DARFUR'S GENOCIDE has been in the news for about a year now. There's a temptation to say, okay, we failed on that, but that was last year's failure; move on. But Darfur will be this year's story even more than last year's. The number of deaths will likely be more appalling, not less so. Yet the diplomacy on Darfur spins pointlessly around irrelevant side questions. Within the Bush administration, panic is nowhere.
The latest diplomatic diversion is a French-backed United Nations resolution that would hand responsibility for trying Darfur's war crimes to the International Criminal Court. If this resolution passes, Sudanese officials and warlords responsible for the killings will face a permanent threat of indictment and, if authorities can get hold of them, trial. This will remove their incentive to halt the genocide in the hope of gaining international acceptance; it will undermine the strategy of sanctions and diplomatic pressure. True, indictments would set a precedent that might deter future potential war criminals in other countries. But that won't help Darfur.
The Bush administration opposes this French resolution but for the wrong reasons. It believes that a referral to the international court would legitimize a posse of politically unaccountable prosecutors, even though in this instance the prosecutors would be acting under the authority of the Security Council. If it refuses to support the French resolution, especially on this flimsy basis, the administration will undermine its wider push for action. The French, Russians and Chinese will feel free to drag their feet on meaningful resolutions -- including ones that impose sanctions on Sudan's officials. The best course for the Bush administration is therefore to back the French resolution despite its drawbacks. Then, accepting that a further push for sanctions may be pointless, it should focus all its efforts on expanding the small peacekeeping force in Darfur.
This option is especially urgent given the projected death rate in the region. In recent months a huge relief effort has reduced mortality in accessible camps for displaced people, but fighting makes many supply roads unusable and puts much territory beyond the reach of aid workers. In western Darfur, humanitarian groups have been unable to venture outside the main town recently; in southern Darfur, a U.S. aid convoy was attacked on Tuesday, probably by the Janjaweed militia backed by Sudan's government. More such attacks could force aid organizations to withdraw from Darfur altogether. And yet the need is greater than it was a year ago. More villages have been razed; more coping mechanisms have been exhausted; displaced farmers won't be able to plant food this spring. Last month a U.N. official estimated that the number of relief-dependent civilians could grow to 4 million, roughly double the number reported last summer.
The best shot at breaking this cycle of violence and hunger is to put a serious peacekeeping force into Darfur. But all sides are engaged in an outrageous pretense of seriousness. The African Union, which has provided about 2,000 peacekeepers when 25,000-plus are necessary, is infatuated with rhetoric about "African solutions for African problems"; the United States and its powerful allies defer to this slogan, partly out of a virtuous desire to see Africa develop its own capacity to manage crises but mostly out of a base desire to pass the buck. The Bush administration's policy is to draft U.N. resolutions and dispatch humanitarian assistance. But it refuses to spend real military or diplomatic capital to stop killings that, by its own admission, amount to genocide.