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U.S. Promises on Darfur Don't Match Actions

"It's impossible to keep Iraq out of this picture," said Edward Mortimer, who served as a top aide to then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and says resentment over Iraq caused many countries to not want to cooperate with the United States on Darfur.

Bush advisers argue that the lack of success reflects the limitations of working through institutions such as the United Nations, NATO and the African Union. They cite the billions of dollars of U.S. relief aid that has kept millions of Sudanese alive. They say U.S. pressure has kept the issue on the world's agenda.

"If there was ever a case study where the president sees the limitations and frustrations of the multilateral organizations, it is the issue of Darfur," said Dan Bartlett, former White House counselor. "Everybody for the most part can come to a consensus: Whether you call it genocide or not, we have an urgent security and humanitarian crisis on our hands. Yet these institutions cannot garner the will or ability to come together to save people."

There is no doubt that responsibility for inaction on Darfur can be spread around. The Sudanese government has resisted cooperation at every step in the saga and has been shielded at the United Nations by China, its main international protector. Few other Western nations, with the notable exception of Britain and some Nordic countries, have shown much interest in resolving the crisis. The process of raising peacekeepers from U.N. members has proved tortuously slow.

"There's an enormous stain on the world's conscience," said Mitchell B. Reiss, former State Department policy planning chief. "We collectively stood by and let it happen a decade after it happened in Rwanda."

A President's Passion

In late 2005, Bush gathered his most senior advisers to discuss what to do about Darfur. He wanted to know whether the U.S. military could send in helicopter gunships to attack the militias if they launched new attacks on the refugee camps. Could they also shoot down Sudanese military aircraft if necessary? he asked. His aides worried that the United States could get involved in another shooting war, and the president backed off.

"He wanted militant action, and people had to restrain him," said one senior official familiar with the episode. "He wanted to go in and kill the Janjaweed."

The meeting underscored both Bush's personal investment in Sudan, dating back to the beginning of his administration, and his instinct, which aides have kept in check, to take direct action.

Many close to Bush believe that this intense interest in the issue was heavily influenced by American evangelicals, who have adopted the cause of Christians in southern Sudan. Even before the crisis in Darfur, in western Sudan, one of Bush's foreign policy goals was to try to end the civil war between the Muslim government in Khartoum and rebels in the south, a conflict that had lasted more than two decades and cost more than 2 million lives.

Former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), whom Bush appointed as his special envoy for Sudan, said the president's interest in the country is rooted in a larger sense of morality. "This isn't a country that has much strategic interest for the United States," he observed.

Bush's initiative to broker a north-south deal worked. Despite difficult negotiations, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir agreed in January 2005 to a plan to share power and oil revenues with the rebels -- and even gave the south the right to secede in six years if the leadership could not reconcile their differences.

But by then a separate conflict had exploded in Darfur, as long-standing conflicts between African farmers and Arab herders over land, and a failure by the Khartoum government to redress local grievances, boiled over into armed rebellion.


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