What Next for Darfur?

The New Republic is devoting its current issue to Darfur, and many of the essays seem to suggest that the United States ought to grab its military and intervene to keep the peace there. (Or rather, many of the articles seem intent on tweaking unnamed liberals whose “anti-imperialist” pose supposedly makes them complicit in genocide… or something.)

Anyway, leaving aside the fact that the Khartoum government recently signed a peace agreement with the main Darfur rebel groups—which may or may not translate into actual peace—and a large-scale military intervention might be unnecessary, there are real practical problems with an invasion of Sudan, if that’s what’s being recommended, that this TNR editorial passes over much too glibly. I reported on a bunch of difficulties over a year ago, and Samantha Power notes that the obstacles are no less dire now:

Thanks to the war in Iraq, sending a sizable U.S. force to Darfur is not an option. Units in Iraq are already on their third tours, and the crumbling Afghan peace demands ever-more resources. Moreover, sending Americans into another Islamic country is unadvisable, given the ease with which jihadis could pour across Sudan’s porous and expansive borders. Making Darfur a magnet for foreign fighters or yet another front in the global proxy war between the United States and Al Qaeda would just compound the refugees’ woes.

So what could be done short of invasion if, as some fear, the peace talks break down? Mark Leon Goldberg of the American Prospect recently wrote a piece noting that the Bush administration could deploy much more diplomatic pressure than it has in the past, and that there are plenty of steps short of invading that could go very far to halting the violence.

Unfortunately, as Marisa Katz reports in the TNR issue, the administration’s policy towards Khartoum over the past three years has generally been unabashed appeasement—partly because Sudan’s genocidaires such as Salah Abdallah Gosh have offered cooperation on terrorism issues (although one official tells Katz that this cooperation hasn’t been all that valuable). Now the administration’s stance appears to be changing of late, and for whatever reason, Robert Zoellick seems to have been able to pressure most of the parties involved to agree to a tentative peace deal, although this is one of those things on which we’ll really have to wait and see.

Finally—and perhaps most importantly—Eric Reeves, who has done better and more extensive work on Darfur than any journalist over the past three years, surveys the vast humanitarian wreckage in Darfur and points out that even if the fighting stops (again, a big ‘if’), the area is still going to be an utter disaster. Millions are displaced. Agriculture has been ruined. The next generation of Darfuris will grow up without having learned the necessary farming skills to sustain themselves. There are refugee camps that are bordering on permanence. Massive foreign aid and assistance will be needed. Massive, but doable. Yet Western countries have rarely, if ever, been good about helping refugees in post-conflict environments, or devoting the requisite resources to alleviating poverty and the like. That will need to change, and it would be unimaginably catastrophic to ignore Darfur just because the fighting has stopped.


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