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January 31, 2006

Stop Darfur's Freefall
Posted by Derek Chollet

The State of the Union address is one of those policy Chirstmas trees where every pet project and issue wants (and usually gets) its own ornament – Suzanne and Heather’s posts below illustrate how once one gets into the business of listing the many worthy issues, they add up quickly -- and that’s just on the international stuff.  So, in that spirit I’d like to make a wish for my own special ornament: that President Bush says he’s going to do something about Darfur.

With all the pressing issues in the news – Iraq, Iran, Hamas, North Korea – it’s not surprising that what’s happening inside Darfur has moved to the side.  But the next few weeks will be critical – the mandate for the underfunded and beleaguered 5000-troop protection force headed by the African Union is due to expire by March 31, and things in Darfur are only getting worse. 

During the past year, there has been a lot of well-intentioned international activity to help Darfur – but the killing isn’t stopping.  As John Prendergast recently told the New York Times, “Darfur is in a free fall.”

Kofi Annan agrees.  “People in many parts of Darfur,” he wrote last week, “continue to be killed, raped and driven from their homes by the thousands. The number displaced has reached 2 million, while 3 million (half the total population of Darfur) are dependent on international relief for food and other basics. Many parts of Darfur are becoming too dangerous for relief workers to reach. The peace talks are far from reaching a conclusion. And fighting now threatens to spread into neighboring Chad, which has accused Sudan of arming rebels on its territory.”

With the United States assuming the presidency of the UN Security Council tomorrow, the Bush Administration has an opportunity to press for a new and more meaningful policy to stop the killing.  As Kenneth Bacon writes in today’s New York Times (and others have echoed), the United States should use the next 28 days to save Darfur. 

We’ve done this before.  As Bacon reminds us, the last time the U.S. chaired the Council (the Presidency rotates monthly among the 15 members), then UN Ambassador Jack Danforth used the occasion to push the UN to help end the civil war in southern Sudan – including by bringing all 14 other UN Security Council members to Kenya to pressure the Khartoum government. 

This is also reminiscent of another time the U.S. chaired the Security Council, exactly six years ago, when Richard Holbrooke led the Council through what he called the “month of Africa,” focusing the UN’s attention on the conflict then raging in the Congo, the plight of “internally displaced persons,” and the devastation of HIV/AIDS (significantly, he chaired the Security Council’s first ever meeting on HIV/AIDS as a security issue – it might commonplace obvious now, but at the time it was very controversial for the Council to take up a “health issue”).

This is a huge test for John Bolton.  It will be his only chance to sit in the Presidency chair -- his recess appointment as Ambassador expires in January 2007 – and therefore his moment to deliver something.

So what should he do?  Bacon floats the idea of something dramatic, like a Security Council trip to the region to focus the world’s attention.  Another idea would be to call the Sudanese leaders to come to the Council to answer for their actions – something similar was done by Holbrooke in January 2000 with the forces fighting in Congo.  But in terms of action on the ground, the most important action would be to create a UN peacekeeping force (the figure most cited is 20,000 troops) supported by airpower, which the U.S. and NATO could help with.

Yet for any of this to be possible, Bolton will need the backing of President Bush.  Let’s hope he gets it tonight.


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The US army is overstretched, it cannot send 20,000 troops to Darfur. Doing so would cripple the US Army even more.

The Chinese have a millitary presence there.

Al Qaeda is popular in Sudan.

The Janjaweed are Guerilla fighters and therefore cannot be defeated.

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