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

The government turned to a tactic it had employed in fighting the southern rebels: arming local Arab militias, the Janjaweed, to carry out a counterinsurgency on its behalf. The militias rampaged throughout Darfur starting in mid-2003, burning hundreds of villages, raping women and summarily executing African villagers, according to numerous human rights reports. More than 200,000 people have died in Darfur since the crisis erupted, according to U.N. estimates. Some estimates place the figure as high as 450,000.

Many familiar with Sudan believe that Bush and his aides initially averted their gaze to the flaring violence in Darfur because raising the issue might interfere with the difficult negotiations with Bashir. Some U.S. officials saw another reason for the reluctance to get involved: preserving a burgeoning intelligence relationship with Khartoum, which had begun sharing critical information about al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists.

"There was a tendency not to see Darfur initially for what it was," said Gerard Gallucci, who served in 2003 and 2004 as the top U.S. diplomat in Khartoum. It was well known among Western governments, he said, that Sudan "was using terror to cleanse black Muslim Africans from land that they had promised the Janjaweed."

Such claims are vigorously contested by Danforth and other Bush advisers, who say the president repeatedly warned Bashir about the consequences of sending Arab militias after defenseless civilians.

Over time, Bush has become increasingly outspoken about the situation in Darfur, raising the issue with foreign leaders and meeting privately with dissidents and other little-known political players in Sudan to encourage a solution. In recent months, he has singled out Bashir for harsh condemnation, accusing him of subverting efforts to bring peace to Darfur.

Meeting with the Darfur activists, Bush acknowledged that Sudan had cooperated in anti-terrorism initiatives -- but he insisted that Khartoum could not "buy off" the United States, Rubenstein said.

Last spring, when the White House worked on a new plan to try to press Sudan's government to accept international peacekeepers, it was the president himself who was the driving force in the interagency process, many officials involved the debate said. According to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, Bush refused to accept a program developed to confront Sudan because he was concerned that it was not tough enough. He kicked it back to the bureaucracy.

"I've had it with this incrementalism," Hadley quoted the president as saying in the Oval Office. "We're going to lead, and if people don't want to follow us, they're going to have to stand up and explain why they are willing to let women continue to be raped in Darfur."

At one point, one senior official said, Bush wanted action to crimp Sudan's booming oil business, a move that would have severely aggravated relations with China -- and that no one else in the government favored.

There was stunned silence in the room, the official said, when Hadley disclosed Bush's idea to other government officials. Hadley made clear he was not interested in having a discussion, but the administration never went as far as the president seemed to be demanding. Instead, Treasury officials came up with a sanctions plan aimed at tracking and squeezing key individuals and companies in the Sudanese economy, including the oil business.

Wary of Sending Troops

At an appearance in Tennessee this summer, Bush raised a question many have asked about the situation in Darfur: "If there is a problem, why don't you just go take care of it?" But Bush said he considered -- and decided against -- sending U.S. troops unilaterally. "It just wasn't the right decision," he said.

With the United States tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan, skepticism about using U.S. soldiers, even in a limited way, cut across agencies and bodies that often disagree, from the State Department to the Pentagon to Vice President Cheney's office, according to many current and former officials.


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