After years of standing on the sidelines and making ineffective threats about punishing Sudanese leaders for slaughtering the people of Darfur, the Bush administration finally took concrete action this week. Its decision to airlift vehicles and heavy equipment to an undersupplied United Nations peacekeeping force was a welcome, if largely symbolic, gesture, but more interesting was the timing of the move.
In his announcement of the airlift Monday, National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley took pains to point out that it was "further evidence that Nicholas Kristof's portrayal last week of this administration's response to the genocide in Darfur was inaccurate." Hadley was referring to a Dec. 28 column in the New York Times in which Kristof cited a leaked memo by Ambassador Richard Williamson, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, that laid out three possible military responses aimed at the Sudanese regime: The U.S. could jam all communications in Khartoum, the nation's capital; it could blockade Port Sudan, from which the country exports its oil; or it could destroy Sudan's air force.
Kristof reported that these options were ruled out by Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Hadley acknowledged Monday that military responses had been considered and rejected, but he said the decision was driven by pleas from leading church, advocacy and humanitarian organizations that feared such actions would only make things worse for Darfuris. That came as news to the Save Darfur Coalition, an umbrella organization for Darfur advocacy groups that has long favored a tougher response by Washington, and whose spokesman told this page on Tuesday that the coalition hadn't been consulted by the administration.