President Bush reiterated this Tuesday that "genocide" is the "rightful name" for the bombing, murder, and rape in western Sudan.
Thus he stepped in where most governments fear to tread, using a term that imposes moral obligations to act under the 1948 United Nations treaty defining "genocide" as a punishable crime.
Serbia was the first country to be brought up before the UN World Court at The Hague on charges of genocide, because of its ethnic cleansing campaign against the Bosnians. The court admonished Serbia for failing to prevent the Srebrenica massacre, but it was cleared of genocide charges.
During 100 days in Rwanda in 1994, more than 800,000 – mostly Tutsis and some moderate Hutus – were killed. On a visit to Rwanda, ex-President Bill Clinton expressed regret for his "personal failure" in not doing much to prevent that genocide.
So, now Darfur, where at least a quarter-million have been killed. Actually, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had already charged Sudan with genocide in 2004, after months of State Department investigation confirmed "a consistent and widespread pattern of atrocities."
In renewing the genocide appellation, Mr. Bush is faced now with having to take action beyond economic sanctions to stop the slaughter in Darfur. The UN Security Council is considering a US-British-French draft resolution imposing an arms embargo on Sudan. But the resolution does not use the word "genocide."
Bush may consider taking action such as enforcing a no-fly zone against Sudanese military planes bombing the desperate villagers.
Bush's statement asserting that "for too long the people of Darfur have suffered at the hands of a government that is complicit in the bombing, murder, and rape of innocent civilians" suggests that he intends to make this his cause in the waning months of his presidency.
He promises to do in Darfur what Mr. Clinton failed to do in Rwanda.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.