It's Just a Genocide

Sunday, December 25, 2005

THE DEFENSE spending bill that just emerged from Congress attracted attention mainly because of a provision permitting oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which was dropped in the legislative endgame. But the bill also omitted something else of consequence: $50 million to support peace monitors in the devastated Sudanese territory of Darfur. It is extraordinary that Congress, having described the killing in Darfur as "genocide," should find it impossible to come up with $50 million to try to prevent it -- this in a bill totaling $453 billion. Because that money was not appropriated, the Bush administration will have to scramble to switch cash from other priorities to sustain the 7,000-strong African Union peace force in Darfur.

In the short term, the administration will probably raid the piggy banks of training programs aimed at turning rebels into police officers in southern Sudan and Liberia. But when Congress reconvenes, the administration should use this setback to force a serious discussion about the African Union deployment. The upshot should be a supplemental spending request that does more than finance the existing 7,000-member contingent. The territory of Darfur is as big as Texas. More troops are needed.

The United States has contributed to a huge effort in Darfur: Some 13,000 relief workers are working to help more than 3 million war-affected people there and in neighboring Chad. As a result, death rates have come down from their appalling level of 2004, an outcome that did not seem likely at the start of this year. But this gain is precarious. Violence continues in the territory; the numbers of displaced people are growing. On Monday, a senior United Nations official reported that an additional 20,000 people had been made homeless in the past few weeks alone. When people are displaced, they can no longer grow food to support themselves. Violence increases Darfur's dependence on humanitarian assistance -- assistance that may itself be choked off by the violence.

There is no near-term prospect of a breakthrough in Darfur's desultory peace negotiations. So the only hope of stanching the worsening violence lies in a robust peacekeeping force. Rather than sending in NATO troops or a U.N. contingent, U.S. policy has been to support a deployment by the experimental African Union force: The idea is to cultivate African solutions for African problems. This decision arguably treats Darfur as a laboratory rather than a tragedy; a better-equipped and better-trained NATO contingent would have been more effective in preventing the genocide that both the Bush administration and Congress have deplored. But if the United States is going to stick with the African Union, it needs to lead an international push to get it more resources. Not paying even for the existing contingent is indefensible.

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