A COUNTERINSURGENCY TACTIC...

A COUNTERINSURGENCY TACTIC BY ANY ANOTHER NAME. I think there's more heat than light to my disagreement with Fast Leon, since we're in pretty close agreement about reasonable policy responses to the situation in Sudan. On the semantic issue, I -- and the U.N. -- want to say that a given mass killing is either a genocide or else a war-fighting tactic. Mark, the State Department, Samantha Power, etc., want to say that both kinds of mass killing deserve the label "genocide." As far as that goes, that's fine -- we often have words that denote more than one kind of thing. The word "rock" applies to both diamonds and to random stones you might find anywhere.

But here's the thing. You wouldn't want to develop a response to finding a rock in your backyard -- pick it up and throw it away, say -- and then apply when you find a diamond, all the while saying "well, look, it's a kind of rock!"

If you have two kinds of phenomena -- mass killings inspired by a desire to exterminate an ethnic group, and mass killings employed as a war-fighting tactic -- then different policy responses are going to be appropriate. I think using a single word -- "genocide" -- to cover both kinds of situations tends to obscure this fact. My argument is that people are drawing on a set of moral intuitions derived from contemplating campaigns of extermination and incorrectly applying those conclusions to a counterinsurgency situation (for the record, contrary to Mark's characterization, I think what happened in Cambodia was a third kind of thing -- Communism -- that happily we don't need to worry about anymore). I think Mark agrees with that, which is what's primarily important here: Sudan needs to be dealt with in a sober-minded way that's responsive to the actual situation on the ground there and to America's overall situation in the world.

--Matthew Yglesias

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