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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Darfur: Same Old Song And Dance

A couple of days ago Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick testified before the House International Relations Committee about the situation in Sudan, and particularly Darfur. And I found his comments a profoundly depressing repetition of every hoary rationalization about our failure to intervene in ethnic cleansing operations in the past.Rationalization #1 is the “sitting duck” hypothesis, summarized in an AP story about Zoellick’s testimony as follows:

The Bush administration is opposed to the dispatch of U.S. or European forces to help enhance security in Sudan’s Darfur region because they could be vulnerable to attack by terrorists, the No. 2 State Department official said Wednesday.The region is populated by “some bloodthirsty, cold-hearted killers,” Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said, mentioning Somalia in particular as one possible source.

It’s ironic that Zoellick cited Somalians as an unacceptable threat to Western troops, since it is generally acknowledged that trauma over the “Black Hawk Down” attack on U.S. troops in Mogadishu had a lot to do with the Clinton administration’s much-regretted refusal to intervene in Rwanda.Rationalization #2 also reflects the same chain of thinking that kept the West out of Rwanda:

NATO and the European Union now provide support in transport, logistics and planning for Darfur operations.Zoellick said any expansion in these roles to an on-the-ground presence could lead to charges by some Africans that “the U.S. or the colonial powers are telling Sudan what to do.”

Rationalization #3 is more subtle, but you can clearly see it in the PowerPoint presentation Zoellick offered the House Committee. Zoellick repeatedly stresses connections between the Darfur genocide and the long-standing (though recently, for the time being, settled) North-South civil war in Sudan, and notes civil conflict in that nation goes back more than a century. This reflects another golden oldie excuse for non-intervention, heard often with respect to Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo: these people have been killing each other for eons, so what can we do about it?I find all this especially depressing coming from Zoellick, who (a) is one of the Bush administration’s most competent diplomats; (b) has been willing to call genocide, genocide; and (c) has spent quite a bit of time in the area recently. Mark Leon Goldberg over at TAPPED has suggested that the administration is crab-walking its way over to a general rapproachment with the Khartoum government, based on its purported cooperation with U.S. intelligence on Islamic terrorism. As Mark aptly says: “It seems that we are back to the bad old days of cold Cold-War calculations: The United States doesn’t care what happens inside the borders of a cooperative regime.” But even then, I don’t remember senior U.S. officials explicitly condoning genocide by “allies.”

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