Tuesday, January 6, 2009

going down in flames

I missed this Washington Post article from December 8, but apparently the Sudanese are upset about the prospect of an Obama administration because they think he might actually do something about Darfur. And granted, if you take the rhetoric of Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and Susan "I'd rather go down in flames" Rice, you'd think you should be worried if you were Khartoum.

But here's the problem: WHAT will we do in Darfur? There's two problems with "being tough" here: first, tough measures against the government would be highly unpopular among developing countries and would risk major confrontation with China (and, without widespread backing, would almost certainly fail), and second, tough measures against the government would strengthen the rebels' hand and prolong the conflict. As former US special envoy on the Darfur issue Andrew Natsios has pointed out, the "genocide" in Darfur is over. If we were going to act, the time would have been 2003. Now it's anarchy, with rebels, militias, bandits, government forces and janjaweed making war on each other and civilian populations indiscriminantly. The major rebel groups still haven't signed the peace agreement. If you weaken the government's hand, the rebels will keep fighting. On top of that, the South will almost certainly secede, and the country will disintegrate. And where will that get you?

People who apply Bosnia or Kosovo to Darfur have it all wrong. When we intervened in Bosnia, it was to save a state from another state (Bosnia from Serbia and its client state Republika Srbska). When we intervened in Kosovo, the reason our intervention was successful was that we picked a side in an ethnic war and chose to liberate Kosovo from Serbia and create a brand new country. But how do you do that in Darfur? Even the rebels don't want independence. If we're not going to pick a side and win the war, intervening won't accomplish anything except embroiling us in an winner-take-all ethnic war over oil revenue. If that reminds you of Iraq in 2006, it should.

Advocating tough measures is useless and indeed immoral if they make the situation worse, not better. Whether or not the Bashir regime deserves carrots or sticks in a perfect and just world, the fact is that the sticks aren't working. The threat of ICC prosecution is the only stick that has had any impact on the government's behavior. Nearly all other tactics have backfired, or will if attempted. "Tough on genocide" rhetoric may make somebody's State Department career, but it won't save a single person in Darfur and it won't make Sudan a better place to live for anybody, so it should be treated like the dangerous, deluded hot air it is.

Meanwhile, for all the tough talk from Rice et al, here's what the Post has to say about Obama's own position:

So far, Obama has been more cautious on Darfur than some of his appointees, advocating tougher sanctions against Khartoum and a no-fly zone that might be enforced with U.S. "help." He has not called for direct U.S. intervention.

Obama intends to keep Bush's defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, who has already suggested that the United States will not provide much-needed helicopters to a struggling peacekeeping mission in Darfur because U.S. forces are stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has also nominated as national security adviser retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme allied commander who has suggested that NATO's role in Darfur should be training and support to the current peacekeeping mission rather than direct intervention.

I think that's what we can probably expect from our new and pragmatic president, at most. And you know what? That's probably for the best.

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