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Is Humanitarian Interventionism Humane?

The Darfur Smokescreen

by CARL G. ESTABROOK

Democracy Now! reported this week that

"tens of thousands of protesters rallied around the world on Sunday in a global day against genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan … In New York, organizers said over 30,000 people gathered in Central Park. Speakers included former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright [sic] … Demonstrations and vigils were also held on Sunday in Berlin, Dubai, Dublin, London, Melbourne, Paris, Seoul and Stockholm and dozens of other cities. The global day of protests was organized to coincide with the start of the United Nations General Assembly debate this week on Sudan. Late last week the actor George Clooney testified before the United Nations Security Council."

What might be called the liberal position on Darfur can be stated as follows:

"The people of Darfur have suffered unspeakable violence, and America has called these atrocities what they are — genocide. For the last two years, America joined with the international community to provide emergency food aid and support for an African Union peacekeeping force. Yet your suffering continues. The world must step forward to provide additional humanitarian aid — and we must strengthen the African Union force that has done good work, but is not strong enough to protect you. The Security Council has approved a resolution that would transform the African Union force into a blue-helmeted force that is larger and more robust. To increase its strength and effectiveness, NATO nations should provide logistics and other support. The regime in Khartoum is stopping the deployment of this force. If the Sudanese government does not approve this peacekeeping force quickly, the United Nations must act."

The liberal position is hardly distinguishable from

(a) the Bush administration’s position on Darfur, and

(b) the Clinton administration’s position on Kosovo.

In both cases the cry of genocide and "humanitarian" intervention is used to cover the USG’s imperial machinations to reduce a state (respectively Sudan and Serbia) that was unreliable from the US/Israeli POV.

For Clinton, "NATO must act" — and the situation of Kosovo got worse, but Serbia was brought to heel. For Bush, "the United Nations must act" (with NATO providing logistics and "other support") — and the wretched situation in Darfur will probably get worse, but Sudan, an oil-producing state (much of its production goes to China) will be put under increasing pressure.

Of major media, only the BBC has said at all clearly that Khartoum’s resistance to "peacekeepers" was based on "well-founded fears of the designs of Western governments on Sudan." Meanwhile self-styled US peace groups and the Israeli lobby urge "Out of Iraq and into Darfur!"

People honestly concerned about Darfur should listen to the calm common sense of Alex de Waal, a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard, an advisor to the African Union, and author of "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War":

"I don’t believe there is a military solution. It will not defeat the holdout rebel groups. What it will do is, it will kill more people, create more hunger, create more displacement and make the situation even more intractable … I think the key thing to bear in mind is that the solution to Darfur is a political solution. No solution can be imposed by any amount of arm twisting, any amount of bluster, any amount of military force. Even if we sent 100,000 NATO troops, we would not be able to impose a solution. The solution has to come through political negotiation."

But by mobilizing the cover story of humanitarian intervention, the Bush administration should be able to introduce a military solution to its real problem: how to attack another country on the Neocon hit list, another country (like Serbia) on the concentric circle around the cynosure of US foreign policy, Middle East energy resources.

President Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, has frequently expressed the bipartisan consensus of the US foreign policy elite. "America has major strategic and economic interests in the Middle East that are dictated by the region’s vast energy supplies," he wrote two years ago in The National Interest. "Not only does America benefit economically from the relatively low costs of Middle Eastern oil, but America’s security role in the region gives it indirect but politically critical leverage on the European and Asian economies that are also dependent on energy exports from the region."

And how is Sudan related to this long-term US strategy? We have it from no less a figure than the official hero of Kosovo, Wesley Clark: "As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan."

Note: what was called the liberal position above is taken from Bush’s address to the U.N. on Tuesday.

C. G. Estabrook is a retired visiting professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the co-host of the community radio program "News from Neptune". He can be reached at: galliher@uiuc.edu