Darfur: Stop the Genocide, Stop the U.S. Spin

| Sun Apr. 30, 2006 12:49 AM EDT

Everybody talks about genocide, but, it seems, nobody in authority does anything about it. This past Sunday, there were major protests in Washington, featuring Sen. Barack Obama and actor George Clooney, and several other cities to raise awareness about the ethnic slaughter in the Darfur region. The rallies aim, in part, to prod the U.S. to take meaningful action. The prospects for peace, security and humanitrian aid in the region continue to deteriorate rapidly, with the Sudanese government ejecting another humanitarian aid organization.
But the United States' response to this crisis has been little more than rhetoric mixed with symbolic acts that have little real impact. Last week, the Progressive Policy Institute noted that the President's latest promise to seek 500 added NATO troops to supplement the feeble African Union force would do little to stop the slaughter.

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Update: On a perfect sunny day in Washington, thousands turned out to see speakers from Sudanese exiles to George Clooney call for increased pressure on Sudan, with a strong emphasis on the need for the U.S. to spur UN and NATO intervention. As the Washington Post reported:

They wore skullcaps, turbans, headscarves, yarmulkes, baseball hats and bandanas. There were pastors, rabbis, imams, youths from churches and youths from synagogues. They cried out phrases in Arabic and held signs in Hebrew. But on this day, they said, they didn't come out as Jews or Muslims, Christians or Sikhs, Republicans or Democrats.

They came out as one, they said, to demand that the Bush administration place additional sanctions on Sudan and push harder for a multinational peacekeeping force to be sent to Darfur.

By Washington standards, where protests often draw more than 100,000 people, yesterday's rally -- estimated by organizers at between 10,000 and 15,000 -- was not huge. Yet the Rally to Stop Genocide appeared to be distinctive for being one of the more diverse rallies the capital has seen in years. Most demonstrations attract fairly homogenous crowds, who often share political, religious and ethnic makeup, as was the case when Latinos dominated immigration protests last month.

But yesterday's rally brought together people from dozens of backgrounds and affiliations, many of whom strongly disagree politically and ideologically on many issues. Judging from T-shirts and banners identifying the various groups, Jews appeared to be among the largest contingent of demonstrators.

Indeed, one of the most intriguing parts of the rally was the numerous delegations of Jewish synagogues and students from the East Coast, adapting the "Never Again!" slogan first used to remember the Holocaust, now applied to what has been branded "the first genocide of the 21st Century." Elie Weisel spoke as a visible reminder of the need to stop another Holocaust from happening.

"It is the capital of suffering," said Elie Weisel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor. "We have to gather and tell the victims they are not alone. Silence only helps the oppressor."

The rally had some progressive superstars and prominent politicians, including Al Sharpton, Clooney, Sen. Barack Obama, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, but some of the most eloquent explantions of what's happening there came from Nick Clooney, George's father. A veteran journalist, he talked about the refugees -- some of the 2 million forced from their lands -- they visited in Chad hanging on by a "gossamer thread" in the refugee camps, looking only for the next bottle of water while the world has abandoned them. You can read a news account and see some video clips here.

Last week, the need for more action was well summarized by the PPI-affiliated Democratic Leadership Council, which pointed out:

There are a number of steps the United States could take, well short of the threat of unilateral military action, to signal real determination to Khartoum. Nicholas Kristof noted several in a column in yesterday's New York Times: a no-fly zone in Darfur; a major speech by the president on the crisis; a summit involving our European allies (none of whom will do more than shed crocodile tears over Darfur), and a public diplomacy offensive drawing attention to the loss of life in the region. Moreover, when the new pallid sanction on Khartoum predictably produce no result, the United States should return to the United Nations and push for more robust sanctions, making this subject a much higher priority in our relations with Russia and China.

Most of all, the Bush administration should stop publicly or privately telling Khartoum the outcome is in its own hands. As Kevin Croke of PPI notes of the current strategy, which he calls "a very strange sort of choreographed political hyposcrisy:"

The Sudanese government will have to consent to a U.N. force to protect the very civilians the government itself has been targeting through its Janjaweed proxies. But why would they agree? After all, the international community has been demanding they do exactly that for the past 3 years. What has changed? What new pressures are being applied?

Those in both political parties and all across the U.S. ideological spectrum who have raised alarms about Darfur need to step up the pressure on the administration to step up the pressure on Khartoum. At a minimum, they need to expose the latest series of administration "actions" on Darfur for what they are: empty gestures accompanied by a counsel of despair

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As Kevin Croke of PPI wrote:

Three years into the conflict in Darfur, it's still not clear if the United States has a strategy to stop the ongoing genocide. Two months ago, there was a glimmer of hope: In February, the United States used its month-long presidency of the U.N. Security Council to push for the transformation of the current African Union monitoring force into a much larger and more aggressive U.N. peacekeeping contingent. But just as this promising change seemed imminent, it fell apart. Under heavy pressure from Khartoum, the governments of the African Union began to drag their feet. This left the situation in a dangerous limbo: The AU force, with only 6,000 troops and rudimentary capabilities, isn't up to the job of protecting several million refugees. Yet the plan of building a bigger and more effective U.N. force around the AU contingent simply can't happen if the AU refuses to cooperate. The AU must be brought around, but even that won't be a panacea. The next task will be to pressure the Sudanese government into allowing the deployment of the new U.N. force.

Against this backdrop, The Washington Post reported last week that the Bush administration has decided on a new policy: NATO will send a team of up to 500 advisors to help the AU force with logistics, planning, and intelligence. Some Darfur watchers have taken this as an indication that the administration is giving up on serious intervention. After all, respected analysts like the International Crisis Group have long argued that an effective force will require at least 12,000 to 15,000 troops -- a far cry from 500 advisers. As The Washington Post editorial page argued, "Unless the Bush administration supplements these proposed [NATO] advisers with a more serious deployment, it will have capitulated."

Unfortunately, using American troops -- now being promoted by some liberal hawks who supported the Iraq invastion -- isn't going to work either, given our military's involvement in Iraq and the prospect it raises of a worldwide Muslim counter-attack. But Mark Leon Goldberg in the American Prospect has some sensible suggestions the U.S. could pursue diplomatically to step up the pressure. Yet while deriding "liberal hawks," even Goldberg argues that air strikes against some Sudanese military targets might be needed if all diplomatic measures and beefed-up African Union or U.N. forces fail to stop the genocide I don't know if airstrikes should be on the table, but here's his argument, with the caveat that the U.S. should seek UN approval for such an action:

But should Khartoum continue to support the their proxy janjaweed militia, disrupt humanitarian access to Darfur, or launch aggressive military campaigns in Darfur, the United States should reserve the right to launch cruise missile or airstrikes against Sudanese military instillations. The regime in Khartoum values its fleet of converted Antonov transport jets above human lives. So why not threaten the government where it will hurt? The leaders in Khartoum are not bloodthirsty thugs for the hell of it. Rather, they devised a counterinsurgency strategy of genocide precisely because it was the most practical way to suppress a rebellion. It would not take much to make that strategy prohibitively expense for Khartoum by taking out a few dozen aircraft. :

Before we go to that extreme, the U.S, using its leverage, needs to get far more international pressure applied to the Sudanese government. As the Save Darfur organization reported:

On Friday, representatives of the Save Darfur Coalition met with President Bush hours after five U.S. Representatives and six religious, international development and student leaders were arrested for protesting outside the Sudanese Embassy against the Darfur genocide. The rally highlighted four demands that the Save Darfur Coalition has made of the Sudanese government:

1. Withdraw any objection to a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur. The purpose of such a force would be to protect your own citizens from harm, and there is already ample precedent, given the current UN peacekeeping force in south Sudan.

2. Allow humanitarian relief organizations full and unfettered access to the villages and refugee camps for internally displaced people in Darfur. A good first step would be reinstating the Norwegian Refugee Council, which the Sudanese government ejected from Sudan in early April.

3. Abide by the terms of the N'Djamena ceasefire calling for an end to hostilities in Darfur, and to UN Security Council resolutions by disarming the genocidal Janjaweed militias.

4. Fully commit to reaching a lasting agreement at the current, seventh round of the Abuja peace talks on Sudan's Darfur region.

There are a lot of good ideas worth pursuing, and the U.S. government needs to hear our voices so it takes action to stop the killing. Sunday's rallies were a good place for us to start, as well as joining with countless others to learn more ways to get involved at www.savedarfur.org.

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