Outraged human-rights activists rightly say “never again” as they urge action to stop the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. But the world is perfectly content with “again.” It is heartening to see left-wing celebrities like George Clooney, who headlined a Darfur protest in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, publicize the cause. But it would be even better if they realized that, in this context, multilateralism kills.

On Darfur, the “international community” offers only bad faith, selfish business deals, absurd political pandering and moral obtuseness. With any truly nettlesome international issue, it is almost always thus, which is why the world leadership of the United States is so important. The left pours scorn on the administration’s concept of “coalitions of the willing,” since it is associated with the Iraq War that the left so hates. But often the only alternative that traditional international fora offer to such ad hoc alliances is coalitions of the complacent, cowardly and cretinous.

Leading the coalition of the willingly self-interested on Darfur has been China. With the veto power that comes with its permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, China has been determined to block sanctions against Sudan. Most of Sudan’s oil goes to China, and the African nation is China’s fourth-largest supplier of oil. This trumps all other considerations for Beijing: Oil is thicker than blood, at least the blood of villagers who are the victims of the government-supported Janjaweed militias in Darfur.

Some have called for Muslim troops to augment an African Union peacekeeping contingent that is already on the ground. Nice idea, but where will you get them? The Arab League held a meeting in late March in Sudan’s capital of Khartoum, providing a dose of legitimacy to the regime. Since the killing in Darfur is perpetrated by Arab Muslims against black Muslims, the Arab League is notably unexercised by these crimes and refuses to be distracted from the apparently much more pressing work of fomenting anger over Danish cartoons.

The African Union is actually performing better than expected, although – given the low standard – that means very little. It has 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, which is nothing in an area almost as large as France. Its troops are, of course, underequipped and unprofessional.

President Bush wants a larger force under the auspices of the United Nations. But that proposal is slowly getting ground to dust by the multilateral machinery at work. Sudan objects and has gotten the African Union countries of Libya, Ethiopia and Egypt on its side. They believe it when Sudan argues that a more effective peacekeeping force would be a neocolonialist exercise, creating “masters in the West and slaves in Africa.” Never mind that Western governments have no interest in governing Sudan and would be content to leave it to its own devices, provided it stopped the raping and pillaging.

The U.N., for its part, can barely move. There’s the aforementioned China problem, and Russia – also a permanent member of the Security Council – is opposed to doing anything about a brutal regime killing people because it always wants to preserve its option to be one itself. Given the wildly various agendas of the countries of the U.N., it is impossible to forge a consensus on anything more controversial than recognizing the International Day of Older Persons.

That pretty much leaves the United States. It is not about to invade Darfur, but it has done the most of any international actor there, applying sanctions unilaterally, pouring massive aid into the region, drawing attention to the atrocities and working to promote the peace process. It is the U.S. that is most aggressively pushing for the world to do more rather than less.

When activists argue that the U.S. should do even more, they are implicitly conceding that little that is important or controversial in the world gets done unless America leads the way. So, Mr. Clooney, how does it feel to be a unilateralist?

Rich Lowry is a syndicated columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at: [email protected] nationalreview.com.