Darfur: A humanitarian invasion?
- Darfur crisis sparks calls for U.S. action, but can there be...
A "humanitarian" invasion?
By Lance Selfa
May 5, 2006 | Page 4
THE ONGOING crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan brought thousands of
people to "Stop genocide" rallies held in Washington, D.C., and cities
across the country April 30.
Dozens of members of Congress, prominent religious leaders and
Hollywood entertainers lent their voices to the calls against the
atrocities in the region, which is on the western edge of Sudan,
bordering Chad. In stark contrast to the movement against the Iraq
Warwhich most elected officials won't touchdozens of politicians
flocked the stage on the Capitol Mall in Washington.
Six members of Congress were arrested April 28 protesting the Sudanese
government's arming of paramilitary forces held responsible for
butchering tens of thousands and for driving as many as 2 million from
their homes. George Bush himself announced last week that he endorsed
the April 30 rallies, saying they would send a message that "genocide
in Sudan is unacceptable."
An even broader coalition of groups, called the Save Darfur Coalition,
sponsored the rallies. "The National Association of Evangelicals and
the American Humanist Association might not agree on much," wrote
Matthew Hay Brown in the Baltimore Sun. "When it comes to abortion or
homosexuality, the Union for Reform Judaism and the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops find themselves on opposite ends of the debate. But
when the subject is genocide in Darfur, all are on the same page."
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THE CRISIS that these unlikely allies are responding to began in 2003,
when two Darfuri rebel forces, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and
the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), launched an uprising against
the military regime in the capital of Khartoum. The SLA and JEM,
Muslim farmers who identify as African, were fed up with the Islamic
central government's neglect of the region and its efforts to
"Arabize" the population of Darfur.
In response, the Sudan government, taking advantage of ethnic and
class divisions within Darfur, armed militias composed of nomadic
livestock traders who identify as Arabs, to attack the rebels. The
result has been three years of a scorched-earth campaign that
displaced millions, killed as many as 200,000 and drove an estimated
200,000 to seek refuge in UN sponsored camps in Chad.
In 2004, the United Nations (UN) Security Council demanded that Sudan
disarm the militias and reach a peace settlement with the rebels. The
UN authorized, and Sudan agreed to, an African Union peacekeeping
force in Darfur, but of no more than 7,000.
At the same time, Sudan has stonewalled UN attempts to deliver
humanitarian aid. And the "international community" that pledged more
than $600 million to help the refugees has not come through. Just last
week, UN aid officials announced that because of funding shortfalls,
they would have to cut food rations for refugees from 2,100 calories a
day to a near-subsistence level of 1,050 calories a day.
This terrible situation has received no help from the Bush
administration, which refused to label the attacks in Darfur
"genocide" until the 2004 election campaign, when it changed its
rhetoric to curry favor with the religious right.
The Bush administration came to power in 2001 determined to normalize
relations with a Sudanese government and open its oil-rich South to
Western investment. For that reason, it sought to force a settlement
between the Sudanese government and Christian and animist rebels in
the South, which had endured a separate decades-long scorched-earth
In 2003, just as Sudan and the Southern rebels were concluding a
tentative agreement, the uprising in Darfur erupted.
Since then, the U.S. has played a double game in Darfur. It has called
for a stepped-up NATO presence, while enlisting the Sudanese
government in the "war on terror."
Last year, the U.S. government hosted a secret visit by Gen. Salah
Abdullah Gosh, head of Sudan's secret police, who has worked with the
CIA's covert "rendition" program and other secret operations against
Islamic militants. "Their competence level as a service is very high,"
a State Department official told the Los Angeles Times. "You can't
survive in that part of the world without a good intelligence service,
and they are in a position to provide significant help."
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FOR ALL of these reasonsthe horrific conditions in Darfur, the Bush
administration's indifference, and the sense that "something must be
done"many thousands of ordinary people want to express their
solidarity with the people of Darfur.
But we should also ask about what these thousands of people are
demanding. To answer this question, we have to take a look at the
organizations that have rallied around the Darfur issue and formulated
the demands made of the Bush administration.
As noted above, the coalition for Darfur covers a spectrum from the
Religious Right to the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). While
some may laud this ideological diversity as a strength, it's clear
that it narrows the coalition's demands to what will be acceptable to
such an ideologically diverse group.
To judge from the coalition's "talking points," what is acceptable is
a series of calls on the Bush administration, Congress and the UN
that, added together, ask for "humanitarian" military
interventionthrough a "UN peacekeeping force" and providing
"significant help" to African Union peacekeepers "with its
command-and-control structure and intelligence operation."
What's noteworthy about these demands is that they almost all revolve
around some kind of military intervention. There is not even a single
demand calling for the U.S. to spend money to support humanitarian aid
It may be argued that this militaristic tone is all that the Save
Darfur Coalition can agree on. But it's worth noting that the liberal
Progressive Democrats of America's action plan for Darfur echoes this
tone: "Impose an embargo on Sudanese ports, an arms embargo on the
government of Sudan, and implement economic and travel sanctions
against key individuals; deploy adequate numbers of peacekeepers to
Darfur under the auspices of NATO; impose a No-Fly-Zone over Darfur."
The PDA sound like the real hawks!
Seeing these demands, it becomes easier to understand how ardent
Zionists and Iraq war hawks like Rep. Tom Lantos and Elie Wiesel can
be lining up with Iraq war critics like actor George Clooney to
protest the Darfur atrocities. To them, protesting the atrocities in
Darfuragainst an Islamic military regime, it should be rememberedis
part of the "war on terrorism."
Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and one of the members of Congress
arrested on April 28, is a major supporter of Plan Colombiathe latest
military offensive in Colombia that has contributed over the years to
the displacement of 3 million peopleand of Israel.
The Jewish newspaper Forward reported that the Save Darfur Coalition
is "an umbrella organization of more than 150 religious and human
rights groups" with "a disproportionately Jewish presence."
Many of these groups are prominent supporters of Israeldespite the
Israeli government's record of maintaining squalid refugee camps for
Palestinians, starving out communities and attacking civilians with
helicopter gunships. These are all atrocities that the Sudanese
government and its allies in Darfur have conducted against the
civilian population there.
If the more conservative forces in the Save Darfur coalition are
pressing the Bush administration to intervene in Darfur, they are
following the same logic of the neoconservatives who criticized Bush
for "selling out" port security in its Dubai dealor who think Bush
should foster regime change against the government of Saudi Arabia,
instead of "coddling" it because of its oil wealth.
Unfortunately, when liberals and even radicals sign on to this
program, they are giving the conservatives a cover and "human rights"
credentials they don't deserve.
What's more, we can't rule out the possibility that the Bush
administration will decide U.S. interests are better served by
scrapping its double game, and shifting to open support of the Darfur
rebels and direct intervention in Sudan. Bush's endorsement of the
April 30 rally suggests this possibility.
The liberal supporters of "humanitarian intervention" will have
provided the Bush administration with an excuse for a new war.
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IF THE Darfur issue is truly about helping the people of Darfurand
not about giving the U.S. military (or NATO or the African Union or
the UN) a humanitarian excuse to intervene in Sudanthen the movement
should aim at helping the people of Darfur.
First, we should demand that the U.S. increase the level of
humanitarian assistance to the region. It's scandalous that UN relief
efforts are being cut back because of funding shortfalls.
Second, we can demand that the U.S. break its covert ties with the
Sudanese government and its security services. How can a movement
demand that the leaders of Sudan's security services be considered war
criminals while it refuses to criticize the U.S. government's
collaboration with the same war criminals in the "war on terror"?
Third, we can demand that the U.S. and the EU open their borders to
Darfur refugees. In the 2006 fiscal year, only 20,400 people from the
entire continent of Africa will be allowed to immigrate to the U.S.
Those who say that these demands aren't "realistic" should ask
themselves why calls for a "no-fly zone" or military intervention,
under whatever flag, are deemed "realistic" or even "humanitarian"
The record of "humanitarian intervention" includes the 1999 NATO war
over Kosovo, which killed thousands of innocent people, and has left
NATO occupying Kosovo. When the U.S. intervened in Bosnia and
Croatiaallegedly to stop ethnic cleansingit orchestrated the largest
act of ethnic cleansing during the entire war in the former
Yugoslavia, 1995's "Operation Storm" that drove 200,000 Serbs out of
their homes in Croatia.
In 1992, the U.S. invaded Somalia, allegedly to help starving
Somalians. Instead, it tried to create a U.S.-friendly government and
became locked into a war with Somali warlords. Thousands of ordinary
Somalians perished at the hands of the U.S. military. And revelations
of barbarous racism against Somalis, including rape and murder at the
hands of UN peacekeeping forces, further sullied this "humanitarian
That's not even to mention what the U.S. is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is the real record of the U.S. militaryand it shows the
injustice that any military intervention in Darfur is certain to involve.
Michele Bollinger contributed to this article.
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