Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Something must be done" about Darfur

Retired Gen. Roméo Dallaire recently was back in the news by by creating a multiparty group in Canada's Senate (of which he is a member) and House of Commons in order to urge the international community more seriously engage to halt the genocide in Darfur.

As many readers will remember, Gen. Dallaire was in charge of the ill-fated United Nations' peacekeeping mission in Rwanda that "failed" to prevent the genocide in that country. Dallaire famously sent a request to UN headquarters that his mission be beefed up to prevent the massacres that his sources told him were planned but instead of respecting his request to double the size of the mission and give it a strong mandate, the Security Council slashed the mission's numbers by 90 percent, essentially emasculating it.

In forming this group, Dallaire said, "The objective is prevent genocides, not to round up pieces afterward."

A prominent activist coalition was formed a while ago in the US called Save Darfur.

As its first priority, Save Darfur wants 'the immediate deployment of the already-authorized UN peacekeeping force.'

Though it tolerates the presence of an impotent African Union mission, Sudanese junta has already said it would regard any UN force as a hostile invader.

What human rights and anti-genocide activists (and I include myself in both categories) have a hard time accepting is this: there is no good external solution to the Darfur crisis.

They issue the call so often heard in crisis situations: "something must be done."

But there's a problem with this slogan.

The word "something" is vague to the point of being meaningless. WHAT must be done?

The phrase "must be done" is in the passive tense. WHO must do the doing? How can a serious call to action use the passive tense?

The African Union will never approve a stronger mandate for the force there because too many member states are afraid of setting a precedent. If an aggressive AU mission can be imposed on Darfur, then it can also be imposed on Zimbabwe or Côte d'Ivoire. It's sad that an organization that was created with so much promise, that was structured precisely to be able to act strongly in catastrophic situations, risks falling into the irrelevancy that crippled its predecessor The Organization for African Unity.

And even if the AU were to approve a serious mandate, who'd carry it out? The AU mission currently in Darfur barely has the troops or equipment to handle the present, weak mandate.

What about the useless Arab League? Deafening silence. They're so busy passing resolutions condemning Israel because an IDF soldier sneezed without covering his mouth that they haven't noticed a genocide and humanitarian catastrophe that make the West Bank and Gaza look like the Garden of Eden. A genocide and humanitarian catastrophe being perpetrated by a member state.

Why the silence? Maybe you should ask the Arab League's Sudanese presidency.

I suppose there could be a UN intervention, but who would supply the troops? The junta has already warned that a UN mission would be treated as a hostile force. Would the normal peacekeeping soldier donor countries be willing to send their troops into a hot, peacemaking conflict?

And if so, would they be equiped and trained for such an incursion? Of the top ten peacekeeping troop contributing countries, only Australia would be considered by most as a developed country. Would Kenya or Jordan or Bangladesh have the resources for their troops to engage in an invasion of Darfur? Would this even be a good use of their scarce resources?

Realistically, any aggressive UN mission in Sudan would have to be carried out by a major military power. China won't do it because they have their eye on Sudan's oil and want to cozy up to the regime. The US and Britain won't do it because they are bogged down in the morasses of Afghanistan and Iraq. France won't do it because they were badly burned in Côte d'Ivoire. So who's left?

And even if the US or Britain did lead such a mission, it would be disastrous. A hostile intervention in Sudan would INEVITABLY be seen as yet another example of the bullying of less powerful countries by an Islamophobic west. "Why don't they invade Christian Zimbabwe?" you'll hear them ask. The Bush administration's militarism in Iraq and support for militarism against Lebanon (and their militaristic language against Iran, North Korea, Somalia and anyone else that crosses them) means that any US-led intervention in Sudan would necessarily be seen as another American imperial adventure. Perception is reality.

This is something that people like Gen. Dallaire and the Save Darfur folks fail to take into account. No matter how personally well-intentioned these folks may be, the motives of a western military force in Darfur would be automatically suspect. The face of such a mission to the Arab world wouldn't be George Clooney and Roméo Dallaire but George W. Bush.

A western-led UN force would inevitably be yet another breeding ground for Islamist insurgents. They wouldn't have to go far. Both Somalia and Saudi Arabia are close to Sudan.

Despite Gen. Dallaire's well-intentioned sentiments, there is a significant difference between Rwanda and Darfur. In Rwanda, there was already a UN force on the ground with the agreement of the regime in Kigali. They were on the ground, staffed, armed, equipped (sort of) and had intelligence gathering operations. A UN force in Darfur would not only have to start from scratch while fighting its way in. Would this save lives or cost even more?

The core principle of any peacekeeping mission is the same as the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. A hostile intervention force would clearly do more harm than good. Adding thousands or tens of thousands of dead peacekeepers to the hundreds of thousands of dead Darfuris may assuage the conscience of liberal westerners who insist that "something must be done." But if that 'something' is even more carnage, then it MUSTN'T be done.

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