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Hope Less

The West's continuing failure to stop genocide in Darfur.

The spring of 2006 brought hope that the West might finally do something to end genocide in Darfur. Activists and celebrities rallied on the National Mall, journalists called for a robust peacekeeping force, and top U.S. officials (including then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick) were on the ground in Abuja, Nigeria, to finalize the contentious peace agreement between the Sudanese government and rebel groups--a first step toward ending violence in the troubled region. A poll released in March showed that a majority of the country supported limited military intervention in Sudan. And, the day before the United States proposed a resolution in the United Nations to send an international peacekeeping force, President Bush delivered a strongly worded statement. "America," he said, "will not turn away from this tragedy. We will call genocide by its rightful name, and we will stand up for the innocent until the peace of Darfur is secured."

A few short months later, America has been doing a lot of sitting and waiting for someone else to take the initiative in Darfur. Since the p.r. triumph of the Abuja agreement, both the Bush administration and the United Nations have rested on the laurels of false accomplishments as genocide and violence has continued unchecked, and even increased, in Darfur. Ceasefire violations abound, humanitarian aid workers are attacked, and, despite widespread pleas for an intervention force, none has been forthcoming. Despite the bold rhetoric, government action has been lacking: The sad fact is, since Abuja, the genocide in Darfur has only gotten worse.

First, instead of taking an opportunity to change the status quo, the United States and other countries, at a July funding conference, pledged enough money only to keep the African Union Mission in Sudan (amis)--the token peacekeeping force in the region, and one without the resources or mandate to police an area the size of Texas--working through the end of September. Meanwhile, the earliest projection for a U.N. force to enter the region is January 2007. From October to January, the international community would presumably trust the génocidaires to police themselves.

Thankfully--or perhaps delusionally--American policymakers hope for a peacekeeping force to absorb and augment amis in October, despite huge hurdles to doing so. Some are logistical: No country has pledged to deploy troops that can meet the requirements, namely western military resources, described by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a recently issued peacekeeping report. But the main obstacle--and the excuse of Western powers--is political: The Khartoum government has not given its permission for U.N. peacekeepers to deploy in the Darfur region--hardly a surprise, considering the government is complicit in the genocide.

The United States expected the Khartoum government to allow U.N. observers and a team from the International Criminal Court to enter Darfur after the Abuja agreement, with an intervention force not far behind. They also expected Khartoum to begin disarming the Janjaweed militias, the main perpetrators of the genocide, as required by the agreement. Neither has begun. Asked why stopping the genocide is dependent on negotiations with the malicious Khartoum government, a chagrined State Department official told me, "I know what you're saying, but what can we do?"

For starters, provide security. If President Bush wants to take genocide in Darfur seriously, he should ratchet up the diplomatic and economic pressure on Sudan and its international supporter, China; if U.N. peacekeepers and observers are not allowed in the country, he should ask amis forces to extend their mandate and join with nato troops. And, if he were truly dedicated to stopping genocide, he would take immediate action to send a multilateral intervention force--with or without Khartoum's permission.

That's because, barring immediate action from the United States, nothing is going to change. Without former speechwriter Michael Gerson (who Nicholas Kristof called the administration's conscience) at Bush's side, and without Zoellick (who made work on Darfur a centerpiece of his tenure in the State Department) driving negotiations forward, there has been no new progress toward an intervention since May. The United Nations will not deploy peacekeepers without the permission of sovereign Sudan. Nato has said it will not deploy anything beyond logistical support. And Khartoum is content to wait out Western interest and let the killing continue.

So, everyday, U.S and U.N. officials--many of them undoubtedly disgusted by pursuing a failed policy--meet with their Sudanese counterparts, talking themselves blue trying to assuage fears of "neocolonialism" so that Khartoum will accept peacekeepers. But, with the end of amis's funding just a month away, there is still no clear idea when talks will move toward sanctions and pressure. "Diplomats will talk until there is no hope," the State Department official told me. "There is still hope." But others have a more pessimistic view. Sam Bell, the director of advocacy at the Genocide Intervention Network, says the West is allowing "Sudan to dictate the terms of the debate. When they refuse to allow a U.N. mission, we wait. When they say 'graveyard' for foreign peacekeepers, we stop talking about what it will take to stop genocide--Western military leadership."

On the Security Council, China resists attempts to pressure the Sudanese government, thanks to its need for Sudanese oil. An American official familiar with the negotiations says that the United States still wants an intervention in Darfur but wouldn't speak to a timetable for negotiations or pressure. Remarkably, even the type of intervention is still up for debate: The secretary-general and anti-genocide activists are clamoring for a deployment under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which would allow troops to act directly to stop genocide and any parties attempting to spoil the Abuja agreement. Meanwhile, a mandate under Chapter 6, which Khartoum and its allies prefer, renders troops impotent: they may act as observers and use force only in self-defense.

The genocide, now in its fourth year, has killed at least 400,000 and displaced at least 2.4 million. The humanitarian crisis in and around the refugee camps is nowhere near an end. Now, the one rebel leader who signed the Abuja agreement, Minni Minnawi, has been using his position to secure gains for his own faction, which has attacked other tribes and humanitarian workers in the Darfur area. The fragmentation and violence have stopped us even from knowing the basic facts on the ground, since huge tracts of territory have become too dangerous for Western observers.

But that hasn't stopped the Bush administration from taking cover under the Abuja deal. That agreement gave the West breathing room to say, We did something. Sadly, it's not true--the facts on the ground haven't changed: There has been no real pressure on Sudan or China, no effort to deploy a multinational force, and only the barest minimum of funding for amis and humanitarian relief. And, without another publicity blitz, it will be easy for the administration to sit back and let events take their course rather than relaunch a major foreign policy initiative during an election year.

On Thursday, the Security Council will receive a briefing on Darfur and hear, yet again, the litany of genocide and displacement. There is a chance that the United States and other Western powers will finally deliver strong enough threats to Sudan and its backers to force the acceptance of a U.N. force (or, even less likely, maybe they will simply deploy one anyway). But, given the last few months' inaction, don't expect too much. Not on our watch.

Tim Fernholz is a TNR Online intern.

By Tim Fernholz