The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)
April 25, 2006 Tuesday
All Editions

The Darfur crisis, the delegation, and you

M. CHARLES BAKST


In a recent House speech, Rep. Jim Langevin said of Darfur, "We
should all be ashamed that the atrocities that have taken place there
are happening in our time. Where is the world's outrage? Why have we
not learned from the mistakes in the past -- the Holocaust, Armenia,
Cambodia and Rwanda?"

He was speaking for a bill, which the House passed, directing
President Bush to impose sanctions on Sudan and calling on NATO to
step in to help protect people.

Government-sanctioned genocide in Sudan's Darfur region has killed
400,000 civilians and displaced millions. Rape and hunger are
rampant.

There'll be a Save Darfur rally in Washington on Sunday
(www.savedarfur.org). Fittingly, the 150-plus sponsor organizations
include more than 20 Jewish groups. In light of the Holocaust, Jews
should feel a special obligation to demand that Mr. Bush and Congress
intensify efforts to end the horror in Darfur.

Rhode Island's congressional delegation says constituents are far
likelier to talk about, say, gas prices, health care, immigration or
Iraq. Indeed, the heavy commitment of troops in Iraq can work against
acting on Darfur. For example, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the Rhode
Islander most vocal in support of sending troops to Darfur -- in
concert with forces from African countries and the United Nations --
finds no appetite for it in Washington.

Sen. Jack Reed says America probably could provide some limited
logistical military support but, given the Iraq war and threats from
North Korea and terrorists, "The strain on our military forces is
severe."

To many Americans, Darfur is remote and complex. "It doesn't have the
clarity of what we recognized too late was the Holocaust," says Reed,
who nevertheless deems it imperative to act. (Darfur would be an apt
place for the kind of up-close, on the ground observation mission he
likes to make.)

There are several economic and diplomatic steps the United States
could take in regard to Darfur and which Rhode Islanders in Congress
endorse.

For instance, Sen. Lincoln Chafee says U.N. peacekeeping troops
showed "amazing effectiveness" in Liberia and the United States
should lean on the U.N. to send a force to Darfur.

But Washington needs to be jolted into making Darfur a top priority.
Langevin says, "Get educated about the issue." And contact Congress
and the White House. A critic of the Iraq war, Langevin asserts,
"It's amazing that the president can act decisively when he cares
about injecting the U.S. into a situation. Why can't he get this
worked up about the genocide that's occurring in Darfur?"

Kennedy, discussing Sunday's rally, says that advances in America,
such as on civil rights, haven't happened simply because they're
just. "They've happened because people have petitioned their
government and raised the consciousness of America."

He says of the atrocities in Darfur, "I don't think human beings can
look the other way."

I'd like to think he is right.

Certainly, he is right when he says that Darfur calls to mind a quote
identified with Martin Niemoeller, who was a Protestant minister in
Nazi Germany:

"They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I
wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak
up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they
came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a
Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left
to speak up."

Will you speak up for Darfur?

M. Charles Bakst is The Journal's political columnist.