In regard to Darfur, the hell with righteous folly.

05 Jun

May 31,

2006 Op-Ed/NYT

Contributor Strategic Victimhood in Sudan

By Alan J. Kuperman Austin, Tex.

THOUSANDS of Americans who wear green wristbands and demand military intervention to stop Sudan's Arab government from perpetrating genocide against black tribes in Darfur must be perplexed by recent developments. 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 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.

International mediators were shamefaced. They had presented the plan as take it or leave it, to compel Khartoum's acceptance. But now the ostensible representatives of the victims were balking. Embarrassed American officials were forced to ask Sudan for further concessions beyond the ultimatum that it had already accepted. Fortunately, Khartoum again acquiesced. But two of Darfur's three main rebel groups still rejected peace.

Frustrated American negotiators accentuated the positive — the strongest rebel group did sign — and expressed hope that the dissenters would soon join. 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. The strongest faction, representing the minority Zaghawa tribe, signed the sweetened peace deal in hopes of legitimizing its claim to control Darfur.

But that claim is vehemently opposed by rebels representing the larger Fur tribe. Such internecine disputes only recently hit the headlines, but the rebels have long wasted resources fighting each other rather than protecting their people. 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. Ultimately, if the rebels refuse, military force will be required to defeat them. But this is no job for United Nations peacekeepers.

Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia show that even the United States military cannot stamp out Islamic rebels on their home turf; second-rate international troops would stand even less chance. Rather, 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.

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. Alan J. Kuperman, an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, is an editor of "Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention: Moral Hazard, Rebellion and Civil War."

and following is a rebuttal from Nicholas Kristoff.

The Times today carried an op-ed about Darfur that has all of us who have been banging the drums about the genocide there gnashing our teeth. Basically, the essay argues that the slaughter in Darfur is much more complex than it appears, that there are no good guys, and that well-meaning Westerners (like me) are only prolonging the genocide by calling for military intervention. So let me respond.

First, of course it’s more complicated than it seems at first. There are layers and layers of complexity to Darfur (although it’s not clear to me that the author has ever actually been to Darfur to try to peel them away). Likewise, it’s true that the rebels in Darfur are thugs. But look back at past genocides, and you find that those are precisely the arguments that have always been used to justify inaction. “Christians and Muslims share a hatred that goes back 600 years in the Balkans….You can’t understand the rise of Hitler unless you appreciate the German humiliation at Versailles….

The Armenians shouldn’t have challenged the Turks….” So, yes, there are layers of complexity: There are tribes, for examples, that do not neatly fit into the Arab/non-Arab division. And while skin color is a motivation in the slaughter, it’s not as clearcut as if white-skinned Arabs are killing black-skinned tribespeople – many of the Arabs are quite black, too. And, yes, the rebels have been attacking rival tribes and sometimes killing civilians (though they have never engaged in the genocidal furies of the Sudanese government). And certainly the rebels are recalcitrant and seem to be enjoying their hotel rooms in Abuja too much to try hard to reach a peace. But all that said, the essential truth is that Sudan’s government is slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people on the basis of their tribe and skin color – and that is genocide, and the rest is detail.

The author of today’s op-ed claims that it would be better if Westerners didn’t demand military intervention, because that just bolsters the rebels. That is absurd. First, far and away the biggest problem in Darfur is the Sudanese government – both its attacks on villages and its refusal to allow aid workers into remote areas. And there’s plenty of history to show that the only time Sudan bends is when it’s under great pressure.

After all, Darfur is in many ways a replay of a movie we saw in southern Sudan.First, Khartoum mobilized irregular militias to wipe out villages and kill civilians. And then it supported a proxy rebel movement to invade a neighboring country (then Uganda, now Chad). In the absence of demands for intervention, that war in the south went on for 20 years. In part because of the possibility of a UN security force, Sudan agreed to this tentative peace settlement in Darfur after only a few years. Otherwise, Darfur would have lingered for 20 years – and then Sudan would have started all over again in its east, on the border with Eritrea. You can see a pattern: Whenever the international community focuses attention on Darfur, the slaughter subsides a bit. Then the world gets distracted, and Sudan steps up the killing.

Besides, what about Chad? The discussion usually focuses only on Darfur, but there is a real risk that the entire nation of Chad will collapse into chaos, provoking a new civil war that will duplicate Darfur but on a much larger scale. The bottom line is that genocide is the worst thing that humans can do to each other. It tears at the fabric of humanity. And the only way that we here, in the US, can assert our own humanity is to stand up to genocide, even a distant one. To look the other way as babies are tossed onto bonfires, because of their skin color and tribe, is an abdication of our own citizenship in our species.

All this information was scouted out by this guy at Have Coffee Will Write and I read it this morning so decided to steal his hard work and post it here.

A debate well worth looking at.


Posted by on June 5, 2006 in Bookmarks


2 responses to “In regard to Darfur, the hell with righteous folly.

  1. Linda

    June 6, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    Terrible but I can see both points.
    However with Kristoffs being the last one posted I tend to agree with him and the fact is that Kristiff has been there.

  2. weirsdo

    June 9, 2006 at 4:01 pm

    I like Kuperman’s argument better because it goes into details. I think attacking people for not having gone to Sudan is ridiculous, since going to a place is not at all the same as understanding its history. But I do agree that the Sudanese government has a bad track record and should not be trusted. Also I think that Kuperman’s argument may attract us because it justifies our inaction, and that is dangerous.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: