As Americans gathered peaceably to vote on Tuesday, Sudanese soldiers and police were storming the Al Jeer Sureaf refugee camp in the western province of Darfur, beating and tear-gassing its 5,000 inhabitants, burning their makeshift shelters and forcing at least 250 families into trucks for forced relocation. While speculation about the foreign policy priorities of President Bush's second term is rife, Tuesday's attack should catapult the problem of Sudan to the top of the agenda -- and decisive action can't wait until Inauguration Day.
Al Jeer Sureaf is Sudan's Srebrenica -- the Bosnian town and U.N. "safe haven" made infamous in July 1995 when Serb militias overran Dutch peacekeepers and slaughtered 7,000 Muslim refugees. Just as the Clinton administration could no longer credibly claim in the aftermath of this massacre that its policies for the former Yugoslavia were working, Tuesday's attack in Darfur likewise marks a turning point for the Bush administration's Sudan strategy. In both cases, U.S. policymakers attempted to outsource responsibility for stopping a genocide to the U.N. and ill-equipped regional allies. And in both cases, the results were disastrous.
The U.N. has responded to the deteriorating security situation in Darfur by partially halting food deliveries -- thus cutting off 160,000 people from aid -- and airlifting its own 88 aid workers to safety. As for the meager deployment of African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, a contingent was a mere eight miles from Al Jeer Sureaf but stood aside while refugees were rounded up.
It's time to recognize that U.S. intervention in Sudan is no longer just a matter of our moral values but of our strategic interests. For months, Bush, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and other administration officials have been warning Khartoum of "consequences" if the atrocities continued -- but continued they have. Khartoum's aircraft still bomb villages; the militias it backs still massacre, rape, rob and kidnap civilians.
American credibility is at stake in Darfur -- with ramifications for the ideological struggle at the heart of the war on terrorism. At a time when Bush has pledged a "forward strategy of freedom" for the Greater Middle East, it would be difficult to argue that there is any clearer manifestation of oppression in the Muslim world today than in Darfur, where at least 70,000 Muslims have been killed and nearly 2 million displaced.
Nor is Darfur an aberration in recent Sudanese history. Khartoum -- much as the Alawites did in Syria and Hussein's Tikriti clan did in Iraq -- exploits Arab and Islamist rhetoric, to disguise or justify the systematic destruction of one of the most heterogeneous societies on Earth.
And Khartoum's internal abuses are inseparable from its international misconduct. As one of seven countries on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, Sudan has courted nearly every rogue regime and hosted almost every significant terrorist organization in the region.
Sudan provided a base for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda during the 1990s, while Hamas and Hezbollah continue to operate in Sudan to this day. When the U.S. retook the Iraqi city of Samarra from insurgents this fall, the Iraqi defense minister reported that 18 of the 24 foreign fighters captured there were Sudanese.
Darfur is often described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. And it is not simply a case of genocide, but a genocidal challenge to the Bush Doctrine.
The United States must answer this challenge. To its credit, the administration has already authorized two C-130 transport planes to ferry African peacekeepers to Darfur and $20 million for their logistical support. But after Tuesday's attack, it's clear that much more support -- not just dollars and materiel but soldiers as well -- is needed. The president says he has political capital to spend. If ever a cause was worthy, this is it.