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 absorbing a lot of Democratic gloom-and-doom about the midterms, I offered some silver lining at New York:
The 2022 midterms don’t look great for Democrats, who will try to buck history by hanging on to super-slim congressional majorities. Thanks to the particular lay of the land, Democrats have a decent chance of maintaining control of the Senate. But the House? Not so much: The two times since the New Deal when the president’s party won net House seats in a midterm (1998 and 2002), the president in question had sky-high job-approval ratings. Even if you believe Joe Biden’s plunge in popularity has been stemmed or even turned around a bit, he’s not going to have 60 percent-plus approval in November 2022 unless really crazy things happen. There’s just too much partisan polarization for that these days.
Thankfully for Democrats, even if they lose their congressional majorities next year, Biden himself won’t be an underdog for reelection in 2024. After all, the last two Democratic presidents were reelected after historically terrible midterms. Democrats lost 54 U.S. House seats in 1994 and 63 in 2010. Yes, they had bigger majorities going into those elections than Democrats have now. But they lost the national House popular vote by an identical 6.8 percent in both midterms, which is pretty bad, particularly since Democrats suffer from a voter-inefficiency problem in House elections (too many voters concentrated in too few districts).
It’s possible for a president’s party to lose a midterm so badly that bouncing back in the next cycle is all but impossible. Consider the man whose unique comeback accomplishment Donald Trump will be emulating if he runs in 2024, Grover Cleveland. The president Cleveland defeated in an 1892 rematch, Benjamin Harrison, was a Republican whose party lost an incredible 93 House seats in the 1890 midterms. This, mind you, was at a time when the House had only 332 members, which means the GOP lost over half their caucus in one cycle (an even worse percentage than in 1894, when Democrats lost a record 125 House seats during the midterm after Cleveland’s comeback triumph). In this era of polarization, nothing like that is going to happen to Democrats in 2022.
Looking more broadly at the power of incumbency, there have been 13 sitting presidents since World War II who were on the general election ballot. Nine of them won. The four losers all faced special circumstances. Gerald Ford had not previously been elected to anything more than the U.S. House; he ascended to the vice-presidency and then the presidency when disgraced predecessors resigned, and he pardoned the president who appointed him, the especially disgraced Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter was caught up in a historical realignment that he had held off four years earlier by carrying his native South, which then resumed a massive Republican trend. George H.W. Bush suffered from a terrible economy but then also a party split (third-party candidate Ross Perot won a lot of previously Republican voters). And we all know about Donald J. Trump, who was impeached twice and seemed determined to offend swing voters.
In retrospect, what’s most remarkable is that Ford and Trump very nearly got reelected despite their handicaps, exhibiting not the weakness but the strength of incumbency. And it’s with that perspective that any early handicapping of a potential 2024 rematch should be considered. Trump benefited from incumbency in 2020, as will Biden in 2024. So the idea that the 45th president has some built-in advantage over the 46th — absent the renewed election coup so many of us fear — doesn’t make a lot of sense.