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Commentary | MAX BOOT

What Do We Do About Darfur?

The answer is clear, but we don't have the will.

April 14, 2005|MAX BOOT | Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

To anyone who didn't know better, it might seem that the world is finally getting serious about stopping the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, which over the last two years has claimed at least 300,000 lives and displaced at least 2 million people.

After months of huffing and puffing, the U.N. Security Council finally agreed to freeze the assets of war crimes suspects, impose a travel ban on them and refer them for trial to the International Criminal Court. The latter resolution was the subject of tortuous negotiations between the Bush administration, which loathes the ICC (even though it hasn't done anything wrong yet), and other Security Council members who argued, correctly, that an ICC proceeding would be the most expeditious way to get the gears of justice turning. The Security Council deserves kudos for putting its ideological differences aside in this case.

But, important as the war crimes resolution is, it begs the question: Who will deliver the bad guys to court? Not the Sudanese government, which is in cahoots with the Arab janjaweed militia carrying out atrocities against the blacks in Darfur, who happen to be fellow Muslims. The Islamist regime in Khartoum, led by Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, is one of the most loathsome on Earth. It has been responsible for mass murder not only in western Sudan but also in the south, where the victims have been black Christians and animists. The Security Council voted to send 10,700 peacekeepers to southern Sudan, but even if they're competent (and history suggests otherwise), who will bring peace to Darfur?

At the moment, there are just 2,000 lightly armed peacekeepers from the African Union covering all of Darfur, a region the size of France. And they have no authority to stop rape, pillage or murder; they are only supposed to monitor a meaningless cease-fire accord proclaimed last year between Khartoum and two rebel groups.

So who will stop the killing? That question should trouble any tender soul who has ever mindlessly muttered, "Never again." That incantation is repeated after every genocide -- after the Holocaust, after the Cambodian killing fields, after Rwanda -- and yet the next time mass slaughter breaks out, the world conveniently averts its gaze. The major exceptions in recent years have been Kosovo and Bosnia, which had the good fortune to be on Western Europe's doorstep. The rest of the world is treated to high-minded cluck-clucking and, maybe, ex post facto prosecutions.

The only way to save Darfur is to dispatch a large and capable military expedition. But Security Council members France, China and Russia have blocked a U.N. decision on armed intervention because they covet trade ties with Sudan.

That still leaves the possibility of civilized states acting independently of the U.N., as they did in Kosovo. But the only nation with a serious military capacity, the United States, is overstretched in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The European Union should step into the breach. Its economy is as big as the United States' and its population is even bigger. But it has chosen to spend its euros on extravagant handouts for its own citizens rather than on the kind of armed forces that might bring a ray of hope to the "heart of darkness." Although the European members of NATO actually have more ground troops than the U.S. -- about 1.5 million soldiers -- only about 6% are readily deployable abroad. The Europeans could still scrape together the 25,000 to 50,000 soldiers it would take to pacify Darfur, but it would be a stretch for them given their existing commitments, and not one they're willing to make.

As a last resort, even if they're not willing to send their own troops, the U.S. and the EU could offer to provide much more logistical support to allow the African Union to dispatch more of its own peacekeepers to Sudan. That's not asking a lot, yet it's more than anyone has been willing to do so far.

Remember how exercised everyone around the world was about the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib? Infinitely worse deeds are being done in Darfur every day. Where's the outrage? Where are the street rallies that might spur Western governments into action? Aside from a handful of journalists and human rights activists, the only Westerners who have shown any sustained interest in the Sudan are evangelical Christians, who've been exercised primarily about the fate of their coreligionists in the south. The silence of the "antiwar" masses speaks volumes about their priorities: They don't object to war crimes as long as they're not committed by Americans.

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