And so we went the multilateral route.
Confronted with the murder of 50,000 in Sudan, we eschewed all that nasty old unilateralism, all that hegemonic, imperialist, go-it-alone, neocon, empire, coalition-of-the-coerced stuff. Our response to this crisis would be so exquisitely multilateral, meticulously consultative, collegially cooperative and ally-friendly that it would make John Kerry swoon and a million editorialists nod in sage approval.
And so we Americans mustered our outrage at the massacres in Darfur and went to the United Nations. And calls were issued and exhortations were made and platitudes spread like bearnaise. The great hum of diplomacy signaled that the global community was whirring into action.
Meanwhile helicopter gunships were strafing children in Darfur.
We did everything basically right. The president was involved, the secretary of state was bold and clearheaded, the U.N. ambassador was eloquent. And, following the strictures of international law, we had the debate that, of course, is going to be the top priority while planes are bombing villages.
We had a discussion over whether the extermination of human beings in this instance is sufficiently concentrated to meet the technical definition of genocide. For if it is, then the "competent organs of the United Nations" may be called in to take appropriate action, and you know how fearsome the competent organs may be when they may indeed be called.
The United States said the killing in Darfur was indeed genocide, the Europeans weren't so sure, and the Arab League said definitely not, and hairs were split and legalisms were parsed, and the debate over how many corpses you can fit on the head of a pin proceeded in stentorian tones while the mass extermination of human beings continued at a pace that may or may not rise to the level of genocide.
For people are still starving and perishing in Darfur.
But the multilateral process moved along in its dignified way. The U.N. general-secretary was making preparations to set up a commission. Preliminary U.N. resolutions were passed, and the mass murderers were told they should stop _ often in frosty tones.
And meanwhile 1.2-million were driven from their homes in Darfur.
There was even some talk of sending U.S. troops to stop the violence, which, of course, would have been a brutal act of oil-greedy unilateralist empire-building. Instead, the United States proposed a resolution threatening sanctions on Sudan, which began another round of communique issuing.
The Russians, who sell military planes to Sudan, decided sanctions would not be in the interests of humanity. The Chinese, whose oil companies have a significant presence in Sudan, threatened a veto. And so began the great watering-down. Finally, a week ago, the Security Council passed a resolution threatening to "consider" sanctions against Sudan at some point, though no time soon.
We are by now used to the pattern. Every time there is an ongoing atrocity, we watch the world community go through the same series of stages: (1) shock and concern (2) gathering resolve (3) fruitless negotiation (4) pathetic inaction (5) shame and humiliation (6) steadfast vows to never let this happen again.
The "never again" always comes. But still, we have all agreed, this sad cycle is better than having some impromptu coalition of nations actually go in "unilaterally" and do something. That would lack legitimacy! Strain alliances! Menace international law! Threaten the multilateral ideal!
It's a pity about the poor dead people in Darfur. Their numbers are still rising, at 6,000 to 10,000 a month.
David Brooks is a New York Times columnist. His e-mail address is dabrooksnytimes.com.
New York Times News Service