Would Someone Please Send Captain Picard to Darfur

The situation in Darfur notably worsened yesterday. In response to the International Criminal Court issuing an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes, the Sudanese government quickly moved to expel thirteen humanitarian groups serving over a million displaced people in Darfur. While leaders at the UN and Secretary Clinton  have been vocal in condemning al-Bashir, most of the American left has been strangely silent.

After Obama’s victory in November, optimism flourished at the UN and in diplomatic circles that the United States would reclaim a leading role in multinational organizations. One of the chief criticisms of George W. Bush’s presidency was the United States' failure to work with international bodies like the UN and the ICC in shaping world policy. Even W’s old man took his son to task on this. With the ICC’s indictment of al-Bashir and recent developments in the ongoing tribunals to prosecute war crimes in the Balkans, the moment would seem to be ripe for a renewed debate on the United States' future involvement in international organizations and world governance.  

This discussion has yet to take place. While there has been some movement on Sudan, leading progressive and radical journals remain silent on the al-Bashir indictment and what the Obama administration can and should do in terms of the ICC and the UN. While celebrities have attempted to stir American opinion on Darfur, it is discouraging to see well-established periodicals miss the bigger question--what is the United States' role in the international community in the 21st century?

Support for a strong framework to craft and enforce international law has never been strong in the United States despite the occasional expansive politician, rousing bestseller and iconic intellectual supporting it. NGO's and activists push for a stronger American commitment to support cohesive global governance, but for the most part, they remain on the fringes of power with little real clout. One notable exception is Strobe Talbott, former Deputy Secretary of State under Clinton, and long-time advocate of world federalism. While, Talbott recently wrote a book on the history of international governance, he has not been particularly vocal on the Darfur issue or re-evaluating the American role in the world. Instead, he has focused on pontificating on relations with Russia and advising Secretary Clinton.

So supporters of a stronger American commitment to international law and global governance are left once again with a missed opportunity, just like at the end of World War I with the Senate’s rejection of the League of Nations; just like after World War II when the nascent Cold War shattered any possibility of a stronger UN; and just like after 9/11 when the need for international action against terrorists was never more apparent.

At least we have the celebrity-humanitarians. If American attitudes on global federalism are going to change, it will be the result of cultural factors, not political ones. Strobe Talbott was my commencement speaker when I graduated from college in 1996. I can’t remember a thing he said, but I can remember almost every single episode of the television series that introduced me to the concept of international cooperation. Where's Captain Picard when you need him?

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