Hollywood director Steven Spielberg has withdrawn as artistic adviser to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing because China has failed to pressure Sudan to end the war in Darfur.
China is developing oil fields in the embattled region of Sudan and Spielberg wants Beijing to use its clout to end the insurgency in the west of the country.
Arguing that “Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility” for the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur, Spielberg blames China for failing to do “more to end the continuing human suffering there.” (1)
“China’s economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change,” Spielberg says. (2)
But while Spielberg wants China to use its influence in Khartoum, he has released no statements, of which I’m aware, to press Washington to use its influence to end the larger humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia and Iraq, both of which are directly attributable to the actions of his own country, and therefore should be well within the grasp of the US government to end.
China’s ability to end the Darfur conflict, however, is a far more uncertain matter.
Three of the five rebel groups fighting Sudanese forces in Darfur are unwilling to negotiate a peace, according to the UN’s special envoy to Darfur, Jan Eliasson. (3) This makes it difficult for Khartoum, let alone China, to bring an end to the conflict, unless ending the conflict means Khartoum capitulating and handing Darfur and its oil assets to the rebels and their Western backers. This, of course, would suit strategists in the US State Department, to say nothing of the US oil industry.
By comparison, ending the much larger humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia (with 850,000 displaced, Somalia has been called Africa’s largest and most ignored catastrophe) and Iraq (four million refugees and hundreds of thousands dead as a result of the US invasion) is directly within the capability of Washington. (4)
The US simply has to order Ethiopia, which it directed to illegally invade Somalia in December 2006, to withdraw. (5) If the Ethiopians balk, cutting off the rich flow of military aid Washington rewards the Meles regime with, will exert needed pressure. (6)
As regards the tragedy of Iraq, there can be no greater ameliorative act than immediate withdrawal of foreign troops. Withdrawal should occasion no fear of touching off a full-scale civil war. The Pentagon’s own research shows that Iraqis attribute sectarian tensions to the US military presence and ardently wish to see the Americans leave. (7) If a civil war were to ensue, it could hardly be worse than the suffering the US continues to visit upon Iraq in lost lives, mangled bodies, rampant disease, hunger and homelessness far in excess of the tragedy in Darfur.
If China’s ties to the government of Sudan provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change, doesn’t Spielberg’s visibility, and his status as a US citizen, provide him with the opportunity and obligation to press for change where his own government has created far greater human suffering?
In the fall of 2002, Spielberg said he “could not not support” the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq (8). Today, he seeks to embarrass China over Sudan, another oil-rich country Washington seeks regime change in. And as far a Spielberg is concerned, the US-authored humanitarian catastrophes in Somalia and Iraq are best ignored. Are these the actions of a humanitarian, or of a chauvinist whose concern for the suffering of others stops at the door of, and indeed caters to, US ruling class interests?
Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) New York Times, February 13, 2008.
(3) New York Times, February 8, 2008.
(4) Displacement of Somalis, Washington Post, November 14, 2007; Iraqi refugees, The Independent (UK), July 30, 2007. There are a number of estimates of deaths in Iraq due to the US invasion: The Iraqi Body Count, 47,668; World Health Organization, 151,000; Johns Hopkins, 600,000; British polling firm ORB, 1.2 million (mid-range estimates.)
(5) US General John Abizaid visited the Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in November, 2006. Ethiopia invaded Somalia the next month. “The US provided key intelligence from spy satellitesCIA agents traveled with the Ethiopian troops, helping direct operationsUS forces have carried out at least four attacks inside the country in the past 12 months.” The Independent (UK), February 9, 2008.
(6) Stephen Gowans, “Looking for Evil in all the Wrong Places,” www.gowans.wordpress.com, November 20, 2007,
(7) Washington Post, December 19, 2007.
(8) In September 2002, Spielberg pledged support for the gathering US war on Iraq. “Film director Spielberg lines up with Bush war drive,” WSWS, October 3, 2002,