Mobilizing for Humanitarian Intervention: African Americans, Diasporic Lobbying, and Lessons from Haiti, Rwanda, and Sudan

By Hughes, Michael | International Journal, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Mobilizing for Humanitarian Intervention: African Americans, Diasporic Lobbying, and Lessons from Haiti, Rwanda, and Sudan


Hughes, Michael, International Journal


No US president has ever made genocide prevention a priority, and no US president has ever suffered politicaUy for his indifference to its occurrence. It is thus no coincidence that genocides rages on.1

Congress and the public must be sufficiently convinced of an intervention's worth and importance so that even the spüling of American blood can be understood within a greater humanitarian and strategic context.2

As long as blacks slaughter blacks, the American public yawns.3

The problem of political will remains one of the most important challenges impeding significant, early action and the prevention of genocide and crimes against humanity. This challenge continues to be a central focus for humanitarian intervention advocates, who argue that one of the reasons genocide continues is because the United States has never made prevention a significant foreign policy priority. One of the central conclusions of Samantha Power's comprehensive study of US responses to genocide is that there has been a consistent and pervasive lack of political will in the US to intervene in cases of genocide. In addition to the position of humanitarian interventionists, a large body of literature considers the difficulties with operationalizing the obligation to act under the international convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide.4 Advocates who focus on generating political will for US intervention also encounter added complications of public perception and race. In a comprehensive study of US public opinion, Donald Rothchild and Nikolas Emmanuel argue that the US public is significantly risk-averse toward intervention in Africa, due to both strategic considerations about US national self-interest and race and ethnic considerations that place Africa as a low priority.5

Diasporas and ethnic lobbies and their role in lobbying and influencing foreign policy decisions have been an ongoing topic of examination for scholars. The African American population in the United States is close to 37 million, which represents 12.4 percent of the total US population. As such, the diaspora has a significant population base upon which to draw to effect influence on US domestic and foreign policy. In this article, I examine the African American lobby and the chaUenges it has faced in lobbying for intervention during recent humanitarian crises. I argue that the African American lobby has achieved little to no success in lobbying for humanitarian intervention due to specific internal chaUenges for the lobby and the question of congruence between the lobby and national interests. Where the two sets of interests are aligned, the interests of the lobby are advanced, though not necessarily by the means advocated by the lobby or resulting from pressure by the lobby. I advance this argument in two sections. In the first section, I outline the history ofthe African American lobby and draw on contrasting responses by the lobby to crises in Haiti and Rwanda so as to iUustrate several of the internal and external chaUenges it faces. Informed by these background considerations, I then proceed to examine African American and evangelical Christian lobbying for US intervention in south and west Sudan, and argue that a focus on national interests provides a better understanding ofthe changes and contradictions in US policy.

Such an examination necessitates a consideration of how influence can be determined. Some scholars have examined influence by categorizing different lobbying strategies, while others draw on a more expansive concept that focuses on identity and solidarity in addition to campaign financing and voting.6 While these models provide useful tools to discern and infer influence, the purpose of this article is not to provide an empirical assessment of a lobby's tactics, demographic concentrations, or funding policies, but rather to understand how lobbying relates to national interest. This article seeks to discern whether or not there is a correlation between African American lobbying and US intervention, and how this correlation maybe understood within the rubric of the national self-interest. …

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