Things Fall Apart
Good Intentions Gone Awry

The world’s newest country is spiraling further into chaos, bloodshed, and mass rape, according to a United Nations report. As The New York Times reports:

A little more than two years after the outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, the United Nations said Friday that all parties to the conflict had committed serious and systematic violence against civilians, but it singled out forces loyal to President Salva Kiir as the worst offenders.

“Crimes against humanity and war crimes have continued into 2015, and they have been predominantly perpetrated by the government,” David Marshall, the coordinator of a United Nations assessment team, said in an interview that was videotaped in South Sudan and released Friday along with the team’s report.

The abattoir that is South Sudan, we should never forget, was the creation of NGOs and human rights advocates who pressed governments around the world to promote the establishment of a new country.

Idealistic visions of a Western-aligned democracy carved out of the blood-soaked regime of Omar al-Bashir were always unrealistically rosy. With a political class made up of guerillas used to 20 years of bush warfare and defined by ethnic loyalties, South Sudan’s fledgling unity government disintegrated into ethnic violence in December 2013.

There is an important lesson here: in foreign policy, good intentions are not enough. Fuzzy-minded but big-hearted idealists often contribute to the world’s suffering as much as—and perhaps even more than—cold hearted ruthless power seekers. Unfortunately, this is a bitter truth that too many media and academic types, sympathizing with the idealists and often more than a little bit fuzzy minded themselves, do their best to keep under wraps.

If humanitarians and idealists refuse to learn from the past, they will repeat it—at great cost to exactly those people they are trying to help.

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