What if the United States had not Invaded Iraq? More Assistance Available for Sudan

Roberta Cohen
Roberta Cohen Former Brookings Expert, Co-Chair Emeritus - Committee for Human Rights in North Korea

September 11, 2005

Roberta Cohen was one of eleven scholars and opinion writers, who answered the hypothetical: What would the situation be now if the United States had not invaded Iraq?

Assistance available for Sudan

One of the many victims of our misguided enterprise in Iraq was the concept of humanitarian intervention. Had we not gone there, this option might still be alive for such emergencies as Darfur, Sudan, where Sudanese government forces and Arab militias murdered tens of thousands of African villagers and uprooted two million in a deliberate ethnic cleansing campaign.

Because of Iraq, even the hint of possible Western intervention in Darfur has evoked loud protests from the Arab and Muslim world that the United States is planning to invade yet another Islamic country. Joined by its allies in the Arab League, the government of Sudan has been able to portray U.S. concerns about Darfur as a pretext for taking over another oil-rich country. Fearing that Sudan could be transformed into another Iraqi battleground, most African governments have resisted proposals of Western intervention. They have insisted upon “African solutions for African problems,” even when it has become clear that the 3,000 lightly armed troops sent by the African Union into Darfur cannot possibly do the job adequately.

The Bush administration fell back upon a humanitarian and human rights rationale to justify its invasion of Iraq when no weapons of mass destruction were found and no significant ties to al-Qaeda were established. The United States claimed to be “saving” the people of Iraq from a tyrant and bringing democracy to the Middle East. For Darfur, however, the secretary of state was able to announce that genocide had occurred there but that “no new action is dictated.”

As Human Rights Watch has pointed out, the scope of the Hussein regime’s abuses in 2003 was not of a magnitude to justify a humanitarian intervention. America’s credibility as an advocate of human rights was also damaged by the widely publicized torture and abuse of Arab prisoners, making it easier for Sudan and other governments to defend their own abuses by pointing to U.S. actions in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.

Were the United States not spending $5 billion to $8 billion a month on Iraq, it would have troops and resources left over to help the international community stop the slaughter, rape and deportations overwhelming men, women and children in Darfur. It might even have been able to come promptly to the rescue of the citizens of New Orleans and save the city from much of the ordeal it suffered from Hurricane Katrina. Humanitarian action, after all, starts first at home.