Intervention in Darfur: Ulterior Motives?
This blog has become a hotbed for ardent discussions about the inefficacy of the Save Darfur Coalition and the theories for American influence in Sudan. While much of the criticism is astute and deserved, it seems as though the SDC and the American government have become proverbial punching bags lately, often at the expense of understanding each one’s multifarious make-up.
Steven Fake and Kevin Funk’s new book, Scramble for Africa: Darfur-Intervention and the USA, is no exception to the trend of SDC critics. These two activists examine the pitfalls of the Save Darfur Coalition and the poisons of American intervention in Africa in their new book. Fake and Funk’s analysis is bold, throwing punches at American foreign policy and providing guidance to activists eager to direct their energy towards positive change in Darfur.
To support their points, Fake and Funk construct their arguments by consulting the many recent books written about Darfur. Their knowledge of the current material is wide-ranging; however, their use of secondary sources is so frequent that their citations and annotations comprise more of the book’s 300 pages than their analysis. While the book is well-researched, and is a good resource for perusing the current literature on the Darfur conflict, the extensive annotated commentary and excessive citing complicate their overall argument. Many of the annotations include between three and seven paragraphs of commentary, which often serve as digressions from the original arguments.
The strength of the book, on the other hand, is that it explains the Darfur problem within the context of America’s greater struggle for Sudan and Africa at large. In this regard, the book’s emphasis is focused more on the global context of the Darfur conflict than it is on the current and historical sub-state environment (there is little to no discussion of the local history of the Darfur conflict). Fake and Funk make strong points about America’s use of humanitarian intervention as a tool for asserting its power and gaining geostrategic leverage in Africa. They chronicle the decades of American involvement in Sudan and point out how destructive this intervention has been.
While much of what they say about American double standards and self-interested policy is certainly true, Fake and Funk fall into the same trap that Mahmood Mamdani did in his recent book Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror: assuming that there is some greater conspiratorial effort behind Western institutions. For example, Funk and Fake overemphasize the role of Chevron in influencing Sudanese policy, suggesting that its presence in the 1970’s was the reason why President Gafaar Nimieri and the American government suddenly became hostile towards southern Sudan. According to the authors, Chevron’s “good fortunes” may have helped guide the policy decisions of the American and Sudanese governments. In reality, however, Chevron’s presence in southern Sudan was probably more of a liability for the Sudanese and American governments. Nimieri’s policy shift is perhaps better explained by his abrupt “born again” moment (whether genuine or political) when he began to side closely with the Islamist movement, which had always been opposed to a cooperative relationship with the South. Furthermore, Chevron never made a profit in Sudan and ultimately had to sell out to other companies before oil was even exported. This history makes it unlikely that Chevron’s “good fortunes” made a difference to policy-makers.
As the book progresses, Funk and Fake take every opportunity to deride Western (mostly American) involvement in Sudan and craft a collage of American offenses around the world, ultimately making the case that the US is fixated on oil, geostrategic leverage and its “war on terror”. Examples of American misdeeds are carefully selected from historical accounts in Somalia, Palestine, Rwanda, Iran, Kurdistan and other regions to prove the point that the US is guided only by greed and power. While it is certainly true that American involvement around the world has been destructive and often ill-intentioned, weaving together examples of American misdeeds in the absence of the complex legislative and contextual environments surrounding each incident seems to be an oversimplification of each case in order to make a broader point.
The authors direct a similarly cynical analysis at the Save Darfur Campaign and the US media in the second half of the book. Funk and Fake suggest that some of the Darfur activist groups have “ulterior motives to buttress US foreign policy designs,” while others are driven by “racist and imperialist tendencies.” In keeping with the conspiratorial tone of the book, the authors cite numerous examples of how the US media “suspicious[ly]” gave more coverage to the Save Darfur rallies than it did to the Iraq War protests. The authors assert that this disproportionate coverage was due to the fact that the Iraq War was a “war of Washington’s own making,” intimating that the media and Washington had some sort of special agreement. While indeed there may be some truth to their claim, the lack of evidence proving this linkage contributes to the book’s conspiratorial tone.
It is true that the media, activists, policy-makers, oil companies and many other Western participants are all in some way responsible for contributing to the deterioration of the situation in Darfur and many other places around the world; however, their motivations are not as homogeneous as the authors would have one believe. The Darfur activist movement comprises many different agendas and participants, as does the media, the US government, the UN and even oil companies. Therefore, instead of searching for a broader, more Manichean agenda, perhaps this trend of criticism and cynicism towards Save Darfur should be redirected towards identifying which parts of the movement are leading it astray.
Fake and Funk’s book hardly seems worth reading or even discussing, but in the spirit of contributing to the discussion I wonder if those who have read it can say whether they discuss the reasons why there was so little American attention to the decades-long war in the south, if oil was so important. I mean, the 1998 war-politically induced famine in Bahr al-Ghazal, and the massacres of Bor etc in 1991… these were human catastrophes of comparable scale to Darfur… the Nuba cleansing effort similar in lethality though smaller in scale… yet now the same argument of Fake and Funk would be used against them- hardly any attention, much less action, and yet the American interests were exactly the same then as now, no?
Finally, Gustafson concludes, “It is true that the media, activists, policy-makers, oil companies and many other Western participants are all in some way responsible for contributing to the deterioration of the situation in Darfur and many other places around the world.”
I must totally disagree… if the word “responsibility” is to have any meaning. How can those actors listed have any real responsibility for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur? This is a “butterfly flapping its wings” theory of responsibility, that we are all connected and so everyone is responsible for everything, so no one has any real responsibility!
I agree, there is a certain level of ambiguity that comes with using the word “responsibilty.” But, there is also concrete evidence that each of the groups I mentioned has contributed to the continuance of conflict in Sudan in ways that are more significant than just the “butterfly effect”.
Luke Patey has written extensively about the extent to which oil companies in the South have allowed the GOS to use their land, air strips and facilities to launch attacks on civilian communities. His findings are well-researched and documented. You can find them here: http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:DrvQjtKoZhoJ:www.ciaonet.org/wps/dii031/dii031.pdf+luke+patey+oil+pdf&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
Media and SDC
The ways in which these groups contributed to the conflict are closely linked. First, the media highly mischaracterized the conflict in Darfur, which fueled the activist movement and helped it grow into a powerful pressure group led by the SDC. The SDC then hired lobbyists to change US policy towards Darfur. Their efforts were very effective but ultimately destructive. They advocated for a greater emphasis on military intervention. Before the lobbyist groups emerged, the United States government had sent a total of $1.01 billion dollars to Darfur since the war began. $839 million dollars (83 percent) was allocated to refugee camps and humanitarian assistance, while $175 million dollars (17 percent) was allocated to funding peace-keeping activities. These numbers indicate that the United States government was initially more focused on providing humanitarian aid than it was on funding peace-keeping activities.
From 2006 until 2008, the allocation of funds shifted dramatically from humanitarian aid to peace-keeping, presumably due to the influence of the Save Darfur lobbyists. Of the $2.01 billion dollars that was spent on peacekeeping and humanitarian aid during this period, $980 million (48.7 percent) was spent on funding peace-keeping missions, while $1.03 billion (51.3 percent) was spent on humanitarian aid. This indicates that there was a significant proportional increase in the amount of aid allocated to peacekeeping, while there was a significant proportional decrease in the amount of aid allocated to humanitarian projects.
These proportional changes were problematic because, as the CRED report shows, the violent death rate in Darfur after April of 2004 declined significantly, while the rate of those who were dying of disease and malnutrition remained high. Had the US continued with it’s original allocation plan, more lives would have been saved.
US policy-makers are responsible for rushing the Darfur Peace Agreement and quickly bringing the talks to an end before both sides were ready to compromise. The negative impact of American and British policy-makers is well documented in Richard Barltrop’s book, “Darfur and the International Community” and De Waal’s chapter in “War in Darfur and the Search for Peace.” De Waal also points out in his LRB piece, “I will not sign,” that US policy-makers were responsible for contributing to the fissures within the SLA.
All of these examples demonstrate that partial blame can be placed on all of these groups for their deliberate and direct impact.
This is what am struggling with for years right wing personalities with absolutely no understanding of Darfur have published dozens and dozens of books,little analysis or criticism has ever been offered suddenly actual scholars on the matter decide to write on the subject and people are analysing their books with a tooth pic.
The US nd Save Darfur are a “proverbial punching bag” for who exactly,there are hundreds of groups out there with members who cant name a single ethnic group in Darfur,and one discussion forum rightfully criticises save darfur and the US government for the characaturing and manipulation of the Darfur conflict and suddenly they are victims. Save Darfur has faced little criticism from the media and thats the problem,suddenly some people beggin to question save Darfur and aparently its a witch,I mean seriously!!
We will be responding to the posts by Marc Gustafson and others separately but I do want to address the first part of your inquiry. It is true that Darfur has received far more attention than violence perpetrated by Khartoum during the 1990s. You apparently conclude that this observation indicates that U.S. attention is not interest-based. Yet even without looking any further into the details, it is apparent that it could just as easily indicate the opposite. As circumstances change, governments pursue varying strategies, even as their goals remain constant.
Washington has been antagonistic towards Tehran for decades. This plainly has not translated into unvarying attention on Iran. Bob Dole did not lead chants of ‘bomb Iran’ during his presidential run.
To be clear, we do not assert a desire to simply gain access to Sudanese oil as the root of U.S. motivations – such a crude analysis is easy to dismiss. Washington’s concerns extend far beyond oil, though that is surely an important aspect of Beijing-Washington thinking.
If your hypothesis is so broad that there is nothing inconsistent with it, then how can anyone debate with you? My objection to both your and Mamdani’s approaches is that (at least in Mamdani’s case, and I assume yours) your approach is to say everything is very complicated, and so that is why naive theories are all wrong, and then you offer your own naive theory (something called Washington wants this or that) and completely ignore your patient previous analysis of the complexity of everything. Why not be more humble and say you can’t really identify whose “interests” prevail when discussing something like Darfur (most actors with interests don’t even know what their interests are- for example, al-Bashir himself probably at this point has no idea what he wants in Darfur- he probably has a bunch of things he *doesn’t* want (i.e. a single state, seems to be off-limits for NCP), but a dozen things that he’d live with as the outcomes).
Leaving aside what I consider the trivial matter of whether copious endnotes somehow â€œcomplicateâ€ our arguments, Mr. Gustafson misinterprets several key aspects of the book.
Gustafson makes the bold assertion that we â€œtake every opportunity to deride Western (mostly American) involvement in Sudan and craft a collage of American offenses around the worldâ€¦Examples of American misdeeds are carefully selected from historical accounts in Somalia, Palestine, Rwanda, Iran, Kurdistan and other regions to prove the point that the US is guided only by greed and power.â€
This assertion raises several issues, two of which I will delve into here.
First, do we, as Gustafson claims, hand-pick the strongest cases of US foreign policy misdeeds in order to characterize US motives in Sudan as being characteristically imperialistic?
Several countries and regions that Gustafson references do indeed figure prominently in our analysis, for good reason (what analysis of contemporary US foreign policy would be relevant without examining the war in Iraq?). Yet we also spend pages reviewing interventions in conflicts that had relatively little to do with the US, such as Sierra Leone, as well as the US intervention in Haiti in 1994 to restore President Aristide, which, as we state, seems to be the strongest case at least in recent US foreign policy of an intervention with positive humanitarian consequences (though not actually a â€œhumanitarian intervention,â€ for reasons described in the book). This runs directly counter to the picture that Gustafson paints.
Secondly, do we, â€œcarefully selectâ€ US crimes from these cases in order to make our argument? The point, in essence, seems to be of little relevance.
To take one example, either it is true that the US refused to jam genocidal broadcasts in Rwanda on the grounds that it was too expensive, or it is not. And if it is true, then it is certainly relevant to evaluating US machinations elsewhere on the African continent (especially if turns out to be representative of a larger trend, which, in this case, it does). There is simply no issue of these facts being â€œcarefully selected.â€
As for the claim that we allege (or at least suggest, due to a perceived â€œlack of evidenceâ€ presented) some sort of conspiracy, or â€œspecial agreementâ€ between â€œthe media and Washington,â€ which in turn accounts for disparities in how the press has covered Iraq and Darfur, we in fact neither write nor intend to imply anything of the kind.
The point is elementary: we ignore and downplay or own crimes, and focus on the crimes of others. There is absolutely no conspiracy behind this, nor are there memos from network executives directly telling reporters to toe the line â€“ it is simply a reflection of the shared interests between the political class and economic elite (which owns the media), and a journalism industry that as a whole strongly favors establishment-friendly voices. Readers of the classic literature on the topic â€“ and particularly Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermanâ€™s “Manufacturing Consent,” which we list as suggested reading in the book â€“ will hardly find this a novel idea.
Finally, Gustafson is plainly wrong to attribute to us the notion that the presence of Chevron explains why â€œNimeiri and the American government suddenly became hostile towards southern Sudan.â€ As it bears little direct relevance to our analysis, we do not devote significant attention to the question of why Nimeiri shifted â€“ though in the case of the US, we clearly note that US support for Sudan shot up largely as a result of geopolitics. That is, Sudan was useful to the US in that it was serving as a bastion against rising pan-Arabism in the region (particularly coming from Libya), and in signing the Camp David agreement.
“First, do we, as Gustafson claims, hand-pick the strongest cases of US foreign policy misdeeds in order to characterize US motives in Sudan as being characteristically imperialistic?”
After reviewing your counter-examples with an open mind, I’m sticking to my original assessment.
In response to Sierra Leone:
Under the SL section of your book, you write:
“The West failed to provide meaningful assistance to the victims”
“The West failed to provide sufficient monetary or logistical help”
The US “paved the way for another major disaster”
“Washington refused to provide assistance with peace-keeping, remaining unmoved not only during the war but also after the capture of UN troops.”
Washington charges “three times the commercial rate” for planes flying in aid and support equipment.”
I think it’s clear from this passage that you are still picking examples of US/Western failures and cases of “ulterior motives” to make a greater point, even though you suggest that the intervention eventually worked. By putting the word “success” in quotes when describing the intervention, you imply that this was more of a disaster than a triumph.
You also make the point that the West responded to Sierra Leone in the same way that it responded to Rwanda.
In the end, you conclude by saying that the eventual American involvement was “inspired by other factors” and “motives,” which you never name and which, again, support my point about unnamed ulterior motives.
In response to Haiti:
You yourself say that this is the “only case” where US intervention had a positive effect, even though, as you argue, the US intentions were guided by business and immigration interests and not by humanitarian concern.
“it is simply a reflection of the shared interests between the political class and economic elite (which owns the media), and a journalism industry that as a whole strongly favors establishment-friendly voices. Readers of the classic literature on the topic â€“ and particularly Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermanâ€™s â€œManufacturing Consent,â€ which we list as suggested reading in the book â€“ will hardly find this a novel idea.”
First, as an avid consumer of public radio, public television, open blogging, twitter and online news, I see a lot of holes in the argument that media is mostly controlled by the establishment. Also, Chomsky’s argument was published long before the Internet existed. But either way, the theoretical argument you provide here does not accompany the points you make in your book about the unexplained relationships between the media and activist groups. This, and many other open and unexplained assumptions (some of which I have quoted in my review), leave this reader thinking there is a conspiritorial tone to the book.
You make the point that we are cherry-picking examples of â€œUS/Western failuresâ€ in foreign policy, including in Sierra Leone.
Yet there is no contradiction in my position that Sierra Leone is an example of a somewhat beneficial international intervention (partially funded by Washington, of course), but one that still demonstrates the lack of humanitarian motives behind US foreign policy.
In fact, it could that there are simply no good cases on record of authentic â€œhumanitarian interventions,â€ and that the US record even in the â€œless badâ€ examples â€“ such as Sierra Leone, and Haiti â€“ is still deplorable. If you want to argue the contrary, you are welcome to provide counterexamples, or to challenge our characterizations of the above conflicts.
To take one example, as you cite us in regards to Sierra Leone, we note that Washington was charging â€œâ€˜three times the commercial rateâ€™ for planes flying in aid and support equipmentâ€ (a quote that, as cited, comes from Kofi Annan). If you have evidence to challenge this, or any other relevant assertion, I would be very much interested in hearing it.
About Haiti, you attribute to us the slightly exaggerated position that it was â€œthe â€œonly caseâ€ where US intervention had a positive effect, even though, as you argue, the US intentions were guided by business and immigration interests and not by humanitarian concern.â€
Again, there is simply no contradiction there, and in fact, the point is obvious in light of the US moves to place Aristide in a neoliberal straightjacket, that is, to go completely against the platform that he was elected by the poor Haitian majority to enact. Again, if you have evidence to the contrary, then you are welcome to present it.
In regards to the media, let me return to my previous comment: â€œThe point is elementary: we ignore and downplay or [sic] own crimes, and focus on the crimes of others.â€
Mentions of anti-war activism in the mainstream media, when they actually exist, tend to be patronizing and superficial, while Darfur activism is awarded generous coverage, accompanied by indignant rants about the criminality of the Sudanese government, and its Arab, Muslim, and Chinese allies (groups which make for convenient demons). Perhaps this is mere coincidence, though I have yet to see or hear a single comment â€“ from yourself or anyone else â€“ that addresses this discrepancy. Again, you are welcome to provide an alternative explanation.
In response to your comments about the mainstream media:
I agree that there are MAJOR discrepencies between the coverage of the Darfur movement and others. That much is obvious, however, instead of attempting to explain the history of why these discrepencies might exist, you just attribute them to media-establishment relationships based on Chomsky’s theories of mainstream media bias. I have argued above that I think this explanation is outdated and does not accurately explain the disproportionate coverage. Instead, the media bias stems more from the consumer of news rather than the creator, although the creator has certainly manipulated the news with the consumer’s predispositions in mind.
For centuries, Americans have vilified Arabs in movies, television, theater and the news. This stems from almost a century of Orientalist tendencies in Hollywood to tell the stories of the East without understanding it. Edward Said catalogs this history well in his book “Covering Islam,” where he shows how Arabs have been demonized in Hollywood and in the mainstream news for almost a century.
The opposite predispositions exist for Africans. Since the early American evangelical movement first ventured into Africa, extensive advertising campaigns have been launched to raise money for missionary trips to ‘save’ Africans from poverty, misery and eternal damnation. This pattern of raising money through marketing campaigns continued in the 70s and 80s, when massive television marketing campaigns were launched to convince Americans to give money to victims of famine in places like Ethiopia, Sudan and Niger. By the 1990s, the campaign to stop HIV/AIDS followed the same pattern.
By the time the Save Darfur Movement began, many Americans had spent their entire lives watching television advertisments and reading brochures, which depicted poor Africans in need of American salvation (whether it was religious or not didn’t matter at that point). By 2004, many Americans had developed a savior mentality towards Africans and a fear and distaste for Arabs (which of course heightened after September 11 and the subsequent and irrational fear of terrorism). Therefore, a war in which Arabs were the villains and Africans were the victims played perfectly into American predispositions, making it easy for activists, the media and even academics to fuel a massive movement without directly realizing (perhaps) the predispositions they were appealing to.
In short, the media’s disproportionate coverage of Darfur can be attributed to the fact that American’s were highly attracted to a war in which the villains were the people Americans were antagonistic towards, while the victims were the ones Americans wanted to save. It was the “perfect war,” in this sense, for the consumer of news.
As for this:
“About Haiti, you attribute to us the slightly exaggerated position that it was â€œthe â€œonly caseâ€ where US intervention had a positive effect, even though, as you argue, the US intentions were guided by business and immigration interests and not by humanitarian concern.â€
These are quotes taken from your book. They are not exaggerations. See page 92, where you say that the US intervention in Haiti is “the only case” where the “outcome was fairly positive for the local population.”
Furthermore, you are the ones who argue that the US intentions were guided by business and immigration policy and not by humanitarian concern. See page 92 (last paragraph).
Lastly, you write:
“To take one example, as you cite us in regards to Sierra Leone, we note that Washington was charging â€œâ€˜three times the commercial rateâ€™ for planes flying in aid and support equipmentâ€ (a quote that, as cited, comes from Kofi Annan). If you have evidence to challenge this, or any other relevant assertion, I would be very much interested in hearing it.”
I’m not arguing against these points. I have yet to write that these examples are not factually correct and don’t intend to. My quibble is about your assessment of American intentions, not about the accuracy of each case you demonstrate (except for the minor error in which you claimed that Chevron’s “good fortunes” had something to do with Nimieri’s decisions:
“Funk and Fake take every opportunity to deride Western (mostly American) involvement in Sudan and craft a collage of American offenses around the world, ultimately making the case that the US is fixated on oil, geostrategic leverage and its â€œwar on terrorâ€. Examples of American misdeeds are carefully selected from historical accounts in Somalia, Palestine, Rwanda, Iran, Kurdistan and other regions to prove the point that the US is guided only by greed and power. While it is certainly true that American involvement around the world has been destructive and often ill-intentioned, weaving together examples of American misdeeds in the absence of the complex legislative and contextual environments surrounding each incident seems to be an oversimplification of each case in order to make a broader point.”
The broader point being that America is only guided by imperialistic intentions based on oil and control.
There is no doubt that â€œArabsâ€ and â€œAfricansâ€ are portrayed differently in mainstream discourse, generally along the following lines, about which we seem to be in agreement â€“ that Arabs are nefarious and scheming, while Africans are helpless and need to be â€œsavedâ€ (Mahmood Mamdani, amongst others, has written about this discrepancy).
What accounts for this? You attribute the source of these attitudes mostly to â€œconsumersâ€ of news, that is, ordinary people, rather than the â€œcreatorsâ€ of news and information (mainstream media and their corporate owners, the government, and so forth).
There have no doubt been many â€œsave (insert African region or country here)â€ campaigns that have pushed the public into thinking of Africans in terms of charity, and as child-like beings whom we must rescue from whatever malady afflicts them, and none of which are ever our fault. But this simply can not by itself explain the media predilection for portraying Africans in this way (leaving aside the fact that you provide no historical reason why Hollywood portrays Arabs differently from other groups).
In fact, there have been many mass movements over the course of US history â€“ labor, for one, particularly in the early part of the last century â€“ that have involved far more people (and in a much more militant way) than any of the various Africa campaigns. Yet this has not led to any fundamental recasting in portrayals of the working class, or capitalism, in mainstream discourse. We are simply not inundated with reports of exploited Wal Mart employees or farm workers in the same way that we are treated to sympathetic portrayals of Darfuris. Why? Again, for this reason, the existence of various Africa-related movements does not seem to provide the answer.
The actual reason for this discrepancy, I think, is clear. Campaigning to â€œsaveâ€ Africa is not threatening to establishment interests. It does not imply any loss of power for the economic and political elite. On the contrary, it reinforces it by focusing on the crimes of others, and showing our supposed benevolence, our willingness to utilize the fruits of our labor to help the downtrodden. It fits comfortably in the worldview of those who own and create the media content that dominates mainstream discourse. It is not difficult to see why, then, when a campaign to â€œsaveâ€ Darfur arises, it gains ample coverage from sympathetic ears in the media.
In turn, the struggles of workers under capitalism, or anti-war activists, simply do not accord with establishment interests â€“ in fact, they undermine them. Those involved in such activities are thus labeled as dangerous ideologues, if any attention is paid to them at all. As Chomsky pointed out, given that that most media is owned by large corporations, who are in the business of selling wealthy audiences to advertisers, it would be difficult, to put it mildly, to imagine otherwise.
On a side point, the notion of blaming the general public for the sorry state of the US media greatly overestimates the degree to which we have influence in the system (as the example about labor demonstrates), and underestimates the effects of the tremendous amounts of propaganda that strives to sell the public on the merits of elite-friendly ideas like invading oil-rich countries, or extreme corporate capitalism. Alex Carey did seminal work on this topic.
Moving on, it is of course our contention, based on the evidence presented and indeed much more beyond what is mentioned in the book, that the US role in Haiti was (and is) mostly â€œguided by business and immigration interests.â€ Again, you are welcome to demonstrate otherwise. The notion that economic interests would not play a leading role in the formulation of US policy towards Haiti (or anywhere else, for that matter) would in fact be remarkable, and perhaps unprecedented in the history of the foreign policies of world superpowers. The world is not a fairy tale where powerful countries actually use their power for good (unless compelled to do so by their citizens). You evidently believe otherwise, though have yet to give any reason for doing so.
To be precise, on page 92, right after where you quote us, we note that Somalia is a â€œdubious possible addition.â€ This is the source of the â€œslightly exaggeratedâ€ comment, admittedly a minor point.