Deteriorating conditions require Bush’s leadership

The Washington Times

President Bush seems to have surprised some of the officials in his own administration with his forward-leaning comments on a decision in the works to support a substantial increase in the peacekeeping force trying to do something about genocidal conditions in Darfur. Good. It will take no less than the sustained personal engagement of the president of the United States to get something effective done there.

By all accounts, the situation in Darfur is getting worse. One correspondent reports to me from the scene that violence is approaching its 2003-04 levels. That’s killing, displacement and lawlessness at a pace that led then-Secretary of State Colin Powell to label the crisis “genocide,” a term the president has also used and that Congress has endorsed in resolutions.

The African Union has a peacekeeping force on the ground, but its mission is widely viewed as a failure. Although the violence abated to some degree through summer 2005, since fall, it has escalated. Humanitarian organizations have scaled back operations because of security concerns. More than a million people languish in internally displaced persons camps, and several hundred thousand have sought refugee across the border in Chad. Conditions inside the camps can be harsh. There is no possibility of the return of displaced persons to their village homes given the current extent of violence and lawlessness in the countryside.

The key perpetrators are the government-armed Janjaweed militia, who often operate in close cooperation with Sudanese government forces. Rebel movements are active in Darfur, and the Sudanese government has often sought to portray its actions as merely a response to an insurrection. That won’t wash. There is no justification for the perpetuation of conditions in which millions are displaced or dead and the dying continues. The fact that these conditions persist is itself clear evidence that the perpetuation of misery and terror is exactly what the Khartoum government has in mind.

The government is well practiced in the arts of lying and dissembling and seems perfectly content with the perpetually stalled peace talks in Abuja, Nigeria, providing an excuse for the continued depredation in Darfur.

To say it again, the only reason Darfuris are unable to return home and begin rebuilding the villages the Janjaweed torched with the help of the Sudanese government is because the Sudanese government wants them where they are.

Reports are now emerging that the Janjaweed militia have been crossing the border into Chad in order to harass and abuse refugees there. Perhaps the spillover across national borders will help galvanize action.

It’s a cheap shot to blame the African Union mission for failure in Darfur. Yes, there are political problems within the AU, a new regional organization that has been groping for a way to perform its mission in Sudan even as Sudan is a member of the AU. On the ground, the reality is that that AU force is trying but has no experience in missions of this sort, inadequate manpower and funding, and insufficient training. It is lacking in essential “force multiplier” assets such as actionable intelligence and helicopters, and it is operating with a mandate that does not allow for the protection of civilians(!). The failure here is not the AU’s alone.

There is a gathering consensus for a handover of the AU mission to the United Nations. That’s fine, provided we acknowledge 1) that the AU mission never had a chance to succeed because of the deficiencies just mentioned; and 2) that future success in Darfur will depend chiefly on remedying those deficiencies.

So what Darfur needs is a force with 1) sufficient military capabilities and rules of engagement to deter and suppress the Janjaweed, thus depriving the Khartoum government of its instrument of brutality and its excuses; and 2) a mandate that puts the protection of civilians at the forefront, paving the way for them to go home safely.

Now, where do you go for real military power and a diplomatic effort with sufficient heft to get the Chinese and the Russians to live up to their endorsement of the “responsibility to protect” civilian populations whose own governments won’t help them or are conspirators against them? The Oval Office, that’s where. The United States dithered its way through genocide in the Balkans hoping others would take action. It wasn’t until after the full moral consequences of inaction in the Rwanda genocide became apparent that the U.S. government figured out what happens if it doesn’t take the lead. No, the United States need not act on its own. There’s a role here for NATO and others who want to contribute, and the U.N. Security Council needs to pass a new resolution authorizing a more robust mission.

But none of that is likely without the United States in the forefront. “Not on my watch,” Mr. Bush said of Rwanda. This is Mr. Bush’s watch, and it looks like he is beginning to understand that only the personal engagement of the U.S. president is likely to do anything for Darfur.