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March 7, 2010
President Obama had chosen to deliver his first State of the Union Address on same day as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This provides him with an incredible opportunity to be the first president to declare a commitment and plan to abolish the most egregious of all crimes: genocide. Further, President Obama should specifically call on the nation and the world to redouble its efforts to prevent atrocities and bloody war in Sudan.

A great number of Americans support ending genocide in high numbers. According to a December 3rd survey by Pew and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) that compared public attitudes with those of foreign policy elites, 58% of the public and 57% of CFR members support the use of force if an ethnic group in Africa was threatened by genocide.

But the choice before us today is not to invade or do nothing.

Prevention is easier and cheaper than intervention. Moreover, it will ensure that when there is political will to respond, America is prepared to do it more effectively. For over a year, the Genocide Prevention Task Force, co-chaired by Madeline Albright and Bill Cohen, worked to develop a practical set of recommendations that the U.S. Government could put in place to increase the capacity of the United States to prevent and respond more effectively to genocide and mass atrocities. The total price tag would be $250 million a year. A far cry from the billions spent on humanitarian aid in Darfur alone.

While our military must be prepared to act if it comes to that, President Obama should make clear to Americans and those listening around the world that the vast majority of efforts to prevent genocide will not be military. Concerted political, diplomatic and perhaps financial effort should, in most cases, do the trick.

Such is the case with the crisis in Sudan. Many Americans are aware of the bloody twenty-year war that claimed two million lives in Southern Sudan and almost all are aware of the genocide in Darfur which began earlier this decade. It probably will not come as a surprise that there is impending risk of more atrocities as national elections and the referendum for Southern Sudanese independence approach. Violence in the South and border areas was way up in 2009, as are political tensions between the country’s major players. While President Obama has appointed a Special Envoy for Sudan, he hasn’t brought together a meaningful international coalition – including many important actors such as China and Egypt that have financial incentives to prevent further crisis/violence - and has certainly not developed the leverage to change the calculations of the worst actors. Both are tough but surely possible given Obama’s popularity abroad, the material interests of other international players and the fact that the Bush Administration did this once before with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

There will be no lack of important and intelligent people and groups advising Obama on which he should choose for his (and the nation’s) priorities for next year. Among all the voices, President Obama should listen to his two immediate predecessors. It’s been well reported that President Clinton’s greatest regret is not acting in 1994 to prevent “hundreds of thousands” of Rwandan deaths. Similarly, shortly after leaving office President Bush lamented not being able to stop what his government called “genocide” in Darfur. Now is the time for Obama to build a different legacy. It is time now to act on his words during his years before taking office, to take his thoughts and make them into actions. In 2006, he gave a speech on Foreign Policy and Defense where he stated that, regarding Darfur, “it is absolutely critical that we start focusing on this now. The situation, as bad as it is, could deteriorate further. This is something that is of interest, I think, to all of us, not just for humanitarian reasons, although when you read the accounts of women being raped when they are out collecting firewood, when you read just horrendous accounts of entire villages being decimated and children being murdered, that it just breaks your heart, and humanitarian concerns should be sufficient, but we also have a strong national security interest.”

It IS critical--we have to act, we must make the extraordinary effort to help our fellow humans. If we don’t, who will?

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This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

taytay said...
Sept. 23, 2010 at 8:40 am
nice work helped me out a lot
Arctic said...
Mar. 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm
From one Alaskan to another, this was a very good read. I admire the amount of verifiable evidence included, as well as the beautiful prose. Nice work!
Ellie.Travis replied...
Mar. 21, 2010 at 10:33 pm
Thank you very much!
LostAngel said...
Mar. 20, 2010 at 8:30 pm
This article is very well written thanks for your opinion! :)
Ellie.Travis replied...
Mar. 21, 2010 at 6:47 am
Thank you for reading it!
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