There was a significant op-ed on Darfur in the NYT today. It’s by Alan J. Kuperman, who was once Legislative Director for sen. Charles Schumer– and in it, Kuperman directly takes on the arguments of those in the US who argue that outside military intervention is needed to stop the anti-“black” genocide in Darfur.
Kuperman notes that,
- Without such intervention, Sudan’s government last month agreed to a peace accord pledging to disarm Arab janjaweed militias and resettle displaced civilians. By contrast, Darfur’s black rebels, who are touted by the wristband crowd [that is, people in the US “Safe Darfur” movement who wear green wristbands to signal their commitment] as freedom fighters, rejected the deal because it did not give them full regional control. Put simply, the rebels were willing to let genocide continue against their own people rather than compromise their demand for power.
This is a very strong statement of a case I’ve been making– in much more tentative terms– here on JWN over the past few weeks.
Kuperman recalls that, after US diplomatic intervention early this month the Khartoum government made even more concessions to the rebels, raising hopes that at last the two holdout rebel factions might be persuaded to join the peace agreement…
- But that hope was crushed last week when the rebels viciously turned on each other. As this newspaper reported, “The rebels have unleashed a tide of violence against the very civilians they once joined forces to protect.”
Seemingly bizarre, this rejection of peace by factions claiming to seek it is actually revelatory. It helps explain why violence originally broke out in Darfur, how the Save Darfur movement unintentionally poured fuel on the fire, and what can be done to stanch genocidal violence in Sudan and elsewhere.
Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region’s blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago — denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations. The most extreme Islamists are not in the government but in a faction of the rebels sponsored by former Deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Turabi, after he was expelled from the regime. Cease-fires often have been violated first by the rebels, not the government, which has pledged repeatedly to admit international peacekeepers if the rebels halt their attacks.
This reality has been obscured by Sudan’s criminally irresponsible reaction to the rebellion: arming militias to carry out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency. These Arab forces, who already resented the black tribes over past land disputes and recent attacks, were only too happy to rape and pillage any village suspected of supporting the rebels.
In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur’s rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide — which erupted only after they rebelled — but to gain tribal domination…
Advocates of intervention play down rebel responsibility because it is easier to build support for stopping genocide than for becoming entangled in yet another messy civil war. But their persistent calls for intervention have actually worsened the violence.
The rebels, much weaker than the government, would logically have sued for peace long ago. Because of the Save Darfur movement, however, the rebels believe that the longer they provoke genocidal retaliation, the more the West will pressure Sudan to hand them control of the region. Sadly, this message was reinforced when the rebels’ initial rejection of peace last month was rewarded by American officials’ extracting further concessions from Khartoum.
The key to rescuing Darfur is to reverse these perverse incentives. Spoiler rebels should be told that the game is over, and that further resistance will no longer be rewarded but punished by the loss of posts reserved for them in the peace agreement.
Kuperman’s conclusion is, “Ultimately, if the rebels refuse, military force will be required to defeat them.”
I disagree with this. I still maintain that there are always alternatives to the use of violence! And certainly in this situation, when the Khartoum government has expressed a commitment to general disarmament of militia forces, resettlement of the displaced, and reconstruction of the three Darfur provinces under a large degree of self-government…
Surely this is a project that could and should be easy to sell to the people of Darfur, even if not to all of their ambitious, self-appointed “leaders”.
But it’s interesting to see where Kuperman goes with his argument about the need to use force to quell the anti-humane rebellion. He argues that no UN force could achieve this. (And I would note here that if US and European forces were not so terrifically badly tied up in ill-planned missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, then they would be in a much, much better position to offer logistics and even personnel support for a UN force in Darfur… )
So Kuperman conclusion is this:
- we should let Sudan’s army handle any recalcitrant rebels, on condition that it eschew war crimes. This option will be distasteful to many, but Sudan has signed a peace treaty, so it deserves the right to defend its sovereignty against rebels who refuse to, so long as it observes the treaty and the laws of war.
Though I agree, in general, with the argument that Sudan has a right to exercise its own national soveriegnty, I’m still not sure I totally agree with Kuperman’s proposal. For the anti-violence reasons given above; but also, the calibration of allowing Khartoum to re-assert its sovereign powers in Darfur while not enacting any atrocities might be very hard to achieve…
But Kuperman also makes a very good longer-range argument regarding the direction of US foreign policy:
- Indeed, to avoid further catastrophes like Darfur, the United States should announce a policy of never intervening to help provocative rebels, diplomatically or militarily, so long as opposing armies avoid excessive retaliation. This would encourage restraint on both sides. Instead we should redirect intervention resources to support “people power” movements that pursue change peacefully, as they have done successfully over the past two decades in the Philippines, Indonesia, Serbia and elsewhere.
America, born in revolution, has a soft spot for rebels who claim to be freedom fighters, including those in Darfur. But to reduce genocidal violence, we must withhold support for the cynical provocations of militants who bear little resemblance to our founders.
This is an excellent argument. Following that advice would, of course, have avoided us getting drawn by Ahmed Chalabi and all his fellow Iraqi snake-oil salesmen into the tragically criminal invasion of Iraq– and would guide us not to accede to the invasion requests now being voiced by some anti-regime exiles from Iran.
I was interested to read Kuperman’s article. In 2001 he published a controversial short book on Rwanda in which he argued (I think) that the genocide there would have been much harder to stop militarily than most people thought, and that therefore claims that “the US could have stopped it but chose not to” were misleading… But he is evidently someone who has studied very closely the many ethical dilemmas entangled in the topic that western liberals like to call “humanitarian intervention”, but that people in the international humanitarian-law field often prefer to call “military action with a claimed ‘humanitarian’ motivation.” (Noting, of course, that wars are always launched with claimed ‘humanitarian’ aims much publicized. No national leader ever says publicly, ‘Okay chaps, let’s go out and launch ourselves a highly inhumane, unjust war.’..)
I would personally love to discuss all these issues more with Kuperman some time. I am strongly of the opinion that the “international community” needs to do a lot more to fund, refine, and upgrade our ability to launch all kinds of nonviolent interventions to protect lives and help broker and buttress peace agreements around the world, and that that is a better path to focus on than simply letting national governments reassert their own sovereignty while piously bleating at them from outside about the need to respect IHL norms.
But anyway, that discussion is for another day. For today, I am just glad to see Alan Kuperman entering the debate on Darfur with this feisty and generally strongly reasoned article.