The United States has for more than half a century reaped the benefits and suffered the consequences of being the world's dominant player, peacemaker, and country-tinkerer, and thus the premier symbol of Western power.
In recent years, we've engaged in two broad overseas conflicts with the goals of (a) self-protection (be it short or long-term) and (b) general betterment of the country with which we engaged, namely Afghanistan and Iraq. While the respective endgames are uncertain, the justification for the latter murky, and the manners of execution often questionable, I defy the conspiracy-theorists (as I see them) who mention oil, finishing-what-daddy-started, and the like as the true impetuses behind the invasion of Iraq. Whether you agree with them or not, and whether the justification was presented effectively, these two conflicts are clearly heartfelt responses to the crisis into which we descended after September 11th, 2001.
The common thread in these conflicts has been that the pre-existing power structures of these countries were deemed, in some way, to be a threat to our national security, and that a changing of the guards, preferably in the direction of democracy, would serve to quash that threat. In a word, they were undertaken out of self-interest.
We now are faced with a different set of circumstances. We stand as witnesses to the second African genocide in less than a decade. As reported in the New York Times, A British parliamentary report estimated that 300,000 human beings have died in Sudan's Darfur region on account of the conflict. This is decidedly a situation in which we have little vested interest. Sudan, like Rwanda, is a country which poses no international threat to our security, our economy, or our way of life. They are the "little people," without say in the broader world, but without any compelling aspect of their situations (e.g. Islamic fundamentalism) which causes us to give great pause. It is simply brutish ethnic killing. It is violence, but a violence which seems very far away.
As Nick Nolte's character in the recent film "Hotel Rwanda" summed up the West's view of the deteriorating situation in 1994 to the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, "You're dirt. We [the West] think you're dirt. You're not even a n----r. You're just an Africaaaan."
We have a habit of picking and choosing the international conflicts we attend to; an understandable habit at that. If there was ever a worthy cause, however, which was not directly related to our own interests, this is it. We need only look to Rwanda to see a blueprint of where it may lead.
This is the moment when we can truly show the world that our international involvement does not revolve solely around our own security, but around our desire to aid those in desperate, desperate need. The post-Rwanda cries of "never again" have died out like coals in a fire. It took 100 days to kill 800,000 Rwandans. Perhaps the "world record" for African genocide needs to be broken before definitive action is taken. Perhaps, perhaps.