Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 2 July 2004

The U.S. Cavalry

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REVIEW & OUTLOOK, The Wall Street Journal

July 02, 2004 — Colin Powell has just made a high-profile trip to Sudan to examine at first hand the abominations in Darfur, the western province that is the world’s latest killing field.

The Secretary of State’s visit also throws a spotlight on another unfortunate global reality. Once again the world is calling on the U.S. to stop a horror that the United Nations and everybody else have failed to act against. The killing of black Muslim tribesmen by government-backed Arab militias has been going on since February of last year. But while the world’s moralists are in full cry about the threat of "another Rwanda," no one sees fit to actually do something. No one, that is, except the U.S.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been raising the alarm about Darfur — and he also visited there this week — but not until two weeks ago did the Security Council call for an immediate halt to the fighting. This being the U.N., the resolution was toothless. Permanent members China and France are worried about jeopardizing their business interests in Sudan. Pakistan and Algeria, which hold temporary seats, refuse to impose sanctions on a fellow Muslim nation even as it is engaged in the mass killing of Muslims.

Rather, the event that finally caught the attention of the government in Khartoum was the Bush Administration’s threat last month to impose serious sanctions on Sudan and refuse visas to Sudanese officials. The next day Sudan’s president went on state radio to say he had ordered a "complete mobilization" to disarm the warring parties in Darfur. We’ll see. This regime is not known for keeping its promises.

The ostensible reason for Europe’s reluctance to pressure Sudan on Darfur is fear of torpedoing a peace deal between Khartoum and the south, where government forces have been slaughtering and enslaving Christian and animist Africans. But Europe’s concern is rich with hypocrisy. That conflict, in which some two million people have died, has been going on for 21 years — while Europe watched.

Again, it was the U.S. that finally did something. The Bush Administration, under the leadership of special envoy John Danforth (soon to be ambassador to the U.N.), deserves most of the credit for brokering the deal.

A better measure of Europe’s concern about Darfur was evident at the recent European Union summit, where one has to turn to page 18 of the summit conclusions to find a small paragraph about Darfur. The most forceful language the EU could muster was "deep concern" regarding Sudan’s "humanitarian crisis," as if what is happening in Darfur is a tragic act of nature rather than a rampage by murderous, ruthless men.

If Europe won’t come to the rescue of the people of Darfur, how about their fellow Muslims? The Arab League statement at its May summit didn’t mention Darfur at all. Instead, it reaffirmed "the Arab states’ solidarity with the sisterly Republic of Sudan, and their determination to preserve its unity and territorial integrity." Kamel Labidi explains the Muslim world’s moral failure in a related column.

Nor, alas, can the Sudanese people expect much from their fellow Africans. It was the Africa bloc at the U.N. that played a key role in the farce that resulted in Sudan’s re-appointment to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in May. Sudan’s fellow Africans also helped undermine a resolution in April designed to appoint a special human rights rapporteur for Darfur. Yes, the African Union is leading a group of observers to monitor a cease-fire that has yet to take hold. But it is sending a grand total of 120 troops — including a munificent contribution of six from Europe — to monitor a region the size of France.

The lesson of Sudan is that the world is a Hobbesian place outside the U.S. sphere of influence. Sudan’s social contract is straight out of "Leviathan"; citizens are guaranteed security only if they abide by the absolute authority of a monarch.

The real problem, as everyone knows but no one will admit, is Sudan’s murderous regime. But Mr. Annan and company can’t abide regime change, and in any case the U.S. military is too preoccupied to make that happen. That means we’re left with diplomatic pressure and visits like Mr. Powell’s, which are better than nothing but don’t solve the long-term problem.

It is fashionable these days to express distaste for American "unilateralism" and "hegemony." The unfolding catastrophe in Darfur offers a chilling view of what the alternative really looks like.



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