If Not Now, When?

By Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times
October 29, 2006

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Darfur isn't that gunmen on the Sudanese payroll heave babies into bonfires as they shout epithets against blacks. It's that the rest of us are responding only with averted eyes and polite tut-tutting.

This past week alone, Sudan expelled the U.N. envoy for Sudan and sent a proxy army to invade eastern Chad. Those moves underscored both the audacity of Sudan's leaders and the fecklessness of the rest of the world's.

In fact, there's plenty we can do. The international community has focused on getting U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur, but Sudan refuses to admit them. The stalemate drags on; the slaughter continues — but here's what we can do:

  • Kofi Annan should appoint a new U.N. envoy of utmost prominence. Possibilities include Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Richard Holbrooke and Bernard Kouchner (a founder of Doctors Without Borders). The envoy's job would be to lead an intensive negotiation aimed at achieving a political settlement.

    The focus has been on getting U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur, and they are needed, but in the long run only a peace accord can calm Darfur. “This is distracting from the main need,” Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a Sudanese human rights campaigner, said of the focus on peacekeepers. In May a peace agreement was stillborn after only one Darfur rebel faction signed it, but the pact can be renegotiated, for the differences are small and bridgeable.

  • President Bush and European leaders need to use their leverage on four nations in particular to make them part of the solution: China, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya. China is playing a disgraceful role underwriting the Darfur genocide, by giving Sudan the guns used to shoot children and by protecting Sudan in the U.N. Security Council. And the three Arab states need to be involved so that Sudan cannot claim that plans to protect Darfuris are American or Jewish plots to dismember the country.

    “It is very clear there is a plan to redraw the region,” the Sudanese president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, said last month, explaining the calls for U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur. “Any state in the region should be weakened, dismembered in order to protect the Israelis.”

    Sudanese journalists say that Mr. Bashir has cleverly used such arguments to portray himself as a nationalist, and as a result is in a stronger position now than when he started killing babies in Darfur. Arab leaders need to show that they care about Muslim children being shot even when Israel is not responsible.

  • To get more coverage on Al Jazeera and other Arab networks, Mr. Annan could take a planeload of Arab journalists on a visit to Darfur refugee camps. Condi Rice could do the same. The U.S. could put video footage (I'd supply some) of Darfur atrocities on its Arabic-language satellite television station, Al Hurra.

  • The U.S., France and U.N. should immediately send peacekeepers to Chad and the Central African Republic to prop up those countries (the U.S. can supply airlift, intelligence and communications support, but our ground troops would create a backlash). Sudan has sent proxy forces to invade both, and they are teetering.

  • We need contingency plans for forcible military intervention. There is talk that in the coming months Sudan's janjaweed militias may start systematically massacring some of the two million people who have taken shelter in camps in Darfur. If that were to happen, U.N. and NATO forces would have to go in and rescue those people — and if Sudan knew of such contingency plans, that would make massacres less likely.

  • The U.S. and French air forces should jointly impose a no-fly zone from the French air base in Abéché, Chad, as the Chadian president has invited us to do.

  • Western countries should apply targeted sanctions that freeze international assets of Sudanese leaders whom the U.N. has already listed as involved in the genocide.

  • Mr. Bush must use his bully pulpit. He could invite Arab and African leaders to the White House for a summit on Darfur. He could suggest to the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, that they jointly visit the area.

    After fewer than 10,000 white people had died in Kosovo, the U.S. intervened to prevent a genocide. So far, several hundred thousand black people have been slaughtered in Darfur, and our president hasn't even dedicated a speech to it.

    If we don't try bold new approaches now, when? After 750,000 have died and Chad has collapsed? After all north central Africa is in chaos and 1.5 million are dead? When?