Realism in Darfur
Consider the horrors of peace.
It looks as if the realists have won the day in the matter of Darfur. Or, to phrase it in another way, it looks as if the ethnic cleansers of that province have made good use of the "negotiation" and "mediation" period to complete their self-appointed task. As my friend Johann Hari put it recently in the London Independent: "At last, some good news from Darfur: the genocide in western Sudan is nearly over. There's only one problem—it's drawing to an end only because there are no black people left to cleanse or kill."
By some reliable estimates, the Sudanese government or "National Islamic Front" has slain as many as 400,000 of its black co-religionists—known contemptuously as zurga ("niggers")—and expelled perhaps 2 million more. This appalling achievement has been made possible by a very simple tactic: The actual killers and cleansers, the Arab janjaweed militias, are a "deniable" arm of the Sudanese authorities. Those authorities pretend to negotiate with the United Nations, the United States, and the African Union, and their negotiating "card" is the control that they can or might exercise over said militias. While this tap is turned on and off, according to different applications of carrot and stick, the militias pretend to go out of control and carry on with their slaughter and deportation. By the time the clock has been run out, the job is done.
If it were not for the efforts of a few brave journalists and humanitarian workers, and at least one American soldier attached to the African Union "peacekeepers" who went public in disgust at what he had seen, the Sudanese government might have gotten away with the whole thing. But we have more than enough filmed and photographic evidence of Sudanese planes and helicopters, flying close support to janjaweed operations, to say with certainty that the relationship between the two is the same as between the Rwandan authorities and the "Hutu Power" mobs who destroyed the Tutsi population. In other words, a Rwanda in slow motion, and in front of the cameras and the diplomats. What was all that garbage about "never again"? What was the meaning of Clinton's apology to the Rwandans? What did Colin Powell mean when he finally used the word "genocide" to describe the events in Darfur, just before resigning as secretary of state and becoming an advocate for more realism all round?
And what on earth was I thinking when I employed that "carrot and stick" cliché a couple of paragraphs above? Carrots there have been. Only the other day, according to the New York Times, the Bush administration granted a waiver to the sanctions ostensibly in place against the Khartoum government in order to allow it to spend $530,000 on a lobbyist in Washington. Well, one would not want to deny a government indicted for genocide the right to make its case. That would hardly be fair. Meanwhile, the State Department has upgraded Sudan's status on the chart that shows "cooperation" in the matter of slave-trafficking. Apparently, you can be on this list and still be awarded points for good behavior. A hundred-plus congressmen recently signed a statement accusing the administration of "appeasement," which seems the only appropriate word for it.
But that's about the extent of the protest. How can this be? Surely the administration did everything that could have been asked of it. Abandoning any sort of "unilateralism," it pedantically followed the Kofi Annan script of multiparty negotiations and patient diplomacy. It allowed the inspectors more time. It exhausted all avenues short of war and never even threatened the use of force. By the use of sanctions, it kept Sudan "in its box." And it has got exactly what anyone might have predicted for such a strategy. Perhaps that's why there is so little protest. After all, we know that "war is not the answer." And now Sudan has Darfur province in its box. It has taken the land and gotten rid of the people.
Any critique of realism has to begin with a sober assessment of the horrors of peace. Everybody now wishes, or at least says they wish, that we had not made ourselves complicit spectators in Rwanda. But what if it had been decided to take action? Only one member state of the U.N. Security Council would have had the capacity to act with speed to deploy pre-emptive force (and that would have been very necessary, given the weight of the French state, and the French veto, on the side of the genocidaires). It is a certainty that at some stage, American troops would have had to open fire on the "Hutu Power" mobs and militias, actually killing people and very probably getting killed in return. Body bags would have been involved. It is not an absolute certainty that all detained members of those militias would have been treated with unfailing tenderness. It is probable that some of the military contractors would have overcharged, and that some locals would have engaged in profiteering and even in tribal politics. It is impossible that any child of any member of the Clinton administration would have been an enlisted soldier. But we never had to suffer any of these wrenching experiences, so that we can continue to wish, in some parallel Utopian universe, that we had done something instead of nothing.
Or not exactly nothing. The United States ended up supporting the French military intervention in Rwanda, which was mounted in an attempt not to remove the genocidaires but to save them. Nonintervention does not mean that nothing happens. It means that something else happens. Our policy in Darfur has not just failed to rescue a stricken black African population: It has actually assisted the Sudanese Islamists in completing their policy of racist murder. Thank heaven that we are tough enough to bear the shame of this, and strong enough to forgive ourselves.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of rebels by Desirey Minkoh/AFP/Getty Images.