31 August 2007

Sudan: Can Europe and China 'Save' Darfur?

guest column

After all the U.S. government's rhetoric about Darfur's genocide, and all its finger-wagging over the inaction of other nations, it is an instructive irony that the forces finally emerging to actually address Darfur's ills are on the other sides of the Atlantic and Pacific. Indeed, the governments that seem mostly likely to walk the walk are in France, the UK, and - surprise - China.

Three years ago, the U.S. Congress harangued President Bush about not calling the Darfur crisis "genocide" until he finally did so. His administration then spent the next few years using the term repeatedly, bird-dogging other nations about their lack of action, issuing vague statements about the use of force for which the Pentagon has not done serious planning, strong-arming one of the rebel groups to sign a peace deal that made matters worse on the ground, imposing unilateral sanctions that had no impact on the culprits, and sending millions of dollars of humanitarian aid to substitute for effective political action.

During this timeframe, the U.S. could be forgiven for being disappointed in China and Europe. Beijing ran interference for the Khartoum regime in the UN Security Council while pumping Sudanese oil and selling arms to the government. France and the UK provided no direction to the European Union and sat on the sidelines, despite a reservoir of leverage in Paris from its relationship with Chad, and high octane speeches from former Prime Minister Blair about no-fly zones.

However, in one of those kairos moments, everything is suddenly changing. China has come under intense pressure from activists for its support for the Sudanese regime, which it wants to shake off so it can host a controversy-free 2008 Olympics. France elected a president who wants to work with the U.S. on Darfur. Britain's new prime minister plans to go with the new French president to Darfur to move the peace process forward. All three countries played constructive roles in getting the UN Security Council to pass a resolution a few weeks ago authorizing a force of over 20,000 troops to help stabilize Darfur.

This is the diplomatic and political equivalent of low-hanging fruit for President Bush, as he considers how to begin shaping his legacy. If his administration can set aside all its posturing, roll up its sleeves, send a diplomatic team to the region, and start working multilaterally, a real success story could be written.

And for the first time on an African issue, resolving the crisis in Darfur would have positive domestic political ramifications. Over the past few years, a movement has grown among politically active Americans to confront genocide in Darfur. In churches, synagogues, town halls, and university classrooms all over the U.S., citizens are telling their elected officials that it is unacceptable to stand idly by while genocide unfolds.   More than a million Americans have asked to be on the Save Darfur Coalition's email action list. The book I wrote with "actorvist" Don Cheadle rocketed to number 6 on the NY Times Bestseller List, and at every stop of our book tour we spoke to thousands of people hungry to learn what they could do to get our politicians to act. The highest rated show on television last week was a "60 Minutes" episode on Darfur. Until there is a political cost for inaction in the face of genocide, author Samantha Power has written, we will get inaction.

What is needed isn't exactly rocket science. I've been working in Africa's crisis zones for 25 years, and contrary to popular perceptions, the continent is ripe with success stories about countries that have been ripped apart by civil war, but have been able to resolve their issues and move on. Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, and others can attest to the formula: a serious peace process combined with the deployment of relevant force works.

A quartet of President Hu, President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Brown, and President Bush should pursue a peace and protection initiative that would prioritize a peace deal between the regime and rebel groups, and enforce the rapid deployment of the Security Council's authorized multinational forces to Darfur and eastern Chad. They should be prepared to back targeted sanctions in the UN Security Council (President Putin, you are welcome to join in) against anyone - government or rebel - who tries to obstruct these objectives.   Not only would Darfur be "saved," but transatlantic and transpacific cooperation would also be enhanced at a time when such multilateralism is desperately needed.

President Bush, your legacy is calling. Will you answer?

John Prendergast co-chairs the ENOUGH Project (www.enoughproject.org) and is co-author with Don Cheadle of Not on Our Watch.

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