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Calls for UN intervention to "Save Darfur" ignore...
What the U.S. has in store for Sudan

September 29, 2006 | Page 6

DAVID WHITEHOUSE examines the growing calls for military intervention in Sudan over the Darfur crisis.

THOUSANDS RALLIED on September 17 in a "Global Day for Darfur" to call attention to a catastrophe created by civil war in the western part of Sudan.

Since 2003, more than 200,000 Darfuris have died and more than 2 million have been displaced as militias backed by the Sudanese government responded to a local rebellion with murder, rape and scorched-earth policies.

But the central demand of the September 17 rallies was not a call for stepped-up aid to the victims, even though the relief supplies currently reaching them meet only two-thirds of the "minimum daily level," according to the United Nation (UN).

Instead, the urgent focus at the rallies was on sending 20,000 NATO/UN troops to occupy the region. "The world must because time is not on our side," former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told a crowd of 20,000 gathered in New York's Central Park.

What else to read

The CounterPunch Web site has carried several useful anti-intervention articles, including Gary Leupp's "Just Saying No to Imperial Intervention in Sudan”; and Joshua Frank's "Save Darfur?”; Alex de Waal is a specialist on the region who provides rare insight into the local roots of the conflict in such articles as "Darfur's deep grievances defy all hopes for an easy solution,”; written for Britain's Guardian newspaper.

For more on an early U.S. venture in "humanitarian intervention," see Paul D'Amato's "Bosnia: Model for a New Colonialism?" in the International Socialist Review.


The plan being put forward by supporters of intervention doesn't call for U.S. troops. But the U.S. would be deeply involved behind the scenes, providing logistics and support for the NATO/UN "peacekeepers," just as it does now for a lightly armed African Union (AU) force of 7,000 that currently patrols the refugee camps in Darfur.

There is a heightened sense of urgency around the issue right now because the mandate for the AU troops was set to expire September 30, and Sudan's President Umar al-Bashir still refuses to approve the entry of UN troops.

Oil-rich southern Sudan already has a UN peacekeeping force of 10,000 following a 2005 peace agreement that ended two decades of a separate conflict. Bashir's nerve to resist further intervention has been buoyed by high oil revenues, combined with setbacks for the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East. But the AU last week defused the immediate crisis by extending its troop commitment to the end of the year.

As this new deadline approaches, activists need to rethink the call for stepped-up military intervention. No one should forget the brutal record of past U.S. interventions, ignore the strong possibility that a UN force would compound the catastrophe in Darfur, or make the mistake of thinking that the U.S. will ever put the welfare of Darfuris above its main objective in the region--muscling out potential rivals such as China in a scramble for oil and other resources.

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THE RECENT record of U.S. military interventions shouldn't be reassuring.

The "famine relief" mission to Somalia in late 1992--begun after the worst of that country's famine was over--ended with a retreat of the Marines and the UN, but not before 10,000 Somalis were killed or wounded.

Throughout the 1990s, Bill Clinton, prime ideologist of "humanitarian intervention," insisted on maintaining sanctions on Iraq that killed 1 million people, by UN estimates. And now, Bush's Iraq invasion has killed some 200,000 more.

This past summer, the U.S. helped Israel destroy Southern Lebanon at the cost of at least 1,000 lives--while collaborating to push Palestinians in Gaza to the brink of famine.

This record does not justify the hope that intervention in Sudan would be carried out in the interest of Darfuris. It also casts suspicion on the motives of the pro-Israel figures and organizations so prominent among advocates of sending troops to Sudan.

Then there's the problem of what such troops are supposed to do. A "robust" NATO/UN force would need to choose sides, just as NATO took sides in the Kosovo war of 1999.

Last May, when Sudan's government signed a peace deal with one rebel faction in Darfur, George Bush threatened to "hold accountable" those who don't cooperate. But since then, the rebel force on "Bush's side" has been "cleansing" northern Darfur of the tribes that form the base of the factions that didn't sign. Amnesty International reports that the rebels have used the rape-loot-and-murder tactics of the "janjaweed" militias backed by the government.

One of the rebel factions that refused to sign the peace deal is based in the Fur tribe, the region's largest--for whom the place is named. To "save Darfur," would a UN force start by killing Fur rebels?

And what will happen to the refugees in Darfur? The last NATO war waged in the name of refugees--the U.S.-led Kosovo war of 1999, engineered by none other than Albright--pushed the number of Kosovar refugees from 45,000 to 800,000.

And the "solution" in Kosovo--like that in Bosnia previously--institutionalized ethnic divisions and imposed a UN/NATO dictatorship that remains in place today.

Partition would make even less sense for Darfur. The war's original ethnic conflict was between Arab-identified animal herders, allied with the strongly Arabist government, and African-identified farm villagers who formed the base of a 2003 rebellion.

Ordinarily, herders and villagers depend on each other economically--though prolonged drought and outside political intervention have set them at odds in the past. The herders traditionally pass between Darfuri farm villages in their yearly migrations. Partition of the land would break up a division of labor that has benefited everybody.

Darfur's scarcity is aggravated by neglect from the central government in Khartoum. The region has the country's worst facilities for education and health care, and lacks even a single paved road to connect it to the outside world. These problems bred the 2003 rebellion in the first place. If outsiders want to help solve them, they should offer material aid, not an invasion force.

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THE PERENNIAL view that imperial forces can be made to do some good "just this one time" comes from a focus on isolated crises, without understanding the real aims of governments such as the U.S.

Africa's untapped reserves of oil and other resources--controlled mostly by poverty-stricken, weak states--make it a target for escalating rival interventions in the near future. The major outside players are the U.S., which abandoned many of its African connections after the end of the Cold War with the ex-USSR, and China, which has become the world's second largest consumer of oil.

China is using its major strength--ready cash--to build relations with African rulers through loans and direct investment. In some places, Chinese capital is pushing aside the influence of the U.S.-led International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Angola, for example, recently took a $2 billion loan from China rather than submit to the conditions that come with IMF money. In return, China won rights to Angolan offshore oil.

China has invested $8 billion in Sudan's oil infrastructure since the U.S. broke official relations with the regime in the late 1990s. China now consumes 60 percent of Sudan's oil exports and sells the regime arms, including fighter aircraft.

But military connections are the U.S. government's strong suit. In countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia or Colombia, the U.S. has ensured its long-term influence through intimate connections with the military.

In Africa, the reformation of the Organization of African Unity in 2002 into the AU opened new possibilities for military links. The new AU charter authorized armed force against member states that violate "democratic principles," and the U.S. stepped in to offer itself as supplier and trainer of AU forces. The U.S. is hoping to anchor its African military presence with an "African Command" on the island of Sao Tome, which lies just off the oil-rich coast of West Africa.

As John Pike of recently told the Asia Times, "Military planners like the idea of an offshore presence since it reduces the impression of a neocolonial maneuver. So far, there has been a clear lie low and work through African institutions to train troops and strengthen security."

The U.S. further covers its tracks by acting through corporate contractors. In Darfur, Dyncorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers provide transport, communications and shelter for the 34 AU encampments. Closely connected to the CIA, Dyncorp offers a combination of high-tech services and the muscle of former U.S. military employees.

As Eric Niiler of NPR's Marketplace remarked, "Using private contractors is a way for the U.S. government to keep a regional conflict at arm's length while still keeping a hand in the outcome."

Dyncorp also trained the Rwandans and Senegalese members of the AU force--and flew the Rwandans in. In southern Sudan, Dyncorp is training former rebels to become regular Sudan army troops. Dyncorp may be best known for supplying the "civilian" thugs that guard the U.S. puppet ruler of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. And as Niiler notes, "Dyncorp employees have been been accused of running a child sex ring in Bosnia and engaging in paramilitary activity in Colombia."

That's the "humanitarian" face of the U.S. intervention that's already happening in Sudan.

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GIVEN THIS record, it's clear that the U.S. would exploit a UN/NATO occupation of Darfur as an opportunity to control Sudan's political future. The State Department already bankrolls the international branch offices of the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of Sudanese opposition groups.

If the UN operation in the South is any guide, the U.S. would use a new intervention to cement the ties it already has to some of Darfur's rebels. It might try to stitch together a political force with U.S.-connected roots around the country that could replace the Bashir government.

The State Department has already drawn up detailed plans for Sudan's future--through its Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization--once the Bashir regime is out of the way. As Naomi Klein wrote last year in the Nation magazine, "teams of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks" stand ready to refashion Sudan and other "post-conflict" countries along U.S.-friendly, neoliberal lines.

In the meantime, the U.S. collaborates with Bashir, who became a partner in the "war on terror" following the September 11 attacks. In the past two years, Sudan's security chief Salah Abdullah Gosh, named by Africa Confidential as the third-in-command of the offensive in Darfur, has met repeatedly with the CIA and British intelligence to discuss the war against al-Qaeda.

By backing all sides, the U.S. is like a corporation that contributes to both Democratic and Republican campaigns in order to ensure its influence over whichever party ends up on top.

In Sudan, the prize is oil, and the U.S. will do what it takes to outmaneuver competitors such as China.

To ordinary people moved by the campaign to "Save Darfur," the refugees may be the focus of attention. But to the U.S. government's imperial planners, calls for intervention clear the way to make new moves on a resource-rich regional chessboard. To them, the Darfuris are pawns.

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