Last year, in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the United Nations reiterated its founding promise–Never Again. Unfortunately, it has been an empty promise. Countless genocides have occurred on the UN watch. After much hand-wringing over its failure to stop the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the UN repeated the promise. Yet twelve years later, the world finds itself in a now familiar situation–staring genocide in the face as the UN sits paralyzed by its less humanitarian members. ~Jason Barnes, Brainwash

The thrust of Mr. Barnes’ article is predictable enough: the liberals want to save Darfur, but are too inured to U.N. processes and must now recognise that they have to go outside the U.N. This is supposed to be a great conflict for good Bush-hating liberals, as it forces them to acknowledge their “slide” towards neoconservatism, but there is no slide going on. They’ve been living in the swamps of humanitarian interventionism for a long time already. This is nothing new for liberals–they had no worries about ignoring the U.N. process when their man was intent on bombing Yugoslavia (again to stop an even more fictitious “genocide” in Kosovo), and if they had one of their own in power they would be only too happy to cheer on bombs and mayhem for humanity.

Update: Norman Singleton at LRC Blog takes a similar view of the Barnes article.

When someone starts by referring to “countless genocides,” I immediately become suspicious. There have not been countless genocides in the last sixty years. There have been two, maybe three, depending on what you include, and none of them has anything to do with Darfur. In my estimation, they would include China under Mao, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and, of course, Rwanda in 1994.

It is instructive that the convention on genocide lays out such broad definitions for genocide as to make the use of the term as meaningless as its frequent use in the press already makes it. From the convention, here is the definition:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

As I have observed before, any war between two distinct nations would constitute genocide under this convention. Our bombing of Yugoslavia could be considered genocide against Serbs, if we wanted to take this convention absolutely literally. (Of course, “we” never commit genocide–it’s always the other fellow.) Perversely, any insurgent movement could be accused of committing genocide against a superior force if it happens to kill someone in the ruling group, or on the other hand a state could be accused of committing genocide if it responds to terrorist strikes by killing members of the ethnic or religious group in retaliation. Those who like to invoke this convention do so because it provides a sure-fire, moralistic pretext for endless interventionism–if the Balkans are any example of what these sorts of people want, the well-being of suffering people in the war zone is pretty far down their list of priorities.

By this infinitely expansive definition, there would have to have been a great many genocides in the last 60 years, but to include all of these is to render the presumed greater moral significance of genocide moot. It is to make genocide identical with war and thus reduce genocide to something of an inevitability in the world.

Those who rush about labeling every obscure conflict in distant countries genocide primarily do so to serve ideological and power interests, as these conflicts are very, very rarely genocidal in nature. These conflicts are often rooted in traditional causes of contestation for political and economic control, as is the case in Darfur. Darfur is a perfect example of a rebellion against central authority and the suppression of that rebellion. We all know that if it were happening in an allied country, like, say, Colombia, no one in power in the West would say a word–not because we all like to wink at genocide, but because we all know that this isn’t really genocide. It becomes genocide when it is committed by the “wrong” sorts of people.

The fashion has now become to label every losing side in such a conflict the victims of a genocide, when they have, in fact, simply lost a war. It is the ultimate rhetorical game of the cult of victimisation, and like the use of that rhetoric in the West it is aimed not at aiding the “victims” but at providing a reason for one or several governments to acquire more power in order to “help.” Like most things the government does, the call to help the people of Darfur is a scam aimed at justifying the expansion of its interventionist policies and lending moral authority to its claims to hegemony.