The Harm of Equating Sudan and Libya

September 22, 2011

I understand the perception that linking Sudan (a country where action has been lacking) to Libya (a country where robust action was taken) might somehow compel a more robust response to the dire situation. However, equating these two conflicts has served to belittle the plight of civilians in Libya and resulted in the encouragement–intentional or otherwise–of a dangerous cookie-cutter approach.

Let’s be clear: both Sudan and Libya involve crimes against civilians that warrant international attention. However, if we’re going to give each the focus and consideration they deserve, then we must do more than myopically pursue the exact same response. In other words, just because a no-fly zone worked in one crisis does not mean it will work in another. In fact, such an option may not even be a viable means to achieve the same goal.

Several times now in public forums I’ve heard the conflict in Libya presented as the prevention of civilian deaths and compared against a claim that the situation in Sudan is somehow more compelling because civilians are already dying. The argument seems to be that the international community should have chosen to intervene in Sudan instead of Libya. This assertion implies that civilians in Libya were somehow the undeserving winners of some disturbing intervention lottery. It is as troubling as it is inaccurate. Certainly, the international community took action in Libya to prevent a massacre in Benghazi, but we cannot forget that thousands of civilians lost their lives as a result of Qaddafi’s violence in the lead-up to the authorization of the no-fly zone. Thousands.

Additionally, caution is needed among those trying to force the contextualization of Sudan within the broader Arab Spring movement. Each country within the “Arab Spring” is different, but Sudan, in particular, is its own unique case. I’d argue that it’s better not to even use the comparison. In my experience, it just get us back to the problematic encouragement of a cookie-cutter approach. It’s also inaccurate. A critical element of the situation in Sudan involves a conflict between a national military (Sudanese Armed Forces) and a well-equipped and highly-successful rebel army. On the other hand, the Arab Spring movement has been characterized by the–almost entirely–peaceful protests of civilian populations. Although the above is a bit of an oversimplification, these are definitely not the same scenarios. And, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that a response isn’t just as necessary to protect civilians, but it does mean that Sudan isn’t “just like” all the other Arab Spring crises.

Again, I think folks are trying to link Sudan to a hot issue in an attempt to facilitate action. I can’t say I blame them, but the problem is that false comparisons do nothing but undermine an already challenging objective. Rare is the example where inaccurately representing a situation to advance (even worthy) interests is successful. There’s no reason to give opponents of robust action in Sudan a valid reason to say “no” simply because the argument being made is false. On all counts, the means to achieve the end matters.

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One Response to “The Harm of Equating Sudan and Libya”

  1. Brianna said

    this is excellent!

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