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Killing Fields

ON NOVEMBER 11, two men in green uniforms arrived at the home of Abakar Yussuf, then ordered his wife outside. “When she came out, they shot her in the back and she fell to the ground and died,” Yussuf told Amnesty International. “They then took her by her feet and pulled her back into the house and set fire to it. … When I returned to find my wife’s body, all that was left were her bones.” Four days later, in the same

Chadian village, attackers threw Abdoulaye Khamis’s 80-year-old brother into a hut they had set on fire. “I ran back … and tried to save my brother,” Khamis explained. “I pulled his body out of the burning hut, but I was too late.” Hundreds throughout eastern Chad were killed in similar attacks during the second half of last year— a year that saw the Darfur genocide continue apace in both Sudan and neighboring states.

Two weeks ago, when President Bush promised in his State of the Union address to “awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur,” Congress applauded. We cringed. Bush has been promising for years to save Darfur. So has the United Nations. So has Europe. Yet Darfur has not been saved. In Western capitals, the moral high ground belongs to politicians who mouth the correct sentiments about Darfur. But, in the interior of northern Africa, the foreseeable future belongs to roving sadists who—in the name of Arab supremacy and at the behest of Sudan’s genocidal government—shoot wives and toss elderly men into burning huts.

By now, these sadists and their powerful patrons must have figured out the obvious: that no one is going to stop them. Nearly six months have passed since the United Nations authorized the deployment of peacekeepers to end the genocide. But Khartoum continues to wrangle and bluster over the terms of that deployment, and it still seems unlikely that a U.N. force large enough to stop the killing will ever arrive in western Sudan. Meanwhile, many, including the U.N.’s new secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, hold out hope for a negotiated settlement between Darfur’s rebel groups and Khartoum. But, so far, the rebel factions haven’t even been able to unite, let alone bargain effectively with the government. And, besides, Khartoum—which wants to prolong the genocide it designed and orchestrated—is hardly in a rush to cement a genuine peace accord.

Precisely because neither of these two options ever seemed likely to work, we have argued over the past year that NATO intervention is the best way to end the genocide. We still favor that approach, but we have no illusions that the Bush administration will ever undertake it. Last week, speaking at a panel in Washington, D.C., John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group urged Western governments at least to weigh the possibility of military action against Sudan—but then conceded, “It’s a laughable concept as we sit here today.” True enough. At this point, we would be happy to see the West take any action that has even the remotest chance of stopping the genocide. Some efforts, such as a no-fly zone over Darfur or a naval blockade of Port Sudan, could, at least in theory, be undertaken unilaterally or by a small group of countries. Other proposals, such as travel bans that target government leaders or sanctions against Sudanese oil, would require broad consent from the international community to be effective.

Unfortunately, none of these measures seem likely to happen any time soon. For one thing, when it comes to Darfur, we have shown time and again that we simply lack the will for substantial steps of any kind. For another, China—a major consumer of Sudanese oil and a longtime supplier of equipment to Khartoum’s military—would almost certainly foil efforts to punish Sudan economically.

And so the West either isn’t going to act or isn’t going to act strongly enough, and the plight of Darfuris will become more dire by the day. Indeed, as recent reports of attacks on aid workers piled up, one humanitarian group, Medecins du Monde, decided to pull out of Darfur. If others follow, millions of displaced persons could soon be without water, food, or medicine.

We wish we could identify some hopeful sign for Darfur on the horizon. But we are not naive: The world has managed to live with the consequences of its inaction for three years now; surely it can do so for many more. Meanwhile, the confidence of those who terrorize and kill will only grow. Recently, NBC News interviewed a 17-year-old girl who was attacked in October 2006. “You are black,” a man in a Sudanese uniform had taunted just before raping her. “You have no place here.” Then he offered a prediction: “We will push you out of here. This land will remain for us.” And you know what? He’s probably right.