For a few years, the plight of the people of the Darfur region of Sudan captured the imagination of human rights activists in the United States when the depredations of the Islamist government of that country assumed a level of horror that many branded genocide. A series of peace initiatives including an agreement that allowed the southern region of the country to declare independence seemingly relieved well-meaning Americans of the responsibility for caring about what happens in the Horn of Africa. But the outbreak of what may well be a war that will bring a fresh round of atrocities ought to get the attention of not only the human rights crowd but President Obama.

Reuters reports that Sudan has bombed a market town in South Sudan as part of a border dispute over oil rich land and the complicated economic relationship between the two countries. Sudan’s leader, the indicted war criminal Omar al-Bashir, has stated that he isn’t interested in negotiating with the South Sudanese government. And in what may not be a coincidence, a Muslim mob burned a church in Sudan that was frequented by South Sudanese, a reminder that the dispute between the Muslim north and the largely non-Muslim south has always had a religious aspect to it. But with Russia and China reportedly continuing to provide weapons and training to Khartoum, the onus now falls on President Obama to back up the speech he gave yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum about preventing atrocities.

U.S. influence was a major factor in the ability of the south to win its independence from Sudan. While it is possible that the policies of South Sudan’s belligerent President Salva Kiir may not be without fault in this dispute, there’s little question that Bashir, the man who was largely responsible for mass murder in Darfur, is itching to gain some revenge for losing the south. The question is, will the United States stand by idly while the forces of the north assail the pro-Western government of South Sudan?

It is understandable that the Obama administration is wary of diving into a nasty spat in a region that has been the venue for a long series of proxy wars in which Russian (and now Chinese) allies faced off against friends of the West. But the notion that South Sudan, which only gained its formal independence last July, should be allowed to be bombed by the government of an Islamist war criminal without a strong American response is unacceptable.

It shouldn’t be too hard for Americans to pick a side in this otherwise messy dispute. For decades, the non-Muslims of the south fought to resist domination by Muslims who wished to impose their own religious laws on the country. It was no accident that the people of South Sudan looked to America for help. The new government has also expressed its friendship for Israel, which it views as a nation similarly assailed by Muslims who cannot tolerate sovereignty exercised by those who do not share their faith.

As COMMENTARY contributor Ben Cohen wrote in a column for the JointMedia News Service, the peril of South Sudan ought to particularly engage American Jews who expended so much energy rallying to save the people of Darfur. For years, some leftists and sympathizers with Israel’s foes have claimed the effort to focus attention on Islamist genocide in Darfur was a Zionist plot. Now that the same government that perpetrated crimes against humanity in Darfur (and for which its leader was never brought to justice) is looking to attack South Sudan, the same activists who were prepared to treat human rights in the Horn of Africa as a Jewish priority must not lose interest in the country. President Obama has called for more negotiations,but Bashir’s bombing of the south shows just how much he cares about the opinion of the United States. The president, who has never made human rights a foreign policy priority but who wishes to be seen as caring about such issues, must not let the bombing of South Sudan go unanswered.

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