Never has world interest been so focused on the genocide in Darfur. As the European Union's special envoy, Pekka Haavisto, reports: "Mass murder, war crimes, crimes against humanity that's very visible on the ground." And Kofi Annan asks: "Can the international community, having not done enough for the people of Rwanda, just watch as this tragedy deepens?"
If we wait for the United Nations to act, the answer is "yes."
In August, the U.N. Security Council supported the sending of 22,500 U.N. forces into Darfur to strengthen the small African Union presence. But Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, threatens to attack those peacekeepers if they come in adding that rising world protests against his government are part of a Zionist plot to redraw the region to protect Israel.
The primary obstacle to any meaningful intervention by the United Nations is that, as Annan has stated, permission must come from al-Bashir for U.N. forces to enter because the United Nations is composed of sovereign nations, and the sovereignty of each must be respected.
In a stinging response, Susan Rice, former assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, told National Public radio (Sept. 15): "It is like giving Milosevic or Hitler a veto over the world stopping the perpetration of genocide."
I vividly remember Rice while she was in the Clinton State Department wishing to prod the White House to act more vigorously on slavery in Sudan's south traveling to Sudan by herself to awaken world interest then.
Now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., Rice is speaking the horrifying truth to the world if nothing more happens than more talk at the United Nations and more anguished editorials in the press. Just wringing our hands, she points out, "is an opportunity for the people who have perpetrated genocide, the government of Sudan, to clear out all the witnesses and ... continue a second wave of the genocide, with the international community poised to stand by and watch."
Rice has an alternative: "If we, the United States, decided as we did in the case of Kosovo that we're going to act, then action would happen." We must say to the government of Sudan that "there will be military consequences ... unless and until you relent and allow the United Nations force to come in and protect civilians."
But in view of the civil war in Iraq; the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan; and our other pressing obligations, is it conceivable Congress would send American troops into Darfur?
What we can do, Susan Rice says, acting with NATO or a coalition of democratic nations there can be "targeted air strikes at Sudanese airfields to knock out its airplanes, which have been very much involved in killing civilians.
"The threat of the actual action," she continues, "might be sufficient to persuade the Sudanese to accept a U.N. force. That can happen from the air" and could lead to "the U.N. forces on the ground."
It's vital to remember that the United States has bypassed an impotent U.N. Security Council before when essential. Says the admirably clearheaded Susan Rice: "We did act ... when we faced a similar, albeit not even as grave a situation in Kosovo. We acted without the Security Council, even though it would have been our strong preference to act with the Security Council.
"We acted with NATO to save lives in Kosovo. We didn't accept Milosevic vetoing international action. We used a language Milosevic understood, which was air force strikes. We never put a single NATO soldier on the ground, but Milosevic got the message and a U.N. force went in."
If we do not now act to save the survivors in Darfur, one of them, in Tawila Shiek Abdullah Muhammad Ali told Lydia Polgreen, the invaluable New York Times reporter on the ground:
"What happened in Rwanda, it will happen here ... we beg the international community, somebody, come and save us. We have no means to protect ourselves. The only thing we can do is run and hide in the mountains and caves. We will all die."
In Rwanda itself, a survivor of the genocide there, Freddy Umutanguha, told Reuters: "We survivors stand with the victims in Darfur. We know what it is like to lose our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. We know what it is like to lose everything and see all who are dearest to us destroyed."
Of all world leaders, George W. Bush has tried the hardest to save the survivors in Darfur. He named this crime against humanity being perpetrated by the government of Sudan for what it is "genocide" while other leaders used the euphemism "ethnic cleansing."
Will the president, with all the problems he is dealing with elsewhere, lead further, hopefully with other democratic nations as we did in Kosovo with targeted air strikes on Sudanese airfields to ground the killing Sudanese airplanes, and show al-Bashir he faces consequences?