What Darfur Means for our National Security

05/25/2011 12:00 pm ET

Flying out of BWI last week made me realize one thing: I have to choose between carrying my laptop and my four month old baby. So happily I arrived at my mom's house in the Four Corners where I found a new DSL line. This is a big deal seeing as the most advanced technology until now is a windmill to pump water for the horses.

The day before Christmas, I drove by a sign from It stated simply, "Not on our watch". It was a poignant reminder of what's going on in the world--and it made me feel awkward on my way to the shopping mall to catch the last minute sales. The sign also reminded me of three things that recently came across my DC defense-wonk radar. First, this great article in last week's New Yorker about social science insights gaining ground in the US Government--including the Defense Department. Second, that even the highly resistant Bush Administration is warming up to the idea of a larger Army . And third, that the DoD just released its latest Counter Insurgency manual.

The manual codifies an important lesson of insurgencies: it takes more than the military to win. So what has this all got to do with SaveDarfur?

Well, this organization is an impressive example of networked collaboration and not-usual-suspect partnerships (humanitarian left and Christian right). Their influence reaches across the country through locally motivated and self organized groups. Their message goes beyond moral compulsion and includes policy recommendations. Their site includes good instructions for influencing elected leaders-- They have movie-star advocates who know the issue in-depth.

But our inability to save Darfur is related to the other aforementioned items in fundamental ways. And although coalitions hang together because they stick to narrow causes, we must find a way to turn such activated public audiences into a call for broader change. If I put my Congressional staff hat on for a minute, it reminds me of the days that I longed for an organized constituency like the SaveDarfur groups who could coordinate en masse in Congress with the message "See, even the military itself says we need non-military tools to beat today's threats like terrorism and to prevent genocide". What would follow from that, hopefully, is a discussion about the division of labor in our government--specifically how we've handed the military far too much responsibility for our national security and foreign policy. Then maybe the tendency to just throw more troops at the problem would be revealed for what it is: a tenacious case of Cold War hangover. Why, exactly, do we need so much more landpower (Army and Marines) if we don't plan on invading and occupying countries routinely? It would be diferent if we intend on training them to do different missions--but that means relinquishing the myth about "fighting and winning our nation's wars" thru superior firepower. Maybe we need a wholesale reorganization. But if we continue asking our military to do everything, soon they won't be able to do anything--including stopping genocides.

Nobody knows the answers yet, but we have to start talking about this dilemma. We need an overhaul about how we think about national security. The policy ground work has been done on genocide prevention..including the use of force. .It's not even a question of international political will anymore, the change needs to happen here at home. Americans understand that power is not just the ability to dominate, but the ability to influence change. Will these new troops be dedicated to humanitarian intervention? To peacebuilding and conflict prevention? To working closely with the United Nations, NATO, the European Union? Supporting the African Mission in Sudan? If the military's own doctrine advises non- military solutions, why aren't we creating more diplomats, legal advisors and civil engineers to dispatch abroad instead? Why is it that the State Department's effort to meet today's challenges--with surge capacity for crisis areas-- only funded through a Defense Department loan?

Saving Darfur is a leadership challenge that goes far beyond the human tragedy in that part of the world. Our hurdles are obvious--a defense industry clinging Gollum-like to its precious Cold War platforms and future war with China--a large chunk of the public that thinks its okay to open up a can of whup-ass on the world--political opportunism that thrives on fear. But the answers are available to us. Unlike the Cold War, it really isn't rocket science anymore. Genocide is both a moral and philosophical challenge and Americans are uniquely capable of doing something about it. But Saving Darfur now and stopping other genocides in the future will require a historic realignment. We need a persistent crowd of Americans to occupy the intersection of philosophy and government and steer policy in a new direction on national security. SaveDarfur is an admirable start. But these concerned Americans must dig deeper, take on the bureaucratic and budget issues and show up on the steps of Congress with them, too.

Of course, electing George Clooney to the Senate would be a huge boon to these efforts... and I'm completely serious about that