CAN'T TAKE THE POLITICS OUT OF WAR. The New Republic is the kind of magazine that can run a series of ridiculous articles on Darfur and then publish this week's brilliant and devastating critique of the very same articles by David Rieff. It's a subscriber only piece, so I'm looking for a good excerpt and I think I'll go with this one because it has the most general importance:

To his credit, Reeves has written that any outside military force would have to ensure that the rebel guerrillas do not take advantage of the foreign presence to improve their position on the ground. But that is what an international deployment will almost inevitably do, which is why Minnawi and others have been campaigning so hard for one. The deployment of foreign troops, whose mission will be to protect Darfuri civilians, will allow the guerrillas to establish "facts on the ground" that will strengthen their claims for secession. That is what makes the interventionists' claim that the intervention will be purely "humanitarian"--that it will protect civilians being murdered, raped, and displaced by the Janjaweed but do little or nothing else--so disingenuous. For it is virtually certain that this is not the way events will play out if U.S. or nato forces deploy. To the contrary, such a deployment can have only one of two outcomes. The first will be the severing of Darfur from the rest of Sudan and its transformation into some kind of international protectorate, � la Kosovo. But, at least in Kosovo, the protectorate was run by Europeans--by neighbors. In Darfur, by contrast, it will be governed by Americans (who are already at war across the Islamic world) and possibly by nato (i.e., Africa's former colonial masters). Now there's a recipe for stability.

If anything, the second possibility is even worse. Assuming the intervention encounters resistance from the Janjaweed and the government of Sudan (and perhaps Al Qaeda), the foreign intervenors will arrive at the conclusion that the only way to bring stability to Darfur is, well, regime change in Khartoum: In other words, the problems of Darfur are, in fact, the product of Al Bashir's dictatorship, and these problems can be meaningfully addressed only by substituting a more democratic government. Such an intervention may well end up being Iraq redux, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. But, then, it was disingenuous to pretend that the United States could democratize Iraq at the point of a gun.

There's the rub, I think. Ed Kilgore sometimes likes to point out that "you can't take the politics out of politics." Clausewitz, famously, said that war is "politics by other means" and he's right. An intervention into a war zone is, perforce, an intervention into the war and the political dispute underlying it. This really ought to be one of the lessons of the Kosovo War. The Clinton administration led our troops into battle operating under the fantasy that we could not only stop what Serbia was doing there, but somehow do this without simply becoming the air wing of the Kosovo Liberation Army and achieving their goal of an independent Kosovo. What wound up happening, in fact, is exactly what one would expect -- there was a war between the KLA and Serbia, and American intervention ensured that the KLA won it.

In that case, it was probably the right thing to do nonetheless, but the point remains that you can't step into these conflicts without taking sides. The actual issues at stake in the Darfur conflict are very murky and it's extremely unclear to me why anyone would want the United States to become enmeshed in them or think that the US Army is well-suited, institutionally, to sorting the situation out.

--Matthew Yglesias

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