The U.S. is stuck between a rock and a hard spot with the crisis in Sudan. Something obviously needs to be done about the escalating humanitarian crisis. Well, why haven’t the U.S. and global community done more to stop the deaths of innocent men, women and children? It’s a complicated situation.

First, the United States must cope with a sticky history of intervention in foreign countries over the last few decades. World War II, so often though of as a morally righteous endeavor on the part of the United States, nevertheless took a toll on American lives, families, and psyche. With the Korean War, and later Vietnam -along with the shadow of the Cold War- America increasingly found itself involved in foreign wars that were not simply an issue of the “good guys vs. the bad guys.”

The idealistic days of cops and robbers in foreign policy ended. Moreover, the U.S. was increasingly becoming involved in conflicts in countries radically different from the U.S. Previously, in the case of Germany during World War II, America fought and rebuilt a country that is altogether not that different from the United States. America and Western Europe at least share a greater commonality in the history of thought, philosophy, politics, and culture, than America shares with Vietnam and Iraq, for example. The last decade of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the years afterwards ushered in a new, even more complicated, era in U.S. foreign policy.

The world today is not the same one our grandparents grew up in. The line of good and evil is not clearly delineated. The U.S. supported Osama bin Laden while he fought the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. After this, the U.S. turned to a strategy that consisted more of a “what is helpful right now?” approach rather than “what would be in our best interests in the long run?” approach. The U.S. also supported Saddam Hussein against Iran in the 1980s. Then came the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

With the clash of Serbs, Croats, and Muslim Albanians, the United States in the early 1990s found itself in a politically complicated situation, with warring ethnic factions, and an uneasy relationship with the Europeans over exactly who was responsible for mediating the violence. Next came the Gulf War. Although considered a relative success, the U.S. didn’t go all the way and capture Saddam. After the U.S. troops pulled out, Hussein suppressed a massive Shiite uprising which lead to the deaths of many innocent people.

The next difficulty was the Rwandan genocide as well as years of economic sanctions against Iraq, and an ever increasing number of ‘hot spots’ around the world. Today, the U.S. faces an extremely difficult world situation. Many unanswerable questions underline the dilemma of the post Cold War balance of world power. Is the United States the world’s moral police? If so, more desperately needs to be done to save lives in Sudan. If nothing is done, then we turn our backs on the memory of the Holocaust.

On the other hand, however, many Americans don’t particularly enjoy seeing the bodies of American soldiers dragged through the streets, as happened in Somalia in 1993 when the U.S. intervened for humanitarian reasons. For many people, it’s difficult to give support to military intervention in foreign countries when it’s not clear why we are there, what we are doing, and what our exit strategy is.

Finally, I simply wish to point out that the crisis in Sudan is an outrage. But given the recent history of U.S. involvement in foreign countries, it’s not hard to see why the U.S. is not doing more to stop the violence. But, we should. The question then becomes, what should we be doing differently so that we can be a more positive force for stopping genocide? Given the complete failure in Rwanda, Somalia, and Bosnia, what institutional changes need to occur either in American society or government that would allow the U.S. to assume a more responsible position in its relationship with the rest of the world?

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