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The Options For Darfur

Displaced Sudanese women wait for food outside el-Sereif refugee camp near Nyala, Darfur province, Sudan, Nov. 9, 2004.
AP (file)
This column was written by Mark Leon Goldberg.
In the face of a mounting progressive backlash against the liberals who joined with President Bush to help sell the Iraq War, the hawks are fighting for their ideological lives. And as Iraq falls to pieces, what better way to prop up a discredited mantra of aggressive interventionism than to set your sights on the world's worst man-made humanitarian crisis?

Enter The New Republic's Lawrence Kaplan, who penned an April 23 Los Angeles Times op-ed that takes a pre-emptive swipe at hypocrites like me who urge action on Darfur but are wary of the wisdom of continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. According to Kaplan, we do not understand that "like Bosnia before it, Darfur will be saved by one thing: American power." Later, he writes of us naïve souls who will attend the Washington, D.C., "Save Darfur" rally on April 30: "So, yes. Comfort your sensibilities. Testify to your virtue and good intentions. Offer assurance that your call to action is not a call for the unilateral or unprovoked exercise of American power. But don't pretend that Darfur will be saved by anything else."

I happen to agree with Kaplan on this latter point. But his understanding of American power is shaped by a career cheerleading for U.S. invasions of foreign countries. Sometimes this has worked out relatively well (Bosnia); other times it has been disastrous (Iraq). Throughout, he and like-minded hawks have sold their proposed intervention by setting up a dichotomy whereby one either favors a U.S. military response to a horrific situation, or supports doing nothing. As a rhetorical device, this lets Kaplan claim the moral high ground. But, back in the real world, it stifles the kind of creative thinking that is required to confront a humanitarian disaster when military options are limited. Thanks to Kaplan et al.'s eagerness to invade Iraq, which siphoned military resources and attention from Darfur when Sudan launched its genocide, this is precisely the current dilemma.

With no expectation that the 130,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq will be rotated out anytime soon, the requisite number of troops that would be required to pacify Dafur are simply unavailable. But even if it were feasible, it would be neither wise nor prudent to do so. Given the experience in Iraq, there is reason to believe that the U.S. military simply cannot undertake such a task, no matter how noble our intentions. American boots on the ground will bolster popular support for the ruling National Islamic Front. They will also inspire jihadis who have rotated out of the Iraqi theatre to respond to Osama bin Laden's recent call to arms and mount an insurgency against America in Darfur.

So what is to be done? Even if the liberal-hawkosphere is loathe to look, a number of policy options are available to the United States, short of sending Marines, that would go a very long way to ameliorating the plight of Darfur. Those of us who call ourselves progressive and consider Darfur a defining moral challenge of the era should familiarize ourselves with some of these prescriptions.

I. Diplomatic Pressure

The United States has engaged with Darfur more than any other country in the Security Council, but that is not saying much. The Bush administration has not yet made punishing the men responsible for this genocide a priority. According to an April 5 Reuters report, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton sought to keep top Sudanese commanders off a Security Council list of individuals to be sanctioned for perpetrating the violence in Darfur. To be sure, China and Russia will likely block efforts to criminalize the Sudanese political and military leadership, but this should not deter the United States from trying. Doing so would send the clear message to Khartoum that the counter-terrorist intelligence we have received from them does not give them a carte blanche for genocide.

Further, the United States has not sought to use the International Criminal Court's investigation in Darfur as leverage against the Sudanese regime. Perhaps because the U.S. delegation to the United Nations is lead by the Bush administration's most ardent critic of the ICC, the political advantage of this criminal investigation has not been exploited by the United States. This is not to say that paper indictments will stop the genocide, but it should put the regime on the defensive. Men fearing a U.S.-supported articles of indictment are wont to go into hiding, not orchestrate more crimes against humanity.