FOUR MONTHS AGO, President Bush urged Sudan's Arab-led government to end the destruction of ethnic African villages in its western province of Darfur and to do so "immediately." Sudan's government put its name to a cease-fire, then carried on killing civilians as though nothing had happened. Eighteen days after the president issued his warning, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell telephoned his Sudanese counterpart to express concern over Darfur; again the killing continued. In June Mr. Powell announced that State Department lawyers were considering whether Darfur's violence qualified for the term "genocide," and at the end of that month he visited Darfur in person, extracting fresh promises from Sudan's government to bring the violence under control. Explaining the seriousness of Mr. Powell's message, Charles R. Snyder, acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said, "We're talking days, weeks, not months -- not a month -- to see whether or not they do what they said they would do."
One month and six days after that assurance, the question is what the United States is going to do. The Sudanese government's intentions are obvious: to stall the international community by half-complying with its ultimatums, all the while sticking to the goal of destroying Darfur's African population. To defuse foreign pressure, the government has made a show of punishing members of the Janjaweed militia that it armed to destroy villagers, but reports from the region suggest that many of these supposed militiamen are common criminals fished out of the local jails. Likewise the government has made a show of deploying more police officers in Darfur, supposedly to protect civilians, but some of these new police officers turn out to be Janjaweed killers wearing a different uniform. As Mr. Powell himself wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, Sudan has not taken decisive steps to end the violence.
The administration's response, and that of the United Nations, is still predicated on the hope that this will change. The U.N. Security Council has passed a resolution demanding that Sudan's government end the violence by Aug. 30. But the new deadline seems no more serious than the past ones: Jan Pronk, the United Nations' point man for the crisis, has been at pains to emphasize that "a full solution" is not expected. Mr. Pronk's declaration reflects the truth that a solution is beyond the government's capacity. Even if, by some miracle, Sudan's rulers resolved to stop the violence, the Janjaweed death squads are too amorphous to be controllable. And even if Sudan tried to protect Darfur's civilians, the memory of government helicopters attacking Darfuri villages would not be eradicated. Darfur's 1.2 million refugees will not feel safe to return to their villages if the only protection offered comes from the government that poisoned their wells, killed their menfolk and raped their women.
The solution is to press much harder for the deployment of African peacekeepers. So far, the African Union has promised to send 300 troops to the province, but their arrival has been held up because the civilian contractors hired to provide logistical support say they need time to organize the soldiers' accommodations. The Africans are also talking about a larger commitment: Nigeria and Rwanda have each offered to send 1,000 troops, and Tanzania and Botswana may join together to form a third 1,000-strong contingent. The extra troops will also need logistical support, and the time to start arranging that is now.
The United States has done more to help Darfur than any other country; France, which for a long time was reluctant to antagonize Sudan's government, has now used its military base in neighboring Chad to assist Darfuri refugees; the Netherlands has given generously, most recently to finance relief helicopters. But the leaders of these countries should not be measuring their efforts against one another, still less calibrating their actions to avoid the blame for genocide in future historical accounting. The task for the Bush administration and its allies is more concrete: to get relief and peacekeepers to Darfur's people before hundreds of thousands of them die.