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Why Washington Won’t Save Darfur Villagers

On September 21, Salih Booker, the director of the Africa Studies Program at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations ruling-class think tank, argued in the International Herald Tribune that the US government has failed to convince the UN Security Council to take tough action to end Sudan’s “government-sponsored campaign of genocide” in Darfur because it “cried wolf” over Saddam Hussein’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction in order to justify its illegal invasion of Iraq.

Booker and many other US liberals, as well as influential establishment organisations such as Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group (ICG), are campaigning for President George Bush to launch a military “humanitarian intervention” in western Darfur.

Booker claimed that, following the rebellion that erupted in western Sudan in February 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell “dithered” as Sudanese government-sponsored janjaweed Arab militia drove more than a million of the region’s non-Arabic speaking villagers from their lands. “The violence in Darfur went on for 16 months and international human rights groups and African advocacy groups shouted about this crime against humanity… the secretary stayed silent, even visiting the scene of the crime without saying the word `genocide’.”

According to Booker, “under pressure from activists across the [US] and across a broad spectrum of communities … [Powell on September 9] had no choice but to acknowledge the genocide publicly and head back to the UN with a new resolution calling for sanctions if Khartoum refuses to disarm militias in Darfur and allow a few more African Union [AU] soldiers in to monitor.”

However, in a replay of the process that watered-down the previous US-drafted Security Council resolution passed on July 30, the follow-up resolution that was passed on September 18 again dropped any specific reference to sanctions. The resolution said only that the Security Council “shall consider” taking “measures … such as actions to affect Sudan’s petroleum sector and the government of Sudan or individual members of the government of Sudan”.

The resolution did not impose a deadline for Khartoum to comply with the demand that it disarm the janjaweed. It urged Sudan to cooperate with an expanded AU monitoring force, without granting this force a “peacekeeping” mandate.

Booker singled out opposition from China and Russia as being the reason for Washington’s back-down, correctly pointing out that “China is the single largest investor in Sudan’s oil industry, Russia has significant arms deals with Khartoum, and both countries want to avoid scrutiny of their own internal wars against various ethnic communities”.
`Lost moral authority’

Booker then claimed: “Once upon a time, Washington could have exercised its clout as the most powerful nation in the world and handily won over the support of these recalcitrant members. But now, the country that cried wolf has lost the moral authority it needs to rally its global neighbours to real action against genocide in Darfur.”

Is this really the case? Is Washington suddenly so enfeebled by its lack of “moral authority” from its Iraq war that it has no choice but to meekly roll over in the face of opposition from Moscow and Beijing? Booker’s naive explanation for Washington’s failure to launch a “humanitarian” invasion of Sudan – something he still hopes to convince the Bush administration to do – ignores the simple fact that the US, “as the most powerful nation in the world”, would simply disregard the views of Moscow and Beijing (as it did in Iraq) if the US rulers wanted to intervene in Darfur.

As Booker’s example of Iraq so starkly illustrates, US governments rule on behalf of the billionaire families that own the huge US-based corporations, especially the giant finance, oil and energy monopolies and act to advance these families’ collective economic and political interests.

Of course, US officials justify their actions by “crying wolf” about WMDs and terrorism, or by hypocritically draping themselves in the banners of “freedom”, “democracy” and “human rights”. But as Samantha Power, another passionate vocal advocate of US “humanitarian” intervention in Sudan, pointed out in her 2003 Pulitzer-prize winning book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide: “The United States has never in its history intervened to stop genocide and has in fact rarely even made a point of condemning it as it occurred.”

Power concluded that Washington’s failure to intervene in Sudan is not due to ignorance or impotence, but to “considered political inaction”.

Booker refuses to face the obvious facts: the US rulers’ interests at this stage in Sudan would not be served by invading. The suffering people of Darfur are simply pawns on Washington’s global geopolitical chessboard, useful to use as a pretext to exert diplomatic pressure on Khartoum to but ultimately expendable.

Carrot and stick

Washington is continuing the “carrot and stick” approach towards Khartoum that the Bush administration has pursued since it came to office in 2001. Knowing that Sudan’s regime is keen to normalise relations with the US, Washington’s goal has been to lure Sudan’s Islamist military rulers into cooperating with the US by offering the “carrot” of promises to lift US sanctions imposed in 1997 – which have left Sudan’s potentially huge oil industry starved of US investment – and the “stick” of the threat of UN sanctions.

Washington is also eager to lift its economic sanctions. Since 1997, US oil companies have been excluded from profiting from the massive expansion of Sudan’s oil industry since 1999, leaving the field free for their Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European rivals.

One of the Bush administration’s earliest foreign policy objectives was to secure a peace agreement between Khartoum and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), allowing Washington to lift sanctions and facilitating US oil corporations’ return to Sudan.

Bush appointed former US senator John Danforth, currently Washington’s UN ambassador, as his “special envoy for peace in Sudan”. In July 2002, Danforth, with bribes and threats, convinced the SPLM and Khartoum to sign a draft peace agreement that promised an autonomous secular government in the south (while Islamic law would continue to govern the northern two-thirds of the country). An informal cease-fire agreement was reached in October 2002.

Oil revenue

In May, the two sides agreed that oil revenue from the southern oil fields would be split between the SPLM-dominated southern regional government and the central government in Khartoum. All that remained was for further talks, which were scheduled to begin on June 22, to finalise procedures for an internationally monitored cease-fire agreement and a timeline for implementing the peace deal. However, the escalating crisis in Darfur stalled the process.

When the Darfur rebellion erupted, Washington did not “dither”, it simply ignored the government-directed atrocities being inflicted on the people of Darfur because it did not think they would seriously impact on the main game. It was only when Khartoum’s brutal treatment of the Darfuris threatened to derail the north-south peace deal and prevent the opening of Sudan’s lucrative oilfields to greater Western exploitation – not any misty-eyed concern for the people of Darfur – that Powell moved to apply pressure on Khartoum through the Security Council.

Despite playing the role of “tough cop” at the UN, US officials have worked closely with both UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and the AU to create the outlines of a settlement that will be tolerable for Khartoum, and sufficient to defuse the Darfur crisis enough to allow the final phase of the north-south peace negotiations to resume.

The main goal of the September 18 Security Council resolution seems to be to maintain pressure on Khartoum to moderate its attacks in Darfur, and to accept a “larger international presence” based on an expansion of the existing 305-member AU military force, there to protect AU cease-fire monitors, to 3000-5000 troops. On September 25, UN envoy to Sudan Jan Pronk reported that Sudanese officials had told him they would accept a larger AU force with greater responsibilities.

Powell, UN and AU officials are studiously avoiding any reference to this force as a “peacekeeping” mission, instead describing its tasks as providing “proactive monitoring and patrolling of all parts of Darfur” and to “enhancing security and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian relief”. This amounts to an assurance that the very forces Powell accuses of engaging in “genocide” – Khartoum’s army and police, in which many janjaweed have been recently incorporated – will be allowed to maintain control of Darfur.

Powell candidly explained Washington’s realpolitik-approach to Darfur when he told Reuters on September 1: “We have seen some progress but we have to keep the pressure [on Sudan] up… It’s always been a case of orchestrated pressure in a way that moves the government along and improves the situation and keeps the pressure up, but not to the point where you might get a consequence that you might not like or is unintended.”

On September 23, US special envoy to Sudan Charles Snyder reaffirmed Washington’s position that the priority was the resumption of the north-south peace process. “The political solution to Darfur ultimately lies in the federal process within [the SPLM-Khartoum talks]”, Snyder told Reuters after meeting with Sudan’s first vice-president Ali Osman Mohamed Taha. Taha announced that the stalled talks will resume on October 7 in the Kenyan town of Naivasha.

The following day, Snyder again reassured Khartoum when he told Associated Press that there were “no 30-day [or] 90-day quick fixes” to the “problem” in Darfur. “This is going to take, in my opinion, 18 months to two years to conclude the first phase” of securing the region to allow for people to return to their homes, Snyder said. The UN’s Jan Pronk on September 25 concurred: “Of course it is slow, but pressure works.”

NORM DIXON writes for Green Left Weekly.

 

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