In Sudan, Help Comes From Above
- In Sudan, Help Comes From Above
By JULIE FLINT
July 6, 2007
THE one bright light in the dismal international response to the
slaughter and starvation in Sudan's Darfur region has been a
humanitarian effort that has kept more than two million displaced
people alive. In the fifth year of the war, mortality levels among
Darfurians reached by relief are marginally better than they were
before the war and lower than in the capital, Khartoum. In South
Sudan, where conflict is stilled, children have higher death rates and
lower school enrollment.
This is a formidable achievement, better than in any comparable war
zone in Africa. Credit the likes of Oxfam, Mercy Corps and Doctors
Without Borders, and their 13,000-strong army of relief workers 90
percent of them Sudanese.
Yet these successes will be lost if Democratic presidential candidates
get their wish: a no-flight zone that is militarily enforced over
Darfur. The idea, supported by Senator Hillary Clinton and others, is
that this would pressure the Sudan government into allowing the
immediate deployment of a joint United Nations-African Union
peacekeeping force. "If they fly into it, we will shoot down their
planes," Mrs. Clinton said last week at a Democratic presidential
debate. "It is the only way to get their attention."
Aid agencies are quietly appalled by the prospect of a no-flight zone.
They believe Khartoum would respond by grounding humanitarian aircraft
and, at worst, by forcing aid agencies to leave. Even if Khartoum
didn't ground flights, the United Nations most likely would, for fear
of sending its planes into a potential combat zone. Without
humanitarian air access, Darfurians would soon suffer lethal health
and food crises. [Mass death is what Hillary Clinton is going for. She
was fully supportive of the genocidal sanctions on Iraq. -WVNS]
In the event of heightened military activity on the ground, Darfurians
would be caught in the crossfire. The people of Kosovo and Bosnia had
easier access to neighboring host countries. Darfur is vast and dry.
Its people would not be able to flee to safety easily.
Today, as Khartoum's janjaweed militias turn against each other, rebel
movements fragment and banditry rages, millions of Darfurians who
depend on humanitarian assistance can be reached only by air. United
Nations and African Union traffic accounts for 9 of every 10 flights
in Darfur. Some agencies deliver as much as 90 percent of their
supplies using aircraft. The collapse of the humanitarian apparatus
would be a death sentence for Darfurians, especially those in camps
who rely on aid agencies for food, clean water and shelter.
Proposing a no-flight zone is an easy sound bite for presidential
hopefuls eager to harness the grassroots support enjoyed by the Save
Darfur Coalition, the advocacy movement that has kept Darfur in the
spotlight but that has also, unfortunately, used its position to call
for a no-flight zone. But enforcing one would be a phenomenal
challenge. Darfur is bigger than Iraq and nearly 50 times larger than
Kosovo. The nearest airfields in Chad are a vast distance from any
A no-flight zone would do little or nothing to address the reality
that the greatest threat to civilians in Darfur today comes on the
ground not from the air.
The number of civilians killed by air attacks this year in Darfur is
in the dozens. Yes, it's a shocking crime for a government to bombard
its own citizens. But it's simply wrong to say, as Mrs. Clinton did
during a speech last week in Washington, that American action should
be "focused on the air support the Sudanese provide to the janjaweed
as they rape and pillage their way through villages."
Mrs. Clinton is reading from an outdated script. During the height of
the conflict in 2003-4, the worst violence in Darfur was caused by
coordinated ground and air attacks against villages accused of
supporting the rebels. But this year it has been caused by battles on
the ground between Arab militias fighting one another over land and by
attacks by rebels now aligned with the government. Not once this year
has there been aerial bombing "before, during and after" these
offensives, as Mrs. Clinton claimed. Today, stopping military flights
wouldn't make much of a difference to the Darfurian people.
Khartoum claims that international aid organizations are agents of
hostile Western governments whose ultimate goal is regime change.
Already, threats of coercive military action are giving oxygen to
regime hard-liners. A military strike during enforcement of a
no-flight zone would most likely hand President Omar Hassan al-Bashir
the same kind of propaganda victory he scored when American cruise
missiles knocked out a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum in 1998.
The United States should step back from confrontational rhetoric and
empty threats. Instead, it should support efforts to mend rebel
divisions and encourage new peace talks that are not tied to
artificial deadlines. It should push for strengthened monitoring and
public reporting of hostile flights, as envisaged under United Nations
Security Council Resolution 1591, and take the lead to develop an
international consensus for effective actions to change the situation
where it would really make a difference on the ground. The
overstretched African Union peacekeepers need to be strengthened
immediately, with a new mandate that authorizes them to protect the
camps for the displaced.
The humanitarian's first obligation is to do no harm. Talk of coercive
military action must end. A no-flight zone would be recklessly
dangerous and would not address the real problems in Darfur. To
endanger the region's humanitarian lifeline is not simply
wrong-headed. It is inhumane.
Julie Flint is the co-author of "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War."
Will Sudan be Re-Colonized?
By Stephen Gowans
The United States is maneuvering to introduce a UN peacekeeping force
into Darfur, as a first step to securing control of the region's vast
supply of oil. US control of Darfur's petroleum resources would
deliver highly profitable investment opportunities to US firms, and
scuttle China's investment in the region, thereby slowing the rise of
a strategic competitor whose continued industrial growth depends on
secure access to foreign oil. Washington is using highly exaggerated
charges of genocide as a justification for a UN intervention it would
dominate, while at the same time opposing a workable peacekeeping plan
acceptable to the Sudanese government that would see the current
African Union mission in Darfur expand.
While Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is often presented as
obstinately opposing the introduction of peacekeepers into Darfur,
Sudan has already accepted an AU force, urges the strengthening of the
current AU mission, but opposes its replacement by Western troops.
Bashir's fear is that a Western military presence will become
permanent, and that Sudan the first country south of the Sahara to
gain independence will be the first country to be re-colonized.
His fears can't be dismissed.
There is no shortage of turmoil in Darfur for Western trouble-makers
to exploit. Conflicts over water and grazing land have raged for
decades between sedentary farmers and nomadic tribes. And now there's
a new flashpoint: who will reap the benefits of the region's new found
In other places, the practice of the United States, Britain, Germany
and other Western powers has been to inflame tensions within countries
whose resources and cheap labor make them attractive targets for
economic take-over, or whose public policies block or impose
conditions on foreign investment and trade. The turmoil is often used
as a pretext for intervention. While the real reasons for intervention
are inextricably bound up with profit-making opportunities, the stated
reasons are invariably presented as being related to selfless
humanitarianism. This was as true of the Nazis, who said they were
intervening militarily in countries across Europe to rescue oppressed
German minorities and to save the continent from communism, as it is
of the United States today, which, we're expected to believe, can't
afford to provide healthcare to all its citizens, but can spend
countless billions on wars to deliver democracy and freedom to
non-citizens half way across the globe.
Consider Yugoslavia. There the United States and Germany encouraged
secessionism, and then used the ensuing conflicts as justification to
establish a permanent NATO military presence, followed by the sell-off
of the dismembered federation's publicly- and socially-owned assets.
While the secessionist conflicts were real, the consequences were
often grossly exaggerated to justify intervention on humanitarian
grounds. The tens of thousands of bodies NATO spokesmen warned would
be found scattered throughout Kosovo after the 1999 78-day NATO terror
bombing campaign like the weapons of mass destruction used to
justify another war were never found. Heaps of bodies thrown to the
bottom of the Trepca mines, like Iraq's banned weapons, were inventions.
True to form, Washington declares the conflict in Darfur to be a
genocide (another invention), a finding that compels international
action, but Washington quietly reveals its true motivations in an
executive order to strengthen sanctions on Sudan, which cites "the
pervasive role played by the government of Sudan in Sudan's petroleum
and petrochemical industries." Washington then declares Sudan's
control of Sudanese petroleum resources to be a threat to "U.S.
national security and foreign policy interests."
Two realities suggest that it is US foreign policy interests (which is
to say, the interests of the banks, corporations and hereditary
capitalist families which dominate policy-making in Washington), and
not genocide, that shapes US policy on Sudan.
First, while there has unquestionably been a large number of violent
deaths in Darfur, there has never been a genocide. This is not to say
that Khartoum isn't guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
It may be just as securely ensconced in the club of war criminal
countries as the US, Britain and Israel. But on the matter of
genocide, the UN Commission on Darfur was quite clear: there has been
no genocide in Darfur, notwithstanding Washington's allegations. What
there has been is a disproportionate response by Khartoum to attacks
by rebel groups on police stations and government buildings, and while
that response has targeted entire groups, it has not been aimed at
The response of the public in the West one based on uncritical
acceptance of the genocide alarm raised by a notoriously untruthful
Bush administration speaks volumes about the power of Western
governments, the media and ruling class foundations and think-tanks to
selectively galvanize support for interventions in some countries,
while effacing all recognition of comparable or greater levels of
violent conflict and avoidable tragedy elsewhere. The number of
violent deaths in Darfur (in the hundreds of thousands) is modest by
the standards of other African conflicts. Fighting has claimed four
million lives in the Congo since 1998. Were there ever Save Congo
marches, as there were Save Darfur marches worldwide last September?
Some 600,000 Iraqis are dead as a result of the US and British
invasion of Iraq. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says 3.7
million Iraqis are displaced, the largest refugee crisis since 800,000
Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from ex-Mandate Palestine by
Zionist forces in 1948. There will be no US or British-sponsored Save
Iraq or al-Awda campaigns.
Second, Washington has systematically undermined the peacekeeping
efforts of the African Union in Darfur. The AU force was raised by
funds provided by the US and EU. Washington and the Europeans had
struck a deal with the African Union a decade ago to underwrite
interventions in the continent's hot spots by African troops, but
their promises have never been completely delivered upon. Midway
through 2006, Washington announced funding would be withdrawn for the
AU force in Darfur and that a stronger UN force needed to take its
place. The AU force, it was lamented, had too few troops to be
effective. A stronger UN force was needed. But if so, why had the US
and EU not spent the money necessary to maintain an effective AU force
in the first place? And why not spend the money that would go to
building a larger UN force on strengthening the existing AU force?
This would be acceptable to the Sudanese government. It's happy to
endorse a bulked-up AU force, but is frightened a UN force, made up of
Western troops, will be used to bring about regime change and force
Sudan back under a Western colonial heel.
A chess match is now been played out between pro-intervention members
of the Security Council (the US and Britain), those opposed (China),
and Khartoum, whose approval is required before UN troops can be
deployed. From Khartoum's and China's point of view, an outright
rejection of a UN mission is undesirable because it could hand
Washington and London a pretext to assemble a coalition of the willing
to invade Sudan. Both countries, then, have an interest in
compromising on a UN peacekeeping mission, so long as it is held in
check by significant AU participation. The US and Britain, on the
other hand, are angling to give UN authorities as much influence as
possible. These considerations can be seen in a tentative June 12 deal
which would see the creation of a new peacekeeping force made up
mostly of African troops, with an AU commander given operational
authority, while overall authority resides with the UN. The AU
commander would make decisions on the ground but UN authorities could
over-ride his decisions if they disagreed. Considering the US's
history of trying to change the Sudanese government, its defining of
Sudanese state control of the oil industry as a threat to US foreign
policy interests, and its strategic interest in sabotaging China's
access to Darfur's oil, it would not be long before the UN found a
reason to disagree with the AU commander's decision, and assumed full
control of the mission.
There is indeed a very real risk that Sudan could be brought back
under Western colonial domination, with a UN peacekeeping force
setting the stage. The ideology of humanitarian intervention will, as
has always been the case when imperialist powers seek to use force to
advance the interests of their economic elites, provide the pretext.
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