By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 20, 2007
NASHVILLE, July 19 -- President Bush said Thursday that he had considered unilaterally sending U.S. troops to Darfur to stop the mass slaughter in that Sudanese region but decided against it in favor of a multinational response that he conceded has been "slow" and "tedious."
Bush did not explain why he rejected U.S. military action and pointed instead to economic sanctions that he has imposed against Sudanese leaders and companies, saying he is "trying to be consequential." Aides said they believe it was the first time the president had so explicitly disclosed that he contemplated U.S. military action in the region.
"I made the decision not to send U.S. troops unilaterally into Darfur," Bush said, responding to an audience question after a speech here. "The threshold question was, 'If there is a problem, why don't you just go take care of it?' And I made the decision, in consultation with allies as well as consultation with members of Congress and activists, that . . . it just wasn't the right decision."
The president acknowledged frustration with the U.N. effort to press the Sudanese to halt what the United States has called genocide. "This is a slow, tedious process to hold a regime accountable," Bush said. "We're trying to say that, you know, 'Change, or there's consequences.' " He added that he was encouraged by the latest report from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon about progress toward bolstering an African Union force of 7,000 soldiers with three times that many international peacekeepers.
Critics have long accused Bush of not doing enough to halt the violence in Darfur, where as many as 450,000 people have died from disease and violence and 2.5 million have been displaced since 2003 at the hands of Arab militias backed by the Sudanese government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. But many inside and outside the government believe that a U.S. military intervention would have provoked a furor in the Muslim world and that American troops could not by themselves establish control.
"There is only one head of state who had the resources and unilateral ability to end the crisis in Darfur -- and that was Omar al-Bashir," said Allyn Brooks-LaSure, spokesman for the Save Darfur Coalition. "He clearly failed to act. Because of his failure to end this situation, it is now the role of the international community to act -- a responsibility that does not rest with any one nation."
Bush's comments came during a trip here to discuss budget and tax issues. He toured the Nashville Bun Company and later told an invited audience at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center that congressional Democrats would strangle the economy with excessive spending and tax increases. "You can't keep making buns if the Democrats take all your dough," Bush joked, threatening to veto spending bills.
Democrats returned fire, noting that federal spending has risen 50 percent under Bush and that he never vetoed a spending bill when Republicans controlled Congress. "He has borrowed more money from foreign nations than every president in American history combined," said Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who represents Nashville.
The questions after the speech ranged widely, and Bush appeared relaxed as he took on issues including Iraq and his legacy. At one point, after an extended monologue, he agreed he was being "a little long-winded." At another point, when asked about music industry royalties, he responded bluntly, "I have, like, no earthly idea what you're talking about." Afterward, he lingered an unusually long time to shake hands.
The audience was friendly and gave Bush a standing ovation for his position on the Iraq war. But several questioners, unhappy that more has not been done to tighten the borders, pressed him on immigration. Bush defended his plan, which died in the Senate, to grant legal status to illegal immigrants already in the United States and predicted employers could soon face a labor shortage.
Bush rejected a plea to pardon two Border Patrol officers imprisoned after shooting a drug smuggler, a cause celebre among many angry about illegal immigration. "No, I won't make you that promise," Bush told a woman who raised the case. He called the prosecutor "a dear friend of mine from Texas" and defended the verdict. "I know this is an emotional issue. But people need to look at the facts."
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz in Washington contributed to this report.