President Bush saw the movie Hotel Rwanda, twice. This is the movie that depicts the genocide in that country, and in particular the refusal of the U.N. — which had troops there — to lift a finger. Deeply interested, Bush arranged to meet the man on whose personal story the movie is based: the hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina. They talked in the Oval Office, mainly about Darfur, Sudan. Rusesabagina said that what had occurred in Rwanda was occurring in Darfur. Bush said that he would do all he could to stop it. It is too late for some — for up to 400,000 — but not, of course, for all. We may say that it is never too late to stop genocide while there are people left standing.
It was last September 9 that the United States — in the person of then-secretary of state Colin Powell — declared that genocide was taking place in Darfur. There is now some debate across the government about whether genocide continues, although there is no doubt that extensive murder and other terror are ongoing. Is the U.S. doing everything it possibly can? The answer is no, if the possibilities include the dispatch of American troops to the region. But this is not counted as a possibility by anyone of influence. Short of troops, it may well be that the U.S. is doing all it can. The United Nations is another matter, as usual. It is hard to see how the Darfur genocide will stop anytime soon, absent much greater concerted action.
One genocide has already occurred in Sudan, of course — that is, it has already been completed. That is the genocide in the south, where Christians and animists live (or lived, we might note grimly). The Sudanese government wiped out 2.2 million, and displaced another 4.5 million. This regime, in Khartoum, is almost unfathomably evil. Led by President Field Marshal Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, it is a military dictatorship that is also Islamist and terroristic. According to Freedom House, “the government of Sudan is the only one in the world today engaged in chattel slavery.” Khartoum waged a long “jihad” — Bashir’s word — against the south, featuring a terror-famine of the kind seen in Stalin’s Ukraine and Mengistu’s Ethiopia. Bashir blocked the humanitarian relief that the West sought to give; the U.N., and the United States, under President Clinton, did not push very hard. Bestialities in the south included bombings, razings, concentration camps (called “peace villages”), and rape after rape after rape. That may be what is hardest about inquiring into Sudan: the constant rape, that great and ancient weapon of terror.
Sudan is so bad, it expresses an almost comic-book evil. In the southern genocide, one hospital was bombed five times; children were beheaded in front of their parents; the hungry were strafed as they gathered to await food drops. The government even ran a “death train,” in an almost willful imitation of the Nazis.
The West paid scant attention to these events, although some agitated, especially in America, especially on “the Christian right,” as it is known. Such Republicans as Sen. Jesse Helms, Sen. Bill Frist, Rep. Frank Wolf, and Rep. Chris Smith were aroused, along with some Democrats, too, such as Rep. Donald Payne and former representative Walter Fauntroy. But mainly the United States, including its media, was uninterested. Nina Shea of Freedom House says that what press coverage existed tended to proclaim “how bad it was for conservative Christian groups to redeem slaves” (which is to say, to buy their freedom). “And every time the famine got bad, there was reporting on that, but it was always in the nature of, ‘Isn’t starvation terrible?’ when the issue was jihad waged against these people.” In a white paper, the Clinton administration forthrightly labeled Sudan a “backburner” issue, and the U.S. did not pay serious attention until George W. Bush took office.
In a May 2001 speech before the American Jewish Committee, the new president referred to Sudan’s crimes as “monstrous,” and said, “My administration will continue to speak and act for as long as the persecution and atrocities in the Sudan last.” On the same day, he appointed a “special humanitarian coordinator,” to try to ensure that U.S. aid reached its intended beneficiaries. Four months later, on September 6, he appointed former senator John Danforth to be his envoy to Sudan. When Islamist terrorists struck America five days later, the picture changed, dramatically: Khartoum, as an Islamist regime, was nervous. (It had sheltered Osama bin Laden from 1991 to 1996.) When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, it was more nervous yet. It began to show a certain flexibility.
Working doggedly for about three and a half years, the United States achieved a peace agreement between the government of Sudan and rebel forces in the south. The agreement was finalized this past January. On April 13, a celebration was held in the Longworth Building on Capitol Hill, attended by Sudan activists, activist congressmen, and some Sudanese themselves. All described the mood as “jubilant.” In a column, Chuck Colson, the evangelical leader, wrote, “We don’t always get to see the results of our work in this life. That’s especially true for those who work for human rights around the world.” By the terms of the peace agreement, the south will enjoy self-rule, no longer subject to sharia (Islamic law). After six years, it may vote to separate itself from Sudan, although Senator Danforth is one who thinks this unlikely: “If you were to look at [the south], you would not think it could be an independent country. People might vote for that, but this would be a landlocked African country, with no roads.”
Danforth reports that President Bush is totally engaged by Sudan: “I can tell you that, not only did the president appoint me as special envoy, he repeatedly talked to me about Sudan afterward. Every single time I went to either Sudan or Kenya for peace talks, I talked to the president in advance, either in the Oval Office or by telephone — every time. He was intimately involved in it.” So was Secretary Powell. Congressman Wolf — who has been to Sudan five times — is another who testifies to Bush’s interest, knowledge, and involvement. In fact, “I think the president deserves the Nobel prize. And I wanted to nominate him — but with Darfur going on, you just couldn’t. I may nominate him later. But with Darfur going on,” it would be unseemly.
Ah, yes: Darfur. The genocide in the south is now over, with people there going about the rebuilding of life. For them, it is late 1945. But not for those in Darfur, a western region — their crisis still burns. In the first months of 2003, some Darfur Sudanese rebelled against Khartoum, tired of what they called discrimination and abuse; the government attacked with full fury, unleashing the same jihadist, genocidal hell that it had visited on Sudan’s south. Darfur constitutes a fifth of the country, containing a seventh of the national population (but — to be grim again — who knows how that fraction stands this week?). The genocide’s victims are black-African Muslims, killed by other Muslims who consider themselves racially and culturally superior. Bashir’s regime has acted in concert with the “Janjaweed,” and here we have a word to enter the lexicon of fear, along with “Gestapo,” “Ton Ton Macoutes,” and others. The Janjaweed are militias, men on horses and camels, who raid and rape and murder. Government forces and the Janjaweed consider their victims natural slaves, and, when attacking, shout, “Kill the slaves!” When raping, they may crack about making lighter babies. One refugee said a militiaman had claimed, “We kill all blacks and even kill our cattle when they have black calves.” As Congressman Wolf and Sen. Sam Brownback reported last summer, after a trip to Darfur, “No black African is safe in Darfur.” And “the Janjaweed are employing a government-supported scorched-earth policy to drive [these Africans] out of the region — and perhaps to extinction.”
(Please note that most white people could not tell the difference between the “Arab” Sudanese Muslims and the black-African Sudanese Muslims, racially. Such is the mystery of racism.)
Bombed and burned out of their farmlands and villages, the Darfur Sudanese are herded into refugee camps, where they number about 2 million. These places are as squalid and wretched as you can imagine. Observers on the scene speak of a horrible dilemma, faced by the camp-dwellers: If the men venture out, for food and wood, they are liable to be killed, by Janjaweed who ring the camps, waiting for easiest prey; if the women venture out — rape. And the longer the people stay in the camps, the farther out they have to roam, making life more dangerous all the time.
Darfur has not escaped the attention of the West, as the south for many years had. Our media cover it generously. Secretary Powell visited Darfur, as has Kofi Annan, as has — in the last few weeks — the deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick. With justification, Senator Danforth says, “The interest of our government in Sudan is astonishing.” He phoned the Washington Post to upbraid an editorialist who had argued the opposite. U.S. policy is essentially this: to provide massive food aid; to keep pressure on Khartoum, through sanctions and incentives; and to try to prod international action. Powell declared genocide in September, but administration officials are more reluctant to use the word now, whether in public or in private. On his recent trip, Zoellick was pressed on the question, and he said, “I really don’t want to get into debates about terminology . . .” Many have remarked, with some bitterness, that murdered Sudanese hardly care whether they are victims of “genocide” or merely of “crimes against humanity,” which is the United Nations’ preferred term.
As of the end of April, the U.S. had given $628 million in aid to Darfur, which is more than 50 percent of the world’s total. Are Khartoum and its Janjaweed proxies blocking this relief, as they had for months? Reports are indefinite, but the answer seems to be no. There are still truck drivers who may balk at delivering, for fear of their lives, and rebel groups are sometimes as problematic as the forces they oppose. But the bulk of the aid is reaching the hungry. We might ask, however, whether food is enough. One response comes from what may be a surprising source, Kofi Annan. Writing in the New York Times on April 13, he said plainly that aid without protection is folly. Annan cited Bosnians, who “watched the aid trucks continue to roll while their neighbors were gunned down in broad daylight. ‘We will die with our stomachs full,’ they used to say.” But food aid is saving many lives, because starvation — whether government-provoked or not — is the primary killer. Nina Shea notes that “the big numbers in the south came from mass starvation, which the government had caused. In a vast rural area — where there are no cities or skyscrapers — you can only kill so many with bombs, guns,” etc. (Stalin and Mao racked up their big numbers in this way: through starvation.)
We must now ask whether there is anyone standing between the innocent and the murderous — and the answer is, Precious few. Troops from the African Union are in Darfur, about 2,000 of them, to cover an area the size of Texas. Their number is to rise by autumn (which is a long way off, in the midst of genocide, or quasi-genocide). The United States has assisted this group with logistics — spending about $80 million — and there is now talk that NATO will offer such assistance as well. The United States is pushing for NATO’s participation, but not every country is eager. As the Associated Press reported, “France has been wary about NATO involvement in Africa, concerned that Paris’s traditional influence could be undermined.” That sentence pretty well sums up the French attitude toward Sudan and its suffering.
To enlist the help of the U.N. has been an uphill struggle — perhaps that is why internationalists have to turn to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to address an East African problem. In March of this year, the U.N. imposed some sanctions on Khartoum, but these are light sanctions, nothing like an oil embargo, which would have serious consequences. For the U.N. to move, you need the Security Council, and on that council sit some unhelpful actors: China, which is a huge investor in Sudan, and a huge military supplier; Russia, also a big military supplier (including of Antonov planes and Hind helicopter gunships, spearheads of Sudanese genocide); and France, which has proven itself more interested in thwarting the Americans than in doing right by Sudan. The United States pressed for an African court, to try Sudanese war criminals, on the model of the courts handling Liberia’s Charles Taylor, and the Rwandans, and the Sierra Leoneans. But the French, along with other Europeans, blocked this effort, insisting on the International Criminal Court, to which the U.S., of course, is not a signatory. When the ICC referral came to a vote, the U.S. abstained. The Security Council has given the ICC a sealed list of 51 Sudanese war criminals; it would be unwise to bet that anything will come of it.
Frank Wolf is typical of the activist-experts in having little respect for the U.N. in Sudan. He points out that the U.N. was useless in Srebrenica, in Rwanda, and elsewhere, and is merely repeating its performance in Darfur. Senator Danforth, however — recall that he was ambassador to the U.N., following his stint as Sudan envoy — is more respectful of the U.N.’s performance, citing the body’s role in the north-south peace. (Whether the U.N. would have done half as much without Danforth’s commitment, and Bush’s, is another question.)
What is apparently impossible is a U.N. force in Sudan, to protect the innocent. Even a formal no-fly zone — of the sort that saved many Kurdish and other lives in Iraq — is too tough. As Danforth says, “When we were passing resolutions last summer on Darfur, we wanted to talk about at least the threat of sanctions, but we could not pass anything with the word ‘sanctions’ in it. We had to talk about ‘measures.’” If the U.N. shrinks from calling sanctions sanctions, how will it feel about any military intervention? Some have grumbled that a new coalition of the willing should enter Darfur, in the face of U.N. paralysis and African haplessness. If we mean “never again,” and are truly sorry for Rwanda (President Clinton apologized), why not such a move? But there is no significant appetite for it; and success, militarily, would not be automatic. Then too, the world’s Muslims might do some good, by objecting to the extermination of hundreds of thousands of their coreligionists. But those listening for a peep will be disappointed.
A curious fact about this genocide is that it may be the best known in history. The State Department, the United Nations, and other organizations — official and private — have meticulously documented what has gone on in Darfur. Simply go to the State Department’s website, and you will see maps, charts, everything. As many have pointed out, no one in the future will be entitled to claim ignorance. At their Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, the Israelis display an aerial photo of Auschwitz, taken by Allied forces in 1944. Such photos were revealed by CIA analysts in 1978, and President Carter turned over some originals to the Israelis in 1980. No fundamental mystery is even suggested about Sudan. Various entities keep almost a running tally: In 1985, there were a million Nuba people (from central Sudan); today there are 300,000.
We are all perhaps too quick to say “Never again,” when never again recurs, again and again. If it is too hard to stop genocide, then we should simply say so, bowing to futility. As Nina Shea says, “The problem with declaring genocide,” as the U.S. did last September, “is that, unless you go invade the next day, you’re not doing enough. It is almost a deterrent to ever declaring genocide.” (The Clinton administration was careful not to use what is called “the G word” about Rwanda, as the U.N. has eschewed it regarding Sudan. There is a Genocide Convention, and uttering that word entails responsibilities.) Shea and many others who are hard-line and heroic about Sudan think that, absent unilateral action, the U.S. government is doing about all it can, and that criticism of President Bush on the Sudan score is political, and empty.
Still, Philip Gourevitch, editor of The Paris Review, makes a point. He wrote a book about Rwanda with the arresting title We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families. He says, “Why not make life miserable for the Khartoum regime? Why not rachet up the rhetoric? Why not mention Sudan every single place you go, stick it to them? Why not stick it to our European allies on this?” Tony Blair, for example, expresses a great interest in Africa. Well, is not Sudan the largest African country (in area)? “Make the issue hot.” Make a huge stink at the U.N. “Put lots of pressure on Thabo Mbeki [in South Africa], and on Museveni [in Uganda], and how about the Egyptians? We write them some big checks every year, don’t we?” (In fact, the Sudanese regime harbored three men who had tried to assassinate President Mubarak.) “Why not put pressure on our new friend Moammar Qaddafi? Tie up a little foreign aid,” do anything and everything at your disposal. This is genocide, after all.
Nevertheless, I maintain that Americans can take satisfaction in the fact that their government is doing as much as it is — even apart from the fact that this is infinitely more than any other government would do. And a range of humanitarian groups have been astounding. Pity that the United Nations, which might be expected to stop genocide, if to do nothing else, is not more capable. But that is the nature of the beast. Recall that Sudan — the government of Field Marshal Bashir, which engages in slavery, which is responsible for maybe 2.6 million dead, and 6.5 million displaced — sits on the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Its term expires in 2007. How many more Sudanese will have expired by then?
– This article first appeared in the May 23, 2005, issue of National Review.