Dueling Over Darfur: The Newsweek Debate
I appreciate the points that you make in your second response—you are coming much closer to the reflective discussion on the "learning curve" of activism that I had hoped for.
Let me take up two points.
The first is the activist influence. The truth is that in any situation such as the war and atrocities in Darfur, and the trajectory and success or failure of a peace process, the main culprits are the warring parties. In Darfur’s case, the government was (and is) vastly more powerful than the rebels and so must take the lion’s share of responsibility. I hope I made it clear that the activists have at best a marginal responsibility—just as the humanitarians make a difference at the margin.
I have explained some of the reasons why I think the Darfur campaign raised unrealistic expectations among Darfurians. I think the name "Save Darfur" also raises unrealistic expectations among activists. You and I cannot save Darfur—only the Sudanese, and especially the Darfurians, can do that. We can certainly help them or hinder them—and many of the practical activities of, for example, GI-Net, are undoubtedly very positive and helpful.
We need to be concerned with the whole array of groups and individuals taking public stands on Darfur. This includes members of Congress and aspiring presidential candidates. One of the main reasons they take these positions is because there is an emerging mass constituency on Darfur—and potentially and hopefully on other human rights issues too. So we should examine the process whereby (for example) a presidential candidate advocates a no-fly zone or direct military action. If the exercise of creating a mass constituency for preventing mass atrocities is to be successful—and I very much hope it is—then its leaders and shapers need to attend to how it influences political leaders.
And I am seriously concerned that the bellicose rhetoric of some prominent American political figures is making the problem harder to solve.
The second is the nature of the government in Khartoum. Is the current chaos in Darfur what the government wanted and planned—as you contend—or was it the product of a confused and ultimately counterproductive counterinsurgency, as I argue? You don’t say it here, but you come close to describing the Sudan government as both very strong and very cunning. George Kennan famously wrote in critique of the early Cold War mindset, "The enemy must always be a center. He must always be totally evil." In your more analytical moments you recognize that this doesn’t apply to Sudan. But your advocacy often leans perilously close to branding Khartoum’s rulers as unreconstructed evil. It’s a very short step from that to seeing the only possible responses as either regime change or forcible occupation of Darfur (variants of the Kosovo option proposed by Susan Rice and Anthony Lake last year). I am encouraged by your disavowal of a no-fly zone. But many people involved in Sudan still believe that regime change is your real agenda—I think you have an obligation to disabuse them, loud and clear, if that is not the case.
I prefer to see the Sudan government as weak and sometimes incoherent, and to see the militia strategy and the mass killing in Darfur as a product of its internal weaknesses. That’s not an exoneration. If we understand we can still condemn. But this analysis leads to different policy responses. I am all for putting pressure on the Sudan government, but I believe that it must be applied strategically. This hasn’t been the case to date. If international—and especially U.S.—policies towards Sudan contribute to the ascendancy of hard-liners in Khartoum who believe that there’s no point in making concessions, because the U.S. will simply take them and demand more, then we find ourselves in a more difficult position.
Will we succeed in bringing peace to Darfur and democracy and stability to Sudan as a whole? I don’t know. My greatest fear is that we have missed by far the best opportunities for success in both Darfur and the country as a whole—that we have passed the tipping point at which international action ceases to have any traction on events in Sudan.
In hope for real progress towards real solutions,