May 22, 2006
On Sunday, April 30, rallies were organized in Washington, D.C. and several other U.S. cities, calling attention to the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan in eastern Africa.
“Let’s tell President Bush he needs to do more.... His heart is in the right place, but he is not doing enough,” said David Rubenstein, coordinator of the “Save Darfur Coalition,” the main organizer of the Washington rally. Other speakers, including actor George Clooney, Olympic gold medalist speedskater Joey Cheek, Holocaust survivor and Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel and Democratic Senator Barak Obama, repeated the same message for George Bush.
There is no doubt that the consequences of the ongoing war in Darfur have been terrible for the civilian population. But the kind words of rally organizers about Bush’s heart hide the gross responsibility of the U.S. in this situation.
The media has presented this African conflict as an “ethnic” one, pitting an “Arab” militia force known as the “janjaweed” against “African” farmers in Darfur, suggesting long-standing animosities. In reality, such conflict between Arabs and Africans is not a historical conflict. It is a spill-over of the civil war in Sudan – a war over the control of the country’s resources, including oil, between the central government in Khartoum and rebel armies led by southern Sudanese elite. A power-sharing deal was negotiated by the warring parties in 2003, but it left out the Darfur region, the poorest part of the country located in the west. Hence rebel armies in Darfur started their own campaign against government forces in 2003.
In this war, the Khartoum regime has instigated the atrocities by the janjaweed militia as a way to undermine support for the rebel armies – by arming and using the janjaweed to terrorize the population. It is estimated that at least 180,000 people have died as a result, and more than two million have been displaced and turned into refugees.
As for the U.S., it has never been a passive spectator during the decades of bloodshed in Sudan. And its role has been a self-serving and hypocritical one, characterized by several twists and turns.
In the 1980s, the U.S. had good relations with Sudan, because it saw the Islamic regime in Khartoum as a regional ally in the Cold War rivalry against the Soviet Union. This also gave U.S. oil companies the chance to explore reserves in Sudan – it was Chevron that first discovered oil in Sudan in the 1970s.
By the early 1990s, the Soviet Union had collapsed and Chevron had sold its prospecting rights to other companies. The U.S. declared the Khartoum regime “terrorist” and threw its support behind the southern rebels – to whom the U.S. had already provided some help in the 1980s. The Clinton administration even bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in 1998 for supposedly producing weapons for terrorists.
Another turn in U.S. policy came in 2001, when the Bush administration took a more conciliatory stance toward the Khartoum regime. While the “terrorist” label remained, economic sanctions against Sudan were partially lifted – as demanded by U.S. oil companies that planned to return to Sudan.
Then the U.S. stance toward Sudan took yet another turn. In the summer of 2004, then Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Darfur and accused the Khartoum regime of genocide – probably as a way to divert public opinion from the Iraq war. In any event, the atrocities in Darfur had been going on for more than a year by then, supposedly unnoticed by those great champions of the oppressed, Bush and Powell!
The U.S. officials’ lack of sincerity needs no other proof than the huge gap between their proclamations to “save Darfur” and what they have done against the people of that area. Recently, the head of the United Nations humanitarian operations, Jan Egeland, complained that only 21% of the 1.7 billion dollars of aid promised to Darfur by the “international community” had arrived there. That’s about a total of 360 million dollars of aid sent to Darfur, not just by the U.S. but by all countries involved. The U.S. has already spent A THOUSAND times that amount for the invasion and occupation of Iraq!
This is the record of the Bush administration – and the administrations before it – in Sudan. U.S. policy has always been geared toward furthering the interests of U.S. Big Business, especially Big Oil – with no regard whatsoever for the population of Sudan. And it is this same Bush administration that the organizers of the “Save Darfur” rallies ask for help!
But there is more to it. While the speakers at the Washington rally stopped short of calling for direct U.S. military intervention in Sudan (they called for “multinational peacekeepers” instead), that possibility is often raised in Op-Ed pages of U.S. newspapers. The authors of this viewpoint call a military solution “the only way to stop the violence against civilians.”
These hypocrites must hope that people don’t see what’s going on in Iraq! While there are still more than 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the civilian toll of a raging civil war has been steadily increasing. The U.S. military has not only done nothing to stop this violence, it has in fact started and fueled it – by using ethnic and religious militias against the population in order to undermine the anti-U.S. insurgency.
If the U.S. ends up sending troops to Sudan, it will not be to help civilians. It will be for similar reasons as to why the U.S. invaded Iraq: to better control the resources of that country and region, especially oil. The result will be an even worse disaster for the population, just as it has been in Iraq.