The lessons of Darfur.

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
Jan. 29 2008 4:59 PM

The Lessons of Darfur

The campaign has achieved all its goals—but one.

Ten African Union peacekeepers died in Darfur in September. Click image to expand.
Ten African Union peacekeepers died in Darfur in September

More than 20 U.S. states and nearly 50 universities pledged to divest from companies doing business with Sudan. Sudan's response was foot-dragging and no real progress on solving the crisis in Darfur.

The Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act was signed into law. Sudan's response was to name Musa Hilal, the leader of the Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, to a high government position.

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The United States named a new, bold envoy, former Assistant Secretary of State Rich Williamson, to encourage the Sudanese government to accept more peacekeeping forces in its territory. Sudan's response was to warn the top U.S. diplomat in Khartoum against interfering in internal Sudanese affairs.

The campaign to save Darfur is alive, but it is no longer kicking. You could say that it has achieved all its stated goals: public awareness, international pressure, congressional action, the administration's involvement. Well, all but one: The crisis in Darfur is not yet solved, and the campaign to save Darfur is running out of options. In the State of the Union address, the president gave it half a sentence—"America is opposing genocide in Sudan"—providing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with a rare opportunity to stand up and clap.

A couple of days ago, I had lunch with someone who was once heavily involved in the campaign but is less active now. "Look," he said, "Sudan is not cooperating, China refuses to use its power to make it cooperate, the African Union is not the most able body in the world. What else can we do?"

That's a tough question. Understanding all the mechanisms blocking the resolution of the crisis is a complicated task. The interests of the countries involved, the tribes, the regional dynamics, the politics of the U.N. Security Council, events on the ground, even the question of whether the crisis deserves to be called genocide are all complex and interrelated.

What about the Security Council, I asked. What about the United Nations? "Yes," he agreed, "They too are very problematic." Not long ago, he reminded me, Sudanese troops attacked a convoy of peacekeepers, firing on their vehicles for a couple of minutes undisturbed. Then he returned to the topic of China, the country supposedly blocking any action in the Security Council. He admitted that blaming China is like blaming the wind: American activists complain about it, but they can't stop it from blowing the way it does.

"The rest of the world should have no patience for Sudan's obstruction of the peacekeepers," fumed a Boston Globe editorial last week. The Globe also took aim at China, suggesting a remedy that will force the reluctant Asian powerhouse into a more cooperative mood: a boycott of the Beijing Olympics if the Chinese government does not show more support for ending the atrocities in Darfur.

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