombings by al-Qaida terrorists have killed thousands of civilians, isn't on Obama's globe.
The Times editors and Obama, at least, try to learn from history, even if they draw faulty conclusions. John Kerry is simply ignorant of history.
In a July 23 interview with the Chicago Tribune, he ridiculed the notion of a slaughter in Iraq by saying, "We heard that argument over and over again about the bloodbath that would engulf the entire Southeast Asia, and it didn't happen."
The 1 million Vietnamese who ended up in re-education camps, many of whom were tortured, 165,000 of whom died, and the 1.7 million Cambodians who perished under the genocidal tyranny of Pol Pot would disagree with that appallingly moronic statement.
The desire to change the U.S. role in Iraq and remove Americans from harm's way is understandable. But in seeking a new course, politics shouldn't trump morality and an irrational hatred of President Bush shouldn't trump factuality.