Monday, December 04, 2006

Invade Darfur?

The genocide in Darfur has been going on for a long time now, and the situation is only getting worse. The question that perplexes me is this: what can we, as Westerners, do?

Most of the advocacy that I've heard here in America has been political (whether overt or suggestive). In fact, the majority of the talk about this issue in America seems to be primarily focused on President Bush. See, for example, this appeal on the Evangelicals for Darfur website, which says that without Bush, "Darfur doesn't have a prayer"; this, of course, assumes that it has a prayer if Bush would only do something. That something, as far as I can tell, is only specified as "leading the world" in "supporting the deployment of a strong U.N. peacekeeping force and multilateral economic sanctions".

The site takes a similar line on its splash page. It also has a "Take Action" section which lists a few steps individuals can take: Lobby Congress... and get other people to lobby Congress. That's about it.

The site proclaims boldly on its headline, "Darfur: A Genocide We Can Stop". It also has a "Take Action" page. It advocates emailing President Bush "urging him to end the genocide" (how, exactly?), signing a petition, or... getting other people to do the same things.

A quick Google search of the Common Dreams progressive news site for the word Darfur makes quite clear that here in America, the Darfur situation is attached to President Bush, not to the militants themselves or to the Sudanese government which is inexcusably supporting the genocide... or even to the leaders of the Arab world community, who have remained largely silent (and who could have more potential diplomatic impact, certainly, than Westerners).

A blogger that I respect, Mark Daniels, posted a plea on his site recently for us to "stir ourselves to take the substantive steps to bring [the genocide] to an end." I asked him, in the comments, what steps he would recommend. He couldn't suggest any beyond a UN peacekeeping force... presumably more powerful than the one that currently exists, and more determined than the one that gave up when it met resistance from the Sudanese government.

Here's what primarily perplexes me, though. It appears to me that there is only one solution that the Western world can provide to the Darfur genocide... overwhelming force. That force will be fought against a ruthless indigenous force that is expert at blending into its civilian surroundings. And, the official Sudanese government has made it clear that we'll also have to fight the Sudanese military, so a regime change will also be necessary. Are we picking up some familiar themes here?

Oddly, it is primarily liberal/progressive groups that are calling for overwhelming UN forces and regime change (though they certainly don't use those words). Can we expect that the results in Sudan would be any better than the results in Iraq?

And, if the onus is on President Bush to "lead the world" to bring this about... then shouldn't we expect that the bulk of the troops that make up this UN force would come from the United States? It's not like the UN has its own army. Leadership would require commitment of troops.

Are progressives/liberals actually suggesting that we invade Sudan, impose regime change, and occupy the Darfur region indefinitely to prevent genocide? I see no other possible result of their advocacy, were it followed.

America has, to this point in our history, generally avoided any sort of military action that was not (at least purportedly) related to our own security. Vietnam was a bulkhead war against the Communists, as I understand it. The World Wars were to prevent a fascist regime from taking over Europe, eradicating our allies, and getting strong enough to take over America as well. The first Iraq war was to protect the oil supply that we (and our military) rely on, and again to protect critical allies. The second Iraq war was at least sold as a protective measure against future invasive terrorist attacks. In all of these cases, there was an enemy, whether the direct enemy we were fighting or some other enemy behind the scenes, that was threatening us in some way.

No such justification for military action can even tangentially be considered for the Sudan situation. Darfur, in that way, is much more similar to the Bosnian War. The UN did send a peacekeeping force, and the US was involved... but I have a feeling that if we were to replicate that level of involvement in Darfur, it would be inconsequential. The landscape is different, the nature of the conflict is different.

Are we willing to lead the way on a Bosnia-style intervention, except on a much larger scale? And are progressives/liberals actually pushing for such intervention?

Apart from a massive military invasion by a UN peacekeeping force largely peopled with US troops, fighting not only insurgents on their home turf but the Sudanese army as well, and maintaining a military presence in Sudan for an indefinite period of time to maintain the peace... apart from that, are there any practical suggestions on the table for what Western nations can do about Darfur?

I did come across one possibility in my researches. General economic sanctions aren't working, because Sudan is having no trouble finding non-Western customers for its goods. But, this article from the Genocide Intervention Network suggests indirect economic sanctions. That is, find any ways that any organizations we might have influence over do business with any other organizations that do business with Sudan... and cut off those business ties. That would take a huge degree of collective effort and will from the American people. I wonder if it would be feasible, and if it would be effective were it carried out. And, I wonder what I can do to start the process.

Unfortunately, as long as the bulk of our energy is aimed at President Bush, or even the UN, I doubt we'll see any progress at all.



steviepinhead said...

Mark, you have well expressed my level of frustration with the Darfur situation. I gather there is an African Union force in place, which is "sanctioned" by the Sudanese government, but which is ineffective to protect the civilians--or even the personnel of NGOs and relief agencies--from the marauders.

The UN SecGen appears to be leading the appeals to insert some sort of more effective UN peace-keeping force, but the Sudanese government is resisting, foot-dragging, wants command and control to remain with the African Union, etc.

I see no realistic way for the U.S. (Bush, Congress, anyone) to commit troops directly, indirectly via a UN force, or otherwise in the present circumstances--which, of course, prominently include the U.S. military's being mired in Iraq.

Now, one could go off on a tangent here, arguing that--had we only handled the Iraq situation better--we'd currently be better positioned to more potently assist with a human-misery crisis like Darfur. But that's pointless. Whether Iraq was a good idea (whether characterized as a human-relief effort or as a front on the war on terror or as a response to an imminent threat to American security) or has been prosecuted effectively, at the moment, it is straining our troops-on-the-ground logistical capabilities. Until we substantially "solve" Iraq, by one means or another--again, a topic for another day--then I don't see the U.S. as being able to usefully intervene in the Sudan, in any sort of military sense.

Again, arguably, all this might lend weight to the movement to get out of--or otherwise usefully resolve--the Iraq situation, but simply stating that accomplishes nothing useful in the here and now for the victims (and beleagured relief personnel) in Darfur.

It's possible that Bush, the U.S. Congress, and our UN rep--no longer Bolton--could lend additional or more effective "moral weight," powers of persuasion, and even financial pledges in aid of the UN's effort to project peacekeepers into the area (I don't here claim any familiarity with--or presume to criticize--whatever efforts the U.S. has made to date), but other than attempting to put the U.S.'s voice behind boosting the priority and visibility of this effort, I feel generally helpless.

Mark's notion of viewing the Sudanese leadership in the context of Muslim nations, rather than in an "African" context, seems worth exploring. I lack knowledge of whatever ties this regime--gang of thugs, more realistically, whatever lip service they may give to religion--may have to more stable regimes of any sort elsewhere. My impression is that they are widely perceived as rogues.

If their immediate neighbors and co-religionists see no way to reign them in, I'm not sure what role the U.S. can effectively play, beyond that of rather distant facilitation. But whatever that role, it certainly cannot be that of "lone ranger," given our other commitments of the moment.

Mark Congdon said...


Thanks for your feedback and input.

Mark's notion of viewing the Sudanese leadership in the context of Muslim nations, rather than in an "African" context, seems worth exploring

I make that distinction because the genocide is racially-motivated, pitting the Arabs in power against the non-Arabs. In that way, it seems to me more like a territory grab extending south from the Arabian Peninsula, dispossessing the native Africans. Arabs are relative newcomers to the African continent, so a racial genocide such as this carried out by Arabs against native Africans leads me to think of the Arabian Peninsula as the true center of possible influence.

whatever that role, it certainly cannot be that of "lone ranger," given our other commitments of the moment.

I'm interested in your thoughts on this... if we were not currently mired in Iraq, would you be in favor of committing significant troops on a long-term mission to overthrow the Sudanese government (since they seem to be making that necessary), suppress the militias, and maintain peace in the area? Do you think that thereby putting ourselves into a nation-building role, akin to what we've taken on in Iraq, would be a wise move in Sudan... assuming, of course, that it was executed more effectively... assuming, of course, that that's possible? :)


steviepinhead said...

Hey, Mark.

Wishfully imagining that we were free of our Iraq entanglements would not necessarily lead to a "lone ranger" invasion of Sudan with regime change as its immediate objective. You make good points--or, at least, for "liberals," rational use of irony--in questioning the wisdom of that sort of adventurism.

But disentanglement from Iraq--or non-entanglement with Iraq in the first place--would leave us with--might have left us with--a wider range of options, up to and including various military options. While much can be questioned about our Iraq involvement, and its consequences, one thing that it has accomplished is "regime change." Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athists are no longer in power and their return to power is among the few results of the current chaos that can be, with reasonable confidence, ruled out.

If we imagine the current Sudanese regime confronting a pre- or post-Iraq Conflict U.S., the Sudanese regime would have every reason to include its viability as a regime among its potential concerns. If the U.S., working through the UN, some other broad coalition of partners (including European, Arabic, African, and Asian allies), or in some other manner (or some combination of approaches) were able to focus on applying pressure to that regime to alter its behavior vis-a-vis the imperiled populace, that regime would have every good reason to seriously consider its options. If the options with which the regime were presented included altering its behavior in meaningful ways, but did not foreclose the regime's longer-term survival, then behavior modification would, in my view, stand a chance.

It's a little bit like I tell my mountaineering students when we are discussing the application of force to slow a glissade or arrest a fall on snow: once you have fully extended your arm or leg, your ability to apply further force with that limb is minimal. If you apply force with a flexed limb, however, you can bring a measured amount of power to bear, while still retaining power in reserve (and, thus, retaining your options).

So long as Iraq, Syria, North Korea, Hezbollah, or the Sudanese regime are well aware that the U.S. is effectively incapable of applying additional military force, they can exclude that application from their calculations. However, when such regimes lack certainty with regard to our military options, their self-interest compels them to consider at some level of seriousness even unlikely or unpopular excercises of force on our part.

And, frankly, an "invasion" (intrusion by a peacekeeping force) which has as a limited mission the safeguarding of one segment of a population from the excesses of another, while working on a number of fronts (diplomatic, economic, sanctions, rewards...) to alter limited aspects of the future behavior of the ruling regime, without necessarily seeking to displace it from power, has--again, to my mind--a much greater chance of getting in and getting out with some degree of success than does a full-scale invasion driven by visions of regime-change, democracy-installation, etc.

Maybe this expresses some meaningful distinctions between Bosnia and Iraq.

Then, again, there's Mogadishu to consider as well. Committing forces on the ground, rather than talking softly while wielding a big stick in potentia, is always the higher-risk route.

Kevin said...

I appreciate your incisive appeal for realistic solutions, Mark.

Despite my reading, I only have a rough understanding of the conflict. I gather that the Arab government of Sudan (and the Janjaweed, et al.) are the bad guys for their wanton killing of the African civilians of Darfur, though the nature of their motivations and thus peaceful compromises are presently unknown to me.

Your solution of increasing indirect sanctions against Sudan sounds reasonable, seeing as past basic sanctions have not been effective. The problem is how best to structure these indirect sanctions so as to target Sudan and not simply destroy US trading relations with China, or Russia, etc.

The Wikipedia article notes, similarly to you, that the UN's impotence leaves few good options left:
In the lack of foreign political will to address the political and economic structures that underlie the conflict, the international community has defined the Darfur conflict in humanitarian assistance terms and debated the "genocide" label.

The article also mentions the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act of 2006, which continues to prohibit oil-related transactions with Sudan and gives Bush the ability to freeze the assets of complicit parties and deny them entry to the US.
In signing the DPAA, Bush also issued Executive Order 13412 strengthening some sanctions on the government of Sudan but loosening restrictions on Southern Sudan.

Oil appears to be the primary commodity, and I imagine that China and Russia use it directly, so I'm not sure how else to target those foreign companies who trade with Sudan, beyond Bush's new power, which will certainly make enemies.

Based upon the assumption that the UN will continue to be ineffective, the only other progressive steps of the US appear to extreme: promote a mass exodus and/or encourage, fund, and supply Darfur defense.

In theory, the U.S. need not send in troops, but could supply air support and logistics. Of course, despite not owning the conflict, the US would essentially be at war with Sudan, perhaps to a greater extent than most proxy wars. But at least the Africans might have a fighting chance.