Obama Can Make a Difference in Darfur
The stories are beginning to trickle in from displaced-persons camps in Darfur: increasing hunger, epidemics and -- the quietest killer -- a shortage of water in the Sahara.
Last month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. His response was to expel international aid agencies that provide a lifeline to Darfurians, and with that, "never again" is being made into "once again" through a continuation of genocide by other means. But Mr. Bashir's deadly gambit provides an opportunity.
The ICC judges were split on whether to include charges of genocide, but they left the dossier open so additional evidence of intent could be added. Mr. Bashir's expulsion order should provide evidence of intent, because the aid organizations were keeping specific groups of Darfurians alive. Thousands will die even if a compromise is implemented that allows some agencies to return but leaves the causes of the crisis unaddressed.
President Barack Obama should now move to finally end the crisis in Sudan, rather than to respond to the immediate symptoms. His administration and its new special envoy to Sudan, Gen. Scott Gration, can do that by focusing on three things.
First, the overt use of starvation as a weapon of war is distasteful even to ardent supporters of the Sudanese regime who understand that Mr. Bashir is increasingly a source of instability. The Obama administration should embark on a public diplomacy blitz to ensure that as many countries as possible will demand that humanitarian aid be unfettered by politics. The focus should be on isolating Mr. Bashir for starving his own citizens -- as he has done before in Southern Sudan, leading to the deaths of two million people there -- and on ensuring that aid is no longer subject to deadly restrictions.
Second, the arrest warrant for Mr. Bashir offers an opportunity. A number of Arab countries are becoming fed up with Mr. Bashir for his actions in Darfur and his support for Hamas. China is concerned about the risk Mr. Bashir's warmongering is bringing to its $8 billion investment in Sudan's oil sector. Internally, divisions within the ruling party are emerging. Mr. Obama should conduct a private diplomatic effort to explore how governments could downgrade relations with Sudan's indicted president and eventually end his 20-year presidency. There must be a consequence for orchestrating violence. There also must be an end to the cycle of impunity that has allowed 2.5 million people to die.
And third, there is a global consensus on Sudan. China, the Arab League, the African Union, the European Union and the U.S. all want peace but are not working together for it. A deal for Darfur could be brokered, if Mr. Obama and his envoy work with the international community. What has been missing is America's leadership in forging a coalition that can both negotiate with and pressure Sudan to seek peace in Darfur as well as implement the existing peace agreement for the South. Building this coalition for peace should be Mr. Obama's objective.
The U.S. needs to lead the international community in presenting Sudanese regime officials with a choice. If they allow access to aid organizations, sideline their indicted president, and secure peace for Darfur and the South, then they will be offered a clear path toward normal relations with the U.S. and other coalition partners. But if those officials use starvation as a weapon, allow Mr. Bashir to remain defiant, and make no progress toward peace, then there will be escalating costs in the form of targeted economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and potential military action.
The crisis is not a new one. The refrain regarding international crises is often, "If only the world knew, we would have done something." The people of Darfur know that we know. What they are waiting to find out is if we care enough to act. When the dust clears and the bodies are buried, burned or left to rot in forsaken camps, the world will mourn for what it did not do. What Darfur needs is not a future apology, but steps today that offer hope.