A Darfur Breakthrough?
Posted by Derek Chollet
After failing to utter a syllable about the genocide raging in Darfur during his State of the Union address, President Bush finally spoke out today. Well, he didn’t really have much of a choice – in the press availability following his meeting with Kofi Annan, it was bound to come up.
Yet this follows what has been – the President’s silence notwithstanding – a pretty good few weeks by the Administration on this issue. One of John Bolton’s first moves as this month’s UN Security Council president was to raise Darfur, calling on the Council to authorize planning from the woefully undermanned and underequipped African Union force to a more robust, UN peacekeeping force. The Council agreed to do this last week, and planning is underway for a UN force that could be as large as 20,000 troops.
Could we be on the cusp of a breakthrough in terms of the international community's actions toward Darfur? Perhaps. But even if the days ahead in the UN go smoothly (and that's a big if), the problem is what to do in the meantime – the UN planning process is not exactly speedy, and the African Union troops there are not up to the task. Their mandate runs out at the end of March. So we need some kind of “bridging force,” and last week Senator Joe Biden called for NATO to get involved. This is the right move -- we have been arguing for it for nine months – and one that the Administration must support. But the truth is that this will only happen if the Administration comes under greater pressure from more than just editorial boards and, ahem, blogs. It needs to hear from the public and Congress, and groups like Stop Genocide Now are working on it -- and need our help.
Beyond NATO, there’s so much more the President could do. Nicholas Kristof, who has perhaps done more than any other journalist to raise awareness on Darfur's plight, offered a series of practical and completely doable steps in his NY Times column over the weekend (notice also that he raises a good point about the prospect of American military troops on the ground there, which is something that Biden is open to).
President Bush could, Kristof argues, “enforce a no-fly zone to stop air attacks on civilians in Darfur, lobby Arab leaders to become involved, call President Hu Jintao and ask China to stop protecting Sudan, invite Darfur refugees to a photo op at the White House, attend a coming donor conference for Darfur, visit Darfur or the refugee camps next door in Chad, push France and other allies for a NATO bridging force to provide protection until United Nations troops arrive, offer to support the United Nations force with American military airlift and logistical support (though not ground troops, which would help Sudan's hard-liners by allowing them to claim that the United States was starting a new invasion of the Arab world), make a major speech about Darfur, and arrange for Colin Powell to be appointed a United Nations special envoy to seek peace among Darfur's tribal sheiks.”
Not a bad list. Anyone taking bets?