Celebrities' skirmishes with the law typically involve substance abuse or drunk driving. So let's give actor George Clooney a round of applause for breaking the mold. He was arrested outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. last week, protesting the latest atrocities committed by the Sudanese government against non-Arab tribes in the Nuba Mountains. Good for him.
Just one small problem, though: he got arrested at the wrong address. He should have been over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Getting arrested at the Sudanese Embassy in 2012 is a bit like getting arrested at Nazi Germany's embassy in 1941, to protest Hitler's atrocities against the Jews. Not that what Sudanese dictator Omar Bashir has done, or is doing, to non-Arab tribes in Darfur and Nuba is exactly the same as the Holocaust. (Although civil libertarian Nat Hentoff did memorably refer to him as "Africa's Hitler.")
Still, genocide is genocide and if you want to stop genocide, polite appeals to the perpetrators are not usually every effective.
If George Clooney wants to influence what Bashir does, he should address himself to the nearest world leader who is in a real position to influence Bashir: the president of the United States.
Not so long ago, Clooney seemed to understand that fact. In 2006, he came to Washington for a "Save Darfur" rally not far from the White House. At a press conference beforehand, he mocked the excuses that various governments were making for not trying to stop the Darfur genocide, such as the claim "that the U.S. government is stretched thin militarily." At the rally itself, Clooney charged that "the United States [read Bush administration] 's and United Nations' policies [regarding Darfur] are failing--and citizens must demand change."
Ironically, Clooney was flanked at the press conference, and followed at the speakers' podium, but a U.S. senator for whom "change" was about to become a calling card: Barack Obama. "If we care, the world will care," Mr. Obama declared. "If we act, then the world will follow."
Since taking office, however, President Obama has demonstrated that the opposite is also true. When the United States does not act, nobody else will, either.
Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for genocide. Yet he when he has traveled to countries that are major recipients of U.S. aid, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Mr. Obama has never criticized them for hosting him, much less taken any action to try to apprehend Bashir. Is it any wonder that no other country has tried to arrest him, either?