Both President Bush and Sen. John Kerry spoke during the first debate about doing something to help Sudan's Darfur region. The candidates as well as the secretary of state and Congress have called the situation in Darfur "genocide." And the United Nations and relief agencies are seeing a catastrophic famine unfolding. Yet the massive aid necessary to help the Sudanese people is neither on the ground nor en route. Thousands may perish needlessly when we are in a position to help save them.
The African Union is ready (with 3,500 troops), just as it was in Rwanda in 1994, but it needs logistical help from the West. The last time the international community fumbled the ball on such a scale with regard to genocide, 800,000 Rwandans perished. The main problem with the international community's response in 1994 was that the U.N. Security Council obfuscated on using the term "genocide" and then delayed in giving logistical support to the African Union to mount an intervention.
Since then, many key players have indicated deep moral regret and have committed themselves to making sure it doesn't happen again. Seemingly, the lessons learned from the inaction on Rwanda were not learned in vain. In the past decade there have been many examples of quick, decisive national and international reaction to halt acts of genocide and their aftermath throughout the world. It is simply no longer an option to drag our feet on Darfur, given the progress that has been made in our capacity to respond to such atrocities. Indeed, the international community has successfully responded to threats and acts of genocide in recent years:
The induced famine of Nuba, Sudan, in 2001 was arrested by a massive inflow of U.S. aid. The human rights violations in southern Sudan against the Nuer and the Dinka were halted by way of pressure from the international community, nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations through a peace treaty.
In Sulawesi, Indonesia, massacres ended when the Indonesian government deployed 4,000 troops to the area and arrested the militia's leader. Massacres and unrest in Gujarat, India, were handled by the government in what should be a case study in conflict prevention; the government employed 10,000 Sikh police officers to keep the peace between Hindus and Muslims.
Burundi was set to explode during the summer of 2003 because of a dangerous transfer of power, but once enough attention was focused on it, the transfer went relatively smoothly. Even in the remote provinces of Ituri and South Kivu in Congo, the rapid deployment of European Union troops and neighboring government compliance led to a cooling of tensions. The French, yes, the French, led the way and put thousands of troops on the ground in 30 days to halt the massacres.
So the lesson after Rwanda is that with moral conviction and decisive action, genocide and resulting humanitarian disaster can be stopped in their tracks. And yet the situation in Darfur continues. The massacres have ebbed, but the humanitarian catastrophe is likely to cost hundreds of thousands of lives because the unthinkable is happening: The world community, with the United States at the helm, seems to have forgotten how to react.
America, defender against communism, fascism and terrorism and the creative beacon of freedom and human rights, has called what is happening in Darfur genocide -- but it has failed to stop it. The United States is uniquely positioned to provide the armored personnel carriers and equipment to enable those African Union troops to get into Darfur to stop the killing and famine. Not finding the will to act is genocidal indifference.
With the sense of urgency befitting a great nation that acts to eradicate genocide, we should ensure that the planes are in the air, that the red tape is cut and that U.S. aid becomes a fact, not a political platitude.
Calling it genocide is half the answer. The United States must now move with the moral imperative to end the genocide in Darfur. Whether it is through Secretary of State Colin Powell or someone else in the administration, the United States needs to step up and get the aid into Darfur. It is unconscionable for a great nation such as ours to do anything less.
The writer is former director of the Center for the Prevention of Genocide. He will be online at 2 p.m. tomorrow on www.washingtonpost.com.