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Darfur crisis sparks calls for U.S. action, but can there be...
A "humanitarian" invasion?

By Lance Selfa | May 5, 2006 | Page 4

THE ONGOING crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan brought thousands of people to "Stop genocide" rallies held in Washington, D.C., and cities across the country April 30.

Dozens of members of Congress, prominent religious leaders and Hollywood entertainers lent their voices to the calls against the atrocities in the region, which is on the western edge of Sudan, bordering Chad. In stark contrast to the movement against the Iraq War—which most elected officials won't touch—dozens of politicians flocked the stage on the Capitol Mall in Washington.

Six members of Congress were arrested April 28 protesting the Sudanese government's arming of paramilitary forces held responsible for butchering tens of thousands and for driving as many as 2 million from their homes. George Bush himself announced last week that he endorsed the April 30 rallies, saying they would send a message that "genocide in Sudan is unacceptable."

An even broader coalition of groups, called the Save Darfur Coalition, sponsored the rallies. "The National Association of Evangelicals and the American Humanist Association might not agree on much," wrote Matthew Hay Brown in the Baltimore Sun. "When it comes to abortion or homosexuality, the Union for Reform Judaism and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops find themselves on opposite ends of the debate. But when the subject is genocide in Darfur, all are on the same page."

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THE CRISIS that these unlikely allies are responding to began in 2003, when two Darfuri rebel forces, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), launched an uprising against the military regime in the capital of Khartoum. The SLA and JEM, Muslim farmers who identify as African, were fed up with the Islamic central government's neglect of the region and its efforts to "Arabize" the population of Darfur.

In response, the Sudan government, taking advantage of ethnic and class divisions within Darfur, armed militias composed of nomadic livestock traders who identify as Arabs, to attack the rebels. The result has been three years of a scorched-earth campaign that displaced millions, killed as many as 200,000 and drove an estimated 200,000 to seek refuge in UN sponsored camps in Chad.

In 2004, the United Nations (UN) Security Council demanded that Sudan disarm the militias and reach a peace settlement with the rebels. The UN authorized, and Sudan agreed to, an African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, but of no more than 7,000.

At the same time, Sudan has stonewalled UN attempts to deliver humanitarian aid. And the "international community" that pledged more than $600 million to help the refugees has not come through. Just last week, UN aid officials announced that because of funding shortfalls, they would have to cut food rations for refugees from 2,100 calories a day to a near-subsistence level of 1,050 calories a day.

This terrible situation has received no help from the Bush administration, which refused to label the attacks in Darfur "genocide" until the 2004 election campaign, when it changed its rhetoric to curry favor with the religious right.

The Bush administration came to power in 2001 determined to normalize relations with a Sudanese government and open its oil-rich South to Western investment. For that reason, it sought to force a settlement between the Sudanese government and Christian and animist rebels in the South, which had endured a separate decades-long scorched-earth onslaught.

In 2003, just as Sudan and the Southern rebels were concluding a tentative agreement, the uprising in Darfur erupted.

Since then, the U.S. has played a double game in Darfur. It has called for a stepped-up NATO presence, while enlisting the Sudanese government in the "war on terror."

Last year, the U.S. government hosted a secret visit by Gen. Salah Abdullah Gosh, head of Sudan's secret police, who has worked with the CIA's covert "rendition" program and other secret operations against Islamic militants. "Their competence level as a service is very high," a State Department official told the Los Angeles Times. "You can't survive in that part of the world without a good intelligence service, and they are in a position to provide significant help."

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FOR ALL of these reasons—the horrific conditions in Darfur, the Bush administration's indifference, and the sense that "something must be done"—many thousands of ordinary people want to express their solidarity with the people of Darfur.

But we should also ask about what these thousands of people are demanding. To answer this question, we have to take a look at the organizations that have rallied around the Darfur issue and formulated the demands made of the Bush administration.

As noted above, the coalition for Darfur covers a spectrum from the Religious Right to the Progressive Democrats of America (PDA). While some may laud this ideological diversity as a strength, it's clear that it narrows the coalition's demands to what will be acceptable to such an ideologically diverse group.

To judge from the coalition's "talking points," what is acceptable is a series of calls on the Bush administration, Congress and the UN that, added together, ask for "humanitarian" military intervention—through a "UN peacekeeping force" and providing "significant help" to African Union peacekeepers "with its command-and-control structure and intelligence operation."

What's noteworthy about these demands is that they almost all revolve around some kind of military intervention. There is not even a single demand calling for the U.S. to spend money to support humanitarian aid in Darfur.

It may be argued that this militaristic tone is all that the Save Darfur Coalition can agree on. But it's worth noting that the liberal Progressive Democrats of America's action plan for Darfur echoes this tone: "Impose an embargo on Sudanese ports, an arms embargo on the government of Sudan, and implement economic and travel sanctions against key individuals; deploy adequate numbers of peacekeepers to Darfur under the auspices of NATO; impose a No-Fly-Zone over Darfur." The PDA sound like the real hawks!

Seeing these demands, it becomes easier to understand how ardent Zionists and Iraq war hawks like Rep. Tom Lantos and Elie Wiesel can be lining up with Iraq war critics like actor George Clooney to protest the Darfur atrocities. To them, protesting the atrocities in Darfur—against an Islamic military regime, it should be remembered—is part of the "war on terrorism."

Lantos, a Holocaust survivor and one of the members of Congress arrested on April 28, is a major supporter of Plan Colombia—the latest military offensive in Colombia that has contributed over the years to the displacement of 3 million people—and of Israel.

The Jewish newspaper Forward reported that the Save Darfur Coalition is "an umbrella organization of more than 150 religious and human rights groups" with "a disproportionately Jewish presence."

Many of these groups are prominent supporters of Israel—despite the Israeli government's record of maintaining squalid refugee camps for Palestinians, starving out communities and attacking civilians with helicopter gunships. These are all atrocities that the Sudanese government and its allies in Darfur have conducted against the civilian population there.

If the more conservative forces in the Save Darfur coalition are pressing the Bush administration to intervene in Darfur, they are following the same logic of the neoconservatives who criticized Bush for "selling out" port security in its Dubai deal—or who think Bush should foster regime change against the government of Saudi Arabia, instead of "coddling" it because of its oil wealth.

Unfortunately, when liberals and even radicals sign on to this program, they are giving the conservatives a cover and "human rights" credentials they don't deserve.

What's more, we can't rule out the possibility that the Bush administration will decide U.S. interests are better served by scrapping its double game, and shifting to open support of the Darfur rebels and direct intervention in Sudan. Bush's endorsement of the April 30 rally suggests this possibility.

The liberal supporters of "humanitarian intervention" will have provided the Bush administration with an excuse for a new war.

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IF THE Darfur issue is truly about helping the people of Darfur—and not about giving the U.S. military (or NATO or the African Union or the UN) a humanitarian excuse to intervene in Sudan—then the movement should aim at helping the people of Darfur.

First, we should demand that the U.S. increase the level of humanitarian assistance to the region. It's scandalous that UN relief efforts are being cut back because of funding shortfalls.

Second, we can demand that the U.S. break its covert ties with the Sudanese government and its security services. How can a movement demand that the leaders of Sudan's security services be considered war criminals while it refuses to criticize the U.S. government's collaboration with the same war criminals in the "war on terror"?

Third, we can demand that the U.S. and the EU open their borders to Darfur refugees. In the 2006 fiscal year, only 20,400 people from the entire continent of Africa will be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. legally.

Those who say that these demands aren't "realistic" should ask themselves why calls for a "no-fly zone" or military intervention, under whatever flag, are deemed "realistic" or even "humanitarian" instead.

The record of "humanitarian intervention" includes the 1999 NATO war over Kosovo, which killed thousands of innocent people, and has left NATO occupying Kosovo. When the U.S. intervened in Bosnia and Croatia—allegedly to stop ethnic cleansing—it orchestrated the largest act of ethnic cleansing during the entire war in the former Yugoslavia, 1995's "Operation Storm" that drove 200,000 Serbs out of their homes in Croatia.

In 1992, the U.S. invaded Somalia, allegedly to help starving Somalians. Instead, it tried to create a U.S.-friendly government and became locked into a war with Somali warlords. Thousands of ordinary Somalians perished at the hands of the U.S. military. And revelations of barbarous racism against Somalis, including rape and murder at the hands of UN peacekeeping forces, further sullied this "humanitarian intervention."

That's not even to mention what the U.S. is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is the real record of the U.S. military—and it shows the injustice that any military intervention in Darfur is certain to involve.

Michele Bollinger contributed to this article.

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