This article was originally published in The London News Review, and re-published in The Sudan Tribune
It’s heart-warming to see the United States taking such an interest in the plight of the people of Darfur. The cuddly and avuncular Colin Powell has been down there offering promises of help, and the US Congress moved swiftly to declare ongoing genocide.
The US, after all, is not known for an excess of humanitarian concern. It was the US that vetoed international attempts to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and Congress who failed to spot that 800,000 dead Tutsis was another genocide. For years, the US has carefully ignored the war in the DRCongo that has taken perhaps 3 million lives; more recently, they hung back even as the dead piled up at the gates of their Liberian embassy. One could, then, be forgiven a modicum of scepticism about a government that rarely seems to engage concern or compassion without oil or a big military contract lying around.
It’s no secret that Sudan has bags of the black stuff, and it’s worth remembering that the Sudanese government has been obstinately keeping US oil companies out of the country since 1989, when it instead gave contracts to America’s dear friends Canada, Russia and China. You could hear George Snr. straining on his leash over that one; unfortunately, the law gave him no grounds for applying sanctions just because Sudan wouldn’t play with him.
The US had to wait until 1996, when Osama bin Laden conveniently turned up in Sudan after slipping his own leash in Saudi Arabia, giving Clinton an excuse to slap sanctions on the impoverished nation — sanctions that officially had nothing to do with Sudan’s continued refusal to admit US oil companies.
The sanctions were eventually lifted in 2001, permitting US companies to get back into negotiations over drilling rights. Surely Khartoum had now learned its lesson. However, a year later, it became evident that they had learned nothing, and the negotiations collapsed. What’s a poor conglomerate to do? Cry “no fair” to your pals in the White House?
In October 2002, George Bush imaginatively signed legislation allowing for more — you guessed it — sanctions against the bullying Sudan. But even Bush and his chums had to realise that sanctions aren’t going to get you the oil that the Chinese are drilling out of the ground. But an invasion might.
Thinking back through the fog of cable news, some may recall General Wesley Clark’s little revelation on p130 of his tome Winning Modern Wars that on a chummy trip to the Pentagon, the looming attack on Iraq was presented to him as part of a five year plan to control seven nations – Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and (altogether now) Sudan.
The control seems to have started with a little destabilisation, aiding the insurgents battling the Khartoum regime. The War Against Terror can be complicated, and sometimes you may even have to arm terrorists. Then Sudan has been repeatedly associated with terror camps and the like. Never mind the fact that the Sudanese government offered to just about hand Osama bin Laden over to the US in 1996, an offer that Bill Clinton declined; never mind the fact that the rebels the US is funding do have links to Al Qaida. In fact, the US has been supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (or Movement) for more than a decade already.
Next step: suddenly declaring the situation in Darfur to be genocide, giving you the right in international law to mount a humanitarian intervention. And Congress hummed not and it hawed not, and on July 23 this year it made it so.
Unfortunately, that other little humanitarian intervention to the north (the one that promised to remove non-existent WMDs and to break the non-existent links with terror; the one that is now mired in another insurgency) make it impossible for swift military action, especially in an election year.
So now we have more grinding of teeth and more tapping of feet until … well, what if the newly arrived Rwandan peacekeepers got into fisticuffs with the Sudanese army or their Janjaweed proxies? With their adjusted mandate to protect civilians as well as UN observers, this is far from inconceivable. And in that case, surely there could be no argument against …
We do not yet know what Washington’s next move will be, but one thing is for sure. If a US government starts showing a munificent concern for your wellbeing, it’s time to dig a bomb shelter.