The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Monday, October 04, 2004

Darfur as election ploy

During the Florida debate, both Bush and Kerry spoke of the goings-on in Darfur as genocide - and, as I mentioned on October 1, Kerry seemed willing to make a commitment of US forces beyond logistical support for African Union forces that might be injected into the region for peace-keeping, or peace-making.

This follows both houses of Congress approving resolutions declaring Darfur a genocide [1] - the House resolution includes the following paragraph (the Senate resolution has nothing comparable):
(10) urges the Administration to seriously consider multilateral or even unilateral intervention to stop genocide in Darfur, Sudan, should the United Nations Security Council fail to act;

What's up with that? Why, after a disastrous invasion of Iraq, which has tied up - according to Kerry - nine out of ten US active duty divisions, should US legislators and the Dem aspirant to the White House be contemplating a military intervention in a place with negligible US national interests that most voters would struggle to find on a map?

Why should they wish to use the word genocide which, if it accurately characterised the state of affairs in Darfur, would arguably activate a duty under the 1948 Genocide Convention to make a military intervention?

The Sudanese regime says it's grubbing for black votes on November 2:
"They should not use a humanitarian problem for political agenda," Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail told Reuters during a visit to South Korea on Friday.

"We know that an election is going on. We know the political parties, the Republicans and Democrats, are competing for the votes of African-Americans," Ismail said.

Could that be true? Ismail is scarcely impartial and one might doubt his expertise in US politics.

However, the disproportion of the bipartisan zeal - Kerry was the first to mention Darfur in the debate - needs some explaining.

A paradox (that makes the Darfur obsession all the more worthy of examination) is that the NGOs working in the region generally deny that there is genocide there - an Observer piece yesterday rounds up NGO views.

Now, in general, this is the polar opposite of their usual MO: typically, they are shouting mega-crisis, and invoking Ethopia in 1984, at the first sign of trouble, knowing the long lead-times that getting big Western aid into Africa incur. As a result, such NGOs get accused of crying wolf.

But, this time, they're urging a measured analysis - with suspicion of US motives.

One aid worker is quoted as saying
I have no idea what Colin Powell's game is, but to call it genocide and then effectively say, "Oh, shucks, but we are not going to do anything about that genocide" undermines the very word "genocide".'

Now, the NGOs don't deny that more aid is needed to avert a genuine disaster. It's the declaration of genocide that sticks in their collective craw.

I pretend to zero expertise on the Sudan. But the SPLA's war against the government in the south of the country is a confounding factor: John Garang - recently alleging Khartoum intransigence - was hob-nobbing with no less than the Congressional Black Caucus [2] on September 10. The US - with John Danforth as Bush's representative - was involved in the negotiation of various agreements between Khartoum and the SPLA - though a final peace has yet to be signed, and agreements made have yet to be fully implemented.

Why would the US want to endanger this process by banging the genocide drum? This September 10 piece from Media Monitors Network (who they?) gives a motive for USG (but not Kerry or the CBC): since the SPLA/Sudan agreement won't be signed until after November 2, use Darfur to distract from Iraq.

It has not gone unnoticed, for example, that the genocide declaration has echoed one of the ways in which the Clinton White House obstructed peace in the 1990s which was by interfering with peace talks between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Khartoum. As one example, the Clinton Administration chose to impose comprehensive economic sanctions on Sudan in November 1997 just as the government and rebels had started a key round of peace talks in Nairobi. Doubtlessly bolstered by this American signal, SPLA leader John Garang, commenting on these talks in Nairobi, stated that "We intended not to reach an agreement with the [Sudanese government]. This is what we did and we succeeded in it because we did not reach an agreement."

There is at least one op-ed in the Post calling for regime change in Khartoum.

On the unholy alliance that has come together in favour of a US forward policy on Darfur, a helpful Post piece from August 10, under hed and dek How a Tragedy Became a Cause/Why We Read About Darfur and Not Burundi.

This piece takes the opposite view on the interaction with Iraq:
For the United States, Darfur comes at a bad time. More than 135,000 U.S. troops are engaged in Iraq...

But this implies that USG - or Kerry, if elected - would actually call on US military resources to assist in Darfur. Whereas all indications are to the contrary.

(I can't see even a landslide election pumping Kerry enough to make his first military adventure in the Sudan!)

My hypothesis remains that the Darfur genocide movement is a campaign charade. Subject to evidence to the contrary, natch...

  1. H Con Res 467 and S Con Res 133 - these are currently with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

  2. The piece a State Department news release!

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