The quasi-genocidal crisis in Darfur is finally getting a bit of renewed attention from the rest of the world, but it’s not clear it’s happening fast enough to make a difference.In case you’ve forgotten Darfur because it hasn’t been in the headlines much, more than 300,000 people have probably died there since the government of Sudan unleashed a vicious counter-insurgency campaign in 2003 designed to squash an insurgency loosely linked to the Southern Sudan forces Khartoum was trying to outmaneuver in negotiations to end the long-running North-South civil war. Just as importantly, more than two million Darfurians have been displaced by the fighting, and are hemmed into refugee camps with no means of subsistence other than food shipments from international organizations.And while the direct violence against Darfurians by the Khartoum-paid-and-trained Janjaweed militias has abated somewhat, the strategy of keeping them penned up under atrocious conditions is doing the Grim Reaper’s work as efficiently as the previous kill-and-rape raids on hundreds of villages.That’s why, as Eric Reeves explained on The New Republic’s site yesterday, the most immediate threat to Darfur stems from Janjaweed attacks on the international humanitarian aid organizations that are literally serving as Darfur’s lifeline. Some are already withdrawing personnel from Darfur, and others may soon follow, given the general recognition that African Union peacekeeping forces are incapable of providing security in the region, and no one else is on the scene.But as always in Darfur, there’s a lot of political fog distorting a clear picture of the situation.There are ongoing if sluggish negotiations underway between Khartoum and the two insurgent groups it is supposedly fighting in Darfur: the Fur-tribal-based Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), and the Islamist Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Unfortunately, as the Kofi Annan statement I just linked to shows, these negotiations are helping feed the idea that this is a civil war or “ethnic conflict” where both sides are equally to blame for the death and destruction, and where the rest of the world can legitimately step aside as the parties to the dispute wrangle through a settlement.The only bright note recently was the voice-vote passage by the U.S. Senate of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which would recommit our government to an end to the disaster in Darfur; pledge immediate military support to an expansion of the AU deployment; and place sanctions on the government of Sudan, including seizure of oil shipments and withdrawal of travel rights for Khartoum officials, until such time as it releashes the Janjaweed and starts cooperating with humanitarian agencies.The bill still needs to get scheduled in the House, which in an obscure committee action stripped out previously approved funds to support an expanded AU peacekeeping mission. And that’s a good example of what’s wrong in this whole debate. Nobody will come out and say they don’t want to take action in Darfur, but the Bush administration officials who are so appreciative of Khartoum’s assistance in the War on Terror are obviously helping slow down any binding congressional action that would complicate things for them. Today New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof helped shine a spotlight on this subterranean but effective strategy.The whole situation reminds me of a conversation I had many years ago with a veteran Georgia State Patrol trooper who used to work traffic accidents in a rural community. The ambulance service there was provided by a local undertaker, who got paid a small fee for hauling accident victims to the hospital, but who got the burying rights if the victims died. So, said my informant, the ambulance driver would pick up the grievously injured passengers and then head off towards the hospital, lights flashing and sirens screaming, at about 15 miles per hour.That’s what the U.S. and international mission to “save” Darfur looks like to me right now.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
After reading a few days worth of carping about Joe Biden’s performance, I decided enough’s enough and responded at New York:
Joe Biden has been president of the United States for 43 days. He inherited power from a predecessor who was trying to overturn the 2020 election results via insurrection just two weeks before Inaugural Day, and whose appointees refused the kind of routine transition cooperation other administrations took for granted. His party has a four-vote margin of control in the House, and only controls the Senate via the vice presidential tie-breaking vote (along with a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans). Democratic control of the Senate was not assured until the wee hours of January 6 when the results of the Georgia runoff were clear. Biden took office in the midst of a COVID-19 winter surge, a national crisis over vaccine distribution, and flagging economic indicators.
Biden named all his major appointees well before taking office, and as recommended by every expert, pushed for early confirmation of his national security team, which he quickly secured. After some preliminary discussions with Republicans that demonstrated no real possibility of GOP support for anything like the emergency $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief and stimulus package he had promised, and noting the votes weren’t there in the Senate for significant filibuster reform, Biden took the only avenue open to him. He instructed his congressional allies to pursue the budget reconciliation vehicle to enact his COVID package, with the goal of enacting it by mid-March, when federal supplemental unemployment insurance would run out. Going the reconciliation route meant exposing the package to scrutiny by the Senate parliamentarian
,It also virtually guaranteed total opposition from congressional Republicans, which in turn meant Senate Democratic unanimity would be essential.
The House passed the massive and complex reconciliation bill on February 27, right on schedule, with just two Democratic defections, around the same time as the Senate parliamentarian, to no one’s great surprise, deemed a $15 minimum wage provision (already opposed by two Senate Democrats) out of bounds for reconciliation. The Senate is moving ahead with a modified reconciliation bill, and the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet is chugging ahead slowly but steadily. Like every recent president, he’s had to withdraw at least one nominee – in his case Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget, though the administration’s pick for deputy OMB director is winning bipartisan praise and may be substituted smoothly for Tanden.
Add in his efforts to goose vaccine distribution — which has more than doubled since he took office — and any fair assessment of Biden’s first 43 days should be very positive. But the man is currently being beset by criticism from multiple directions. Republicans, of course, have united in denouncing Biden’s refusal to surrender his agenda in order to secure bipartisan “unity” as a sign that he’s indeed the radical socialist – or perhaps the stooge of radical socialists – that Donald Trump always said he was. Progressives are incensed by what happened on the minimum wage, though it was very predictable. And media critics are treating his confirmation record as a rolling disaster rather than a mild annoyance, given the context of a federal executive branch that was all but running itself for much of the last four years.
To be clear, I found fault with Biden’s presidential candidacy early and often. I didn’t vote for him in California’s 2020 primary. I worried a lot about Biden’s fetish for bipartisanship. I support a $15 minimum wage, and as a former Senate employee, have minimal respect for the upper chamber’s self-important traditions. But c’mon: what, specifically, is the alternative path he could have pursued the last 43 days? Republican criticism is not worthy of any serious attention: the GOP is playing the same old tapes it recorded in 2009 when Barack Obama (and his sidekick Biden) spent far too much time chasing Republican senators around Washington in search of compromises they never intended to make. While they are entitled to oppose Biden’s agenda, they are not entitled to kill it.
Progressive criticism of Biden feels formulaic. Years and years of investment in the rhetoric of the eternal “fight” and the belief that outrage shapes outcomes in politics and government have led to the habit of seeing anything other than total subscription to the left’s views as a sell-out. Yes, Kamala Harris could theoretically overrule the Senate parliamentarian on the minimum wage issue, but to what end? So long as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema oppose the $15 minimum wage, any Harris power play could easily be countered by a successful Republican amendment to strike the language in question, and perhaps other items as well. And if the idea is to play chicken with dissident Democrats over the fate of the entire reconciliation bill, is a $15 minimum wage really worth risking a $1.9 trillion package absolutely stuffed with subsidies for struggling low-income Americans? Are Fight for 15 hardliners perhaps conflating ends and means here?
Media carping about Biden’s legislative record so far is frankly just ridiculous. Presumably writing about the obscure and complicated details of reconciliation bills is hard and unexciting work that readers may find uninteresting, while treating Tanden’s travails as an existential crisis for the Biden administration provides drama, but isn’t at all true. The reality is that Biden’s Cabinet nominees are rolling through the Senate with strong confirmation votes (all but one received at least 64 votes), despite a steadily more partisan atmosphere for confirmations in recent presidencies. The COVID-19 bill is actually getting through Congress at a breakneck pace despite its unprecedented size and complexity. Trump’s first reconciliation bill (which was principally aimed at repealing Obamacare) didn’t pass the House until May 4, 2017, and never got through the Senate. Yes, Obama got a stimulus bill through Congress in February 2009, but it was less than half the size, much simpler, and more to the point, there were 59 Senate Democrats in office when it passed, which meant he didn’t even have to use reconciliation.
There’s really no exact precedent for Biden’s situation, particularly given the atmosphere of partisanship in Washington and the whole country right now, and the narrow window he and his party possess – in terms of political capital and time – to get important things done. He should not be judged on any one legislative provision or any one Cabinet nomination. So far the wins far outweigh the losses and omissions. Give the 46th president a break.