A President's Promise

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

BACK IN 2004, the Bush administration described the killing in Darfur as genocide, then failed to stop it. Then in February of this year, the president spoke of deploying NATO troops to that region of Sudan; now this idea seems in danger of fizzling. According to The Post's Bradley Graham and Colum Lynch, the administration has in mind adding fewer than 500 NATO advisers to the existing 6,000-strong African Union peacekeeping contingent. The advisers would be assigned to the African Union headquarters and would not participate directly in field operations. A serious peacekeeping force would require 20,000 or so troops. Unless the administration supplements these proposed advisers with a more serious deployment, it will have capitulated.

This capitulation could not be justified by saying Darfur's needs have receded. In a recent wave of violence, Sudan's government and its janjaweed allies have chased thousands of civilians out of 60 villages in Darfur, according to the United Nations. The government continues to harass aid workers laboring to sustain these displaced people, creating the conditions in which tens of thousands are at risk of disease and starvation. In the meantime, the violence is spreading across Darfur's western border into Chad. Last week Sudan's government blocked the top U.N. emergency official, Jan Egeland, from visiting Darfur, presumably to hide the extent of the humanitarian disaster. In short, Darfur needs a serious peacekeeping force as much as it did two months ago, when Mr. Bush called for one.

It would be nice to believe that the deployment of NATO advisers is an interim measure, pending the replacement of the underpowered African Union force with a stronger Western-backed contingent, organized under U.N. auspices. But the prospects for that U.N. deployment have dimmed since the idea first gained currency at the start of this year. The African Union, which had said earlier that it would be happy to pass the baton, is now backtracking; its Arab members have swallowed the canard that a Western-backed force, whose mission would be to save Darfur's Muslim civilians, would be a tool of neo-imperialism. Meanwhile the U.N. peacekeeping department, which is supposed to be planning a Darfur deployment, feels unable to send an assessment team to the region because Sudan's government is set against it.

Why can't the Bush administration overcome Sudan's obstructionism and deliver on Mr. Bush's talk of a serious peacekeeping force? It's partly that Sudan has plenty of diplomatic cover: within the African Union, from alleged U.S. allies such as Egypt; within the United Nations, from China, whose president is due to visit Mr. Bush at the White House on April 20. It's partly that the Bush administration hasn't made it a top priority to strip that diplomatic cover away, a task that's complicated by the global wave of intense anti-Americanism.

But sometimes the administration's actions raise questions about how energetically it is trying to overcome these obstacles. Is it only weak and incompetent, or is it two-faced? Last week the United States sought to block the inclusion of Sudan's intelligence chief and other government officials from a list of people U.N. sanctions would target, feeding a theory that the administration is soft on Sudan because it wants Sudanese cooperation on counterterrorism intelligence. If this theory is wrong, the administration should explain why it opposes the use of sanctions to put pressure on Sudanese officials. Given Sudan's resistance to a peacekeeping force that could stop the genocide, isn't such pressure warranted?

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