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A Useful Genocide

How to make the most of a bloody mess

Consider this an advanced lesson in politics. The best example I've seen in a long time of how the game is really played can be found in a column written by Republican senators John McCain and Mike DeWine that ran in papers across the country last week.

Most people who read the piece, which demanded that the international community stop the genocidal slaughter of the black population in western Sudan, probably went away shaking their heads in horror. That was the intended effect. But the question to ask is why the Republicans are screaming about this particular genocide, and why they're screaming about it now.

As far as genocides go, this is the most politically useful one to come along in years. For starters, you've got radical Arab jihadist Muslims, the very brand of people responsible for murder and mayhem on a daily basis in Iraq, systematically slaughtering peaceful black Muslims in a genocide that's more racial than religious. Of course, as you've read in this space before, radical Muslims bent on jihad are terrorizing people -- mostly more moderate Muslims -- in backwater dictatorships and former Soviet states all over the world and no one gives a rip.

But the beauty of this situation, from the Republican election year point of view, is that these particular radical Arab jihadist Muslims were slaughtering people -- again that's black people, in case you didn't catch that -- in large numbers while the United Nations turned a blind eye. That would be the same United Nations that's been screaming about the Iraq invasion in general and the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in particular. Essentially, the Republicans have caught the UN in a politically incorrect double-whammy.

About 90 percent of the McCain/DeWine piece dealt with the horrors of the genocide. The other 10 percent, brilliantly woven through and written in a tone of righteous humanitarian indignation, contained the subtle point Republicans really want to get across: UN peacekeeping forces abandoned the people of Rwanda to a government-directed slaughter in the early 1990s that left 800,000 people dead. Now the Bush Administration is trying to get the UN to stop a Rwandan repeat in Sudan. The US is willing to spend gobs of money to accomplish this if the hard-hearted UN would just care enough about it to send a peacekeeping force to Sudan to rein in these radical Muslims.

Of course, the real goal of McCain's piece wasn't to stop the genocide, but destroy the credibility of the UN at a time when it appears to have, from a public relations point of view, the moral upper hand in Iraq. The fact that this will energize conservative Christian voters, the group that has been screaming about the Sudan for over a year, is an added bonus.

McCain's right, of course. The UN -- and ultimately the US under President Bill Clinton -- did stand by as the Rwandan slaughter got underway. But you've also got to ask what McCain, the human rights activist extraordinaire, was up to while the Rwandan government was drenching that country's soil in blood. As it turns out, like most of the Republican establishment, McCain was busy haranguing Clinton for spreading US troops too thin by sending them on peacekeeping missions to -- you guessed it -- Somalia and Rwanda.

Of course, the folks at the UN weren't the only ones who were AWOL on Sudan until last week. The Sudanese genocide may be a new story to the mainstream media, but the conservative press, in particular outlets like, have been screaming about the Sudanese slaughter of black Muslims and the large-scale enslavement of black Christians by Arab Muslims for over a year. Given that, I have a hard time believing that Republican politicians like McCain, DeWine and Bush are just now discovering the situation. Yet they waited until now, when 30,000 are dead and the presidential campaign is in full swing, to demand that the UN do something about it. (What good is a genocide until you've got tens of thousands of bodies? A smart politician lets these things percolate, kind of like coffee -- which is also black, by the way.)

Of course, the right-wing media is a lot more attached to this story than they initially were to Rwanda -- at least until after the bodies began to stack up and they realized they could use the genocide against Clinton. That's probably because to the right-wing media, systematic violence is sexier and more politically useful when the conflict involves oppressed Christians.

And if you read between the lines in McCain's piece, you'll notice that Republican politicians didn't actually offer to send any troops to the Sudan, a political no-no right now. Instead, they offered to pay the UN to send troops.

None of which is to say that the Democrats sincerely give a damn either, since the Sudanese situation can only have a detrimental effect on their quest to dispatch Bush.

The bottom line here? Because it's an election year, the people of Sudan are about to get lucky -- at least until January, anyway. Then they'd better run like hell.

Contact Tara Servatius at

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