We Cannot Save Everyone, But We Must Save Everyone We Can

June 29, 2004

(UPDATE – July 1, 1:14 AM: There are now some specific reasons for hope.)

When one examines the international community’s present response to the humanitarian catastrophe in the greater Darfur region of Sudan, there are some reasons for hope and many reasons for dismay.

The main reason for hope is the joint diplomatic mission that US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will undertake next week. To the extent one can use the word “serious” to describe a diplomatic response to genocidal actions, the planned US response appears serious:

The announcement of Powell’s unexpected trip came as U.S. officials disclosed that the Bush administration was drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution that would sharply criticize Sudan for failing to halt the violence and demand that it grant broader access for humanitarian relief workers. Senior U.S. officials met in Washington yesterday to flesh out details of the new resolution, which could coincide with Powell’s visit.

U.S. officials said they are considering a range of measures, including an arms embargo and a freeze on the financial assets of individuals linked to the atrocities. But they say they have not decided whether to impose the sanctions on Sudanese government officials or just on commanders of the Janjaweed militia responsible for most of the violence.

Administration officials said that while they believe Sudan continues to hinder the efforts of aid workers seeking to provide relief in Darfur, they are confident that Sudan will bow to international pressure to respond to the humanitarian crises.

“The Sudanese government does respond to unified international pressure,” said Andrew S. Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. “We want to put more public pressure on the Sudanese government to restrain the Janjaweed.”

[Source: “Powell to Go to Sudan Over Regional Strife” by Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch, The Washington Post, Friday, June 25, 2004; Page A24 ]

Unfortunately (as highlighted today by Jesse Taylor at Pandagon), the initial response of the Sudanese government to this pressure has not been capitulation but a clumsy attempt to keep its crimes secret:

ABU SHOUK, Sudan, June 27 — The Sudanese villagers in this western region of Darfur were bombed. They were raped. Their huts were burned and their grain pillaged. Now, those who fled the chaos say they are being silenced.

The Sudanese government dispatched 500 men last week to this sweltering camp of 40,000 near El Fashir, capital of North Darfur state, the refugees and aid workers said. The men, some dressed in civilian clothes, others in military uniforms, warned the refugees to keep quiet about their experiences when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visit the region this week.

[Source: “Sudanese Refugees Told to Stay Silent On Government, Militia Abuses” by Emily Wax, The Washington Post, Monday, June 28, 2004; Page A16]

Hopefully, this ugly attempt at intimidation implies that the Sudanese government is scared now and will soon capitulate. Unfortunately however, it may just mean that it is angered now and will instead escalate. With that frightening thought, we now turn to the many reasons for dismay.

First and foremost is the following shameful fact. When Secretaries Powell and Annan conclude their mission to Sudan next week, it will be nearly the ninth anniversary of the surrender of UN peacekeepers at the supposed “safe haven” of Srebrenica and the subsequent massacre of the Bosnian Muslims who sought refuge there. Despite all these years, the international community still does not have any ready force that is capable of establishing a safe haven bordering a region of ongoing genocide that could deter a ground assault from the genocidaires. Even more shameful, despite the incontestable superiority of modern American or European military aircraft over their Third-World counterparts, the international community still is tremendously reluctant to consider establishing no-fly zones to stop those horrendous instances–of which Sudan is currently one–where a government turns its military aircraft against its own citizens.

Second among the reasons for despair is that many urgent pleas for help before the onset of the rainy season went unanswered. The rains essentially prevent large-scale land transport of humanitarian aid, and they virtually assure that there will be some significant outbreak of disease and starvation among the refugee populations.

One could continue, but a catalog of reasons for despair would serve no point. We cannot save everyone, but we must try to save everyone we can.

So what is to be done?

The best specific course of action I have seen advocated came in the following letter to The Washington Post Editorial Page:

Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are correct in their call for a more resolute U.S. policy to end Sudan’s ethnic cleansing of its Darfur province [“It’s Happening Again,” op-ed, June 23]. However, the sort of sanctions and diplomatic action they call for alone have never halted an incipient genocide. To stop the killings, rapes and expulsions, force must enter the equation.

France maintains a substantial air base at N’Djamena in Chad, including Mirage fighter aircraft. This base should be the launch pad for a “no-fly” zone over Darfur province, akin to what the U.S., British and French maintained over northern Iraq from 1991 on.

American and other allied powers could augment the French contingent with European-based air assets. Khartoum would be warned that any sorties over Darfur would be shot down and that the bases from which they are launched, such as that at El Fasher, would be struck decisively, with an emphasis on eliminating Sudanese air power.

Furthermore, Janjaweed militia formations should face airstrikes if they continue operations. With this air umbrella firmly in place, humanitarian access and peacekeeping force deployment could move forward. The French garrisons in Chad and Djibouti, along with the American task force in Djibouti*, could form the nucleus of a Darfur safe area force, to be followed by troops under U.N. or other auspices.

The summoning by Mr. DeWine and Mr. McCain of the shameful example of Rwanda a decade ago was apt.

There is still just enough time to prevent another African genocide. To do so, the United States, France and other capable states must act now.


To Mr. Bassuener’s proposal I would only add one thing: the international community must make a wholehearted effort to indict, arrest, and prosecute war criminals. Another lingering shame that we’d do well to recall on the upcoming ninth anniversary of Srebrenica is that Radovan Karadzic is still at large, and indeed, is probably living large in his infamously flamboyant style somewhere in Republika Srpska, lording over an organized crime syndicate. (See this excellent May 30, 2004 article by Russ Baker in The San Francisco Chronicle.) Those indicted for crimes against humanity should know that they will not depart this mortal coil in a bed of their own choosing. Rather, they will be pursued with at least the tenacity with which the Mossad pursued Eichmann, and that if they really piss us off, they will be pursued with the ruthlessness with which Stalin’s KGB went after Trotsky.


* For more on the French presence in Djibouti, which in fact constitutes the largest overseas basing of the French military, and the part of these bases–namely, Camp Le Monier—that is already in use by US forces, see the following links of GlobalSecuity.org: the general Djibouti page (with much nifty satellite imagery) and the specific Camp Le Monier page.

** Mr. Bassuener was not identified by the Post. However, looking on the internet, he appears to be the man described in this biography as a former Balkans specialist for the US Institute of Peace (which is “an independent, nonpartisan federal institution created by Congress in 1984 to promote the prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of international conflicts”)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: