The Common Good
February 2008

Aiming at Headlines

by Elizabeth Palmberg | February 2008

Bush administration amnesia spells disaster for Darfur.

Three years ago, the United States won a profound moral and foreign policy victory when it was instrumental in impelling the blood-stained regime in Khartoum to sign a substantive peace treaty with the main rebel group in southern Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Agree­ment (CPA) stopped a civil war that had cost 2.25 million lives, and in which Khartoum developed its strategy of using ethnically based proxy militias against civilians—a strategy that is now justly being named as genocide in Sudan’s western province of Darfur.

To get the CPA, the U.S. and allies used a united front of active, on-the-ground diplomacy backed up by real economic and political sanctions. Khartoum agreed to peace, to concrete mechanisms for sharing power and oil wealth, and to elections that—if they actually happen—would bring a democratic government to Sudan (2009) and allow southern Sudan to vote on independence (2011). Similar diplomacy-with-pressure in the 1990s had impelled Khartoum to stop its proxy militias in southern Sudan from taking slaves, and to quit being Osama bin Laden’s home away from home.

These international achievements stand in stark contrast to the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq, which started a civil war, has killed thousands of U.S. soldiers and uncounted Iraqi civilians, and will cost more than $1 trillion.

The moral victory of U.S. public concern for Sudan continues. The regime in Khartoum thought we would not care about genocide in Darfur because the victims are Muslim. It was wrong; we do care about the 2.5 million Darfuris driven from their homes, the more than 200,000 slain, the uncounted number raped.

But instead of taking effective action, the Bush administration seems mired in a bizarre inability to recall the winning strategy it used just three years ago: a diplomatic, economic, and political full-court press. Shockingly, current U.S. diplomatic efforts in Sudan are sporadic, uncoordinated with our allies, and woefully understaffed. President Bush’s special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios, hasn’t even been hired full-time. As Gayle Smith, co-founder of the anti-genocide Enough Project, puts it, “The bottom line is that the administration’s trying to do this on the cheap and at low political or other risk or cost.” The result is dead-on-arrival deals like the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, signed by only one rebel splinter group. The reason we keep reading headlines about diplomacy without results in Darfur is because U.S. diplomacy there is aiming at headlines, not results.

Diplomacy must be backed not by empty threats such as Bush’s anemic “Plan B,” but by real economic and political consequences. Khartoum knows how to evade the U.S.’s decade-old unilateral sanctions, so we must act in concert with other countries to pressure banks to stop handling Khartoum’s oil deals, among other measures. U.S. intelligence services already have evidence on Sudanese officials who helped plan the Darfur genocide; we must pass this to the International Criminal Court and enlist a coalition to freeze culprits’ bank accounts and ban them from international travel.

We must also make sure the U.N./African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur has the equipment, command structure, mandate, and civilian human rights monitors it needs, without the restrictions Khartoum wants. But we must not mistake this humanitarian measure for a long-term solution; it is not what will effectively bring the genocide’s perpetrators to heel.

The Khartoum regime’s strategy is to divide and conquer, both within the international community (using its oil customer, China) and on the ground in Darfur (there are more than a dozen rebel factions now; Khartoum even stirs up dissent among the Arab groups from which it recruited the Janjaweed). To make a viable peace deal possible, U.S. and allied diplomats must help build bridges between rebel groups and give a voice to civilians, including women.

Khartoum would like to play off different demands made on it in order to weasel out of its obli­ga­tions, as it is trying to do with regard to the hard-won accord with southern Sudan (among other offenses, delaying a vital pre-election census). We must address all of the region’s problems in concert—Darfur, CPA implementation, the violence washing over Darfur’s border with Chad, anti-terrorism cooperation, and the murderous “Lord’s Resistance Army” (which Khartoum sometimes backs) in Uganda.

It sounds complicated, and it is, but compared to the magnitude of the moral imperative, it will require a relatively modest investment of people and resources. And, unlike the invasion of Iraq, it just might work.

Elizabeth Palmberg, an assistant editor of Sojourners, recommends www.savedarfur.org and www.enoughproject.org to learn more on this issue. For a transcript of the interview with Gayle Smith, Click Here

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