Two of the most loaded words in the world today are "never again." Dripping with significance, blood, hope, resolve, honor, promise, and remembrance, "never again" is both a shorthand and a shibboleth connecting people with history.
Too bad we don't follow it all that much.
At least not the way I understand it - and I'm first to admit lacking a perfect education in history. To me, "never again" means we'll never again sit idle while a people is erased from the planet simply for being who they are - as defined by religion, race, or philosophy, etc.
The new forum in which to discuss what we meant, and do mean, by "never again" is Darfur, Sudan. The news is not good. And it's been pretty bad for awhile now - apparently for 38 out of its 48 years of independence from the UK.
Newsday columnist Jim Pinkerton takes a look at the cost and chances of US intervention there. Hint, the analysis seems to say "high" and "not good."
I can't help but think of all of the other (recent) genocides and how "never again" didn't seem to come through for them. Weren't there a lot of Iraqi Kurds at one time? Thought so.
And what would come of adding another venue to American military action? Pinkerton says:
To be sure, nobody in Washington is talking about a major commitment of American resources. But Washingtonians never do, of course - on the way in. Almost all of Uncle Sam's commitments start out "minor," never "major." Consider, for example, the Middle East. In the '40s, we began guaranteeing the security of two small countries, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Today, we have de facto responsibility - and vulnerability - in an area that stretches from Egypt to Pakistan, including hundreds of millions of people, some of whom love us, many of whom hate us.
And now we want to add the largest country in Africa? We went into nearby Somalia with the best of intentions in 1992, although we had no clue, to be sure, about the local language and culture. And we turned friends into foes, ending up with "Black Hawk Down."
Perhaps we must help in Sudan. But if so, let's consider that a state that's perpetually wracked by civil war might be in need of partition, not peacekeeping. There was no historic Sudan; its borders were the counterintuitive creation of long-ago British colonialists. But today, if Arabs and Africans can't get along in the same country, perhaps they shouldn't be in the same country.
But rather than a review of geopolitical first principles, all that's heard in Washington today is, "Do something!" And that's never the beginning of a promising policy, even if just about everyone is on board.
But Pinkerton is likely on-the-money when he warns against capricious intervention and begs us to keep an eye to the long term implications of involving ourselves in another region, similar in too many ways, to the one in which we're currently stuck.
So where do we find the balance, then, "never again" and "best laid plans?" Public opinion may drive us there and then drive us home via streets-of-Mogadishu-esque images. Then again, perhaps we've had our fill of far off lands and there's no cause noble enough to get us anywhere else - even somewhere we might genuinely be needed.