Memo to Bush on Darfur
President Bush seems genuinely troubled by the slaughter in Darfur and has periodically suggested to Condoleezza Rice: Why can’t we just send troops in and take care of it? Each time, Ms. Rice patiently explains: You can’t invade a third Muslim country, especially one with oil. And so Mr. Bush backs off and does nothing.
But this week marks the 14th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide — the last time we said “never again.” And while Ms. Rice is right that we can’t send in American ground troops, there are concrete steps that President Bush can take if he wants to end his shameful passivity:
1. Work with France to end the proxy war between Sudan and Chad and to keep Sudan from invading Chad and toppling its government. Stopping the Darfur virus from infecting the surrounding countries must be a top priority. And even if the West lacks the gumption to do much within Sudan, it should at least try to block the spread of genocide to the entire region.
France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is leading the way in providing a European force to stabilize Chad and Central African Republic, and we should back him strongly. If Sudan dispatches additional proxy troops, France and the U.S. should use aircraft to strafe the invaders. But we should also push Chad’s repressive president to accommodate his domestic opponents rather than imprison them.
2. Broaden the focus from “save Darfur” to “save Sudan.” There is a growing risk that the war between North and South Sudan will resume in the coming months and that Sudan will shatter into pieces. The U.S. should try to shore up the fraying north-south peace agreement and urgently help South Sudan with an anti-aircraft capability, to deter Khartoum from striking the South.
3. Right before or after this summer’s G-8 summit, President Bush should convene an international conference on Sudan, inviting among others Mr. Sarkozy, Gordon Brown of Britain, Hu Jintao of China, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Sudanese leaders themselves. The conference should be convened in Kigali, Rwanda, so that participants can reflect on the historical resonance of genocide.
One aim would be to pressure China to suspend arms transfers to Sudan until it seriously pursues peace in Darfur (we’ll get further by treating China as important rather than as evil). Such an arms suspension would be the single best way to induce Sudan to make concessions needed to achieve peace. The conference would also focus on supporting the U.N. peacekeeping force in Darfur with helicopters, training and equipment.
4. The conference should aim to restart a Darfur peace process, because the only way the slaughter will truly end is with a peace agreement. A prominent figure like Kofi Annan should lead the talks, working full time and with a first-rate staff to crack heads of Sudanese officials and rebel leaders alike.
5. The U.N. and U.S. should take South Sudan up on its offers in 2004 and 2005 to provide up to 10,000 peacekeepers for Darfur. South Sudanese peacekeepers wouldn’t need visas or interpreters. They can simply walk to Darfur from their present positions, and they would make a huge difference in security.
6. The U.S. should impose a no-fly zone over Darfur from the air base in Abeche, Chad (or even from our existing base in Djibouti). We wouldn’t keep planes in the air or shoot down Sudanese aircraft. Rather, the next time Sudan breaches the U.N. ban on offensive military flights, we would wait a day or two and then destroy a Sudanese Antonov bomber on the ground.
Aid groups mostly oppose this approach for fear that Sudan would respond by cutting off humanitarian access, and that’s a legitimate concern. We should warn Sudan that any such behavior would lead it to lose other aircraft. Sudan’s leaders are practical and covet their planes.
7. We should warn Sudan that if it provokes a war with the South, attacks camps for displaced people or invades a neighboring country, we will destroy its air force. As Roger Winter, a longtime Sudan expert, puts it: “They act when they are credibly threatened. They don’t react when we throw snow at them.”
8. The central reason for our failure in Sudan is that we haven’t proffered meaningful sticks or carrots. A no-fly zone is a stick, but we also should reiterate that if President Omar al-Bashir seeks peace in Darfur and South Sudan, then the U.S. will normalize relations, lift sanctions and take Sudan off the list of nations that sponsor terrorism.
If President Bush takes all these steps, will they succeed in ending the genocide? We don’t know, but pretending that there is nothing more that we can do is as dishonest as it is disgraceful.