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A Darfur Thought

Current with the below, consider Nick Kristof's latest column on Darfur. I greatly admire Kristof's work, and my inclinations are toward interventionism in these sorts of cases. But I have a worry that I think has been barely addressed. Would not a western military intervention against a Sunni Arab Islamist regime aimed at imposing a de facto partition on the country have some serious implications for the war on terrorism? It seems to fit very nicely into the al-Qaeda grand narrative that Juan Cole describes. And there's some kind of Islamist involvement with the Darfur rebels as well. So it strikes me that an intervention might be highly counterproductive to our erstwhile grand strategy.

But maybe it wouldn't be. I really don't know. I just haven't heard this issue discussed at all except for the occassional sloppy and factually inaccurate assertion from the idealist right that the Khartoum government's actions in Darfur are an extension of jihadism. But this is a pretty important question, is it not? Can one imagine contemplating a US military intervention in, say, 1953 where the national discussion was totally disconnected from the cold war?

September 11, 2004 | Permalink


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» DEATH IN DARFUR from The Protocols of the Yuppies of Zion
Wanted to repost a comment I made over at Matthew Yglesias' blog, re: the genocide in Darfur. I'm responding (mostly) to a commentor there, not to Matthew: "I would just as soon have the EU, NATO and the UN deal with Darfur." You mean the way they deal... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 13, 2004 7:48:10 PM

» DEATH IN DARFUR from The Protocols of the Yuppies of Zion
Wanted to repost a comment I made over at Matthew Yglesias' blog, re: the genocide in Darfur. I'm responding (mostly) to a commentor there, not to Matthew: "I would just as soon have the EU, NATO and the UN deal with Darfur." You mean the way they deal... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 13, 2004 8:56:38 PM


You enabled comments? Good.

Thank you for "Three Years Later"

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 11, 2004 1:43:21 PM

Well, I'm not sure that supporting or denying al-Qaeda's "grand narrative" is really something to think about. After all, the "grand narrative" is a fantasy (though a compelling one, at that).

The situation in Sudan is a danger to US interests in the war on terror because Sudan is a "failed state," that will become as large a haven for terrorists as Afghanistan was under the Taliban.

So while an intervantion in Sudan (and, like Iraq, there are good ways and bad ways of handling the intervention-- we know which way Bush would go) might feed into the Islamic fundamanetalists' "grand narrative," the practical effect saving Sudan would be less islamic terrorism, not more.

Posted by: Constantine | Sep 11, 2004 1:57:06 PM

The idea of a US imposed division of Sudan is chilling --- but fortunately ridiculous on its face.

My partner is Sudanese (Dinka), and a strong supporter of Col. John Garang, the SPLA leader, in the *other* Sudanese civil war -- which seems to be settling down to the best of the third best. I have asked her "Why don't you just split the country in two?", an option which has always been pretty close to being on the table. She reacted in horror: "We would just kill each other!"

Now for the outsider that may seem to be what's going on anyway, but who are we to judge? And gawdsaveus, who would the little Donny Rumsfelds of this world be to judge?

Posted by: David Lloyd-Jones | Sep 11, 2004 2:18:55 PM

Darfur? Iran, folks. Come Bush's re-coronation, that's where the action will be.

Posted by: santo | Sep 11, 2004 3:14:47 PM

I agree with Bob re: "Three years later". I hope folks read it.

Posted by: Wrye | Sep 11, 2004 3:51:24 PM

I agree with the sentiment above that we should not overly concern ourselves with Cole's narrative theories. And please spare me his insinuation that Baathism is some kind of less-unattractive alternative to bin Ladenism. At best this is some cynical Kissingerian calculation; at worst it's the thinking of a Party man.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Sep 11, 2004 4:01:05 PM

Hi -

Nice to see comments are back.

Hi David, long time no see.

At the risk of restating what I've said before, what needs to be done is to publicly point out who is benefitting from the warfare: it's the French, the Chinese, the Malaysians and assorted others who will be able to pump oil without having to worry about anyone interfering with their commercial interests.

But of course there is virtually no coverage of this in the main stream media, and I still am waiting for all those protesters out in the street crying "No War For Oil!": this is the case where there is a war for oil, yet where are the protesters?

Sorry to be such a stuck record, but it's stuck for a reason.


Posted by: John F. Opie | Sep 11, 2004 4:18:05 PM

I didn't get the impression that Cole finds Ba'athism to be a lesser evil -- he merely (and factually) states that the Iraqi Ba'ath party is no longer the dominant force it once was, and that removing it opened the door to the type of fanaticism we're now seeing. If anything, it's the Bush admin that sees a watered down Ba'ath led by Allawi as the best present alternative, though how watered down it will remain is anyone's guess. Facing the same kind of Islamic violence that Saddam encountered in '91, Allawi may well have to the go the same route -- total repression. That he has the US military acting in the role of the Republican Guard is an added irony, or tragedy, depending on your tolerance level.

Posted by: santo | Sep 11, 2004 4:20:36 PM

Then again, unlike Saddam, Allawi controls very little turf outside Baghdad, and has trouble hanging on to what he does have.

Posted by: santo | Sep 11, 2004 4:22:33 PM

I will now launch the theory that the broaching of Sudan as a subject by Colin Powell indicates that this administration does not intend to take it seriously. Though it did run some interference for the TANG memos: nice to see Powell making a difference.

Posted by: John Isbell | Sep 11, 2004 5:10:33 PM

Thanks for comments! Juan Cole has a superb sense of the Middle East and we had best attend to him. Surely we made mistake after mistake so far by getting the wrong advice.

Posted by: Ari | Sep 11, 2004 5:16:18 PM

I think if we went on playing an auxiliary role to a large African Union with lots of other international members, it wouldn't be as bad as we might fear. Of course, if Darfur really takes a Rwanda-like turn, we should probably just go on and do the right thing. And its likely that if we didn't act, we'd be screwed anyway, with rabid denunciations that our actions prove that we really don't care about human rights and so Iraq was all about oil, etc...

Posted by: rd | Sep 11, 2004 5:28:25 PM

The notion that removing the Baathist government has opened the doors to fanaticism is a remarkable assertion, especially when one considers that the Baath have been financing fanaticism in the West Bank and in Lebanon for decades.

The doors to fanaticism were "opened" by political systems that are oppressive in the extreme. See the grainy black and white videos of Saddam smiling during the reading of one of his notorious "traitor lists" for evidence of that.

The Baghdad government, headed by a man I wouldn't trust further than I could kick, still happens to be the most politically inclusive in the Arab world. Dismissing this process as watered down Baathism is cynical and irresponsible.

Posted by: Jonathan Dworkin | Sep 11, 2004 5:31:47 PM

Nobody seems to have addressed the issue that if we manage an intervention to prevent genocide, it might be the Bush Admin. managing the intervention. That prospect does not fill me with confidence. Would they handle such a campaign with any more competence than Iraq, Afghanistan, the (non) negotiations in N. Korea, the abondonment of real homeland security, non-proliferation?

I would just as soon have the EU, NATO and the UN deal with Darfur.

Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Rice would totally FUBAR Sudan, and the world might not be able to recover from too many more American interventions.

Posted by: bcinaz | Sep 11, 2004 5:41:24 PM

Thanks for comments back on - can you offer a real reason for removing them?

Appreciated your "Three Years Later" post immensely.

America is not in a great place RE the war against terror

Maybe you'll appreciate mine, which is similar and I tihnk people might enjoy it.

Tough times bring out great writing, great thoughts.

Posted by: andrew | BB | Sep 11, 2004 5:42:52 PM

"Dismissing this process as watered down Baathism is cynical and irresponsible."

Believe what you like (and we've done our share of financing Islamic fanaticism, if you'll recall), but our long term goal in Iraq, since Aug 2. 1990, has been one of Saddamism without Saddam, a new strong man who understands his regional role (as Saddam once did while committing his worse atrocities, with our blessings). The fairy tale that we went in to promote democracy or political pluralism is what's cynical and irresponsible, but favorable to those beholden to state propaganda.

Posted by: santo | Sep 11, 2004 6:45:15 PM

And we did open the door to the current madness, as was predicted by many in the mainstream, including former Prez Bush, who years ago accurately described what would've happened had he gone all the way to Baghdad back in '91. This is pretty uncontroversial, but apparently surprising to some.

Posted by: santo | Sep 11, 2004 6:48:34 PM


"Baathism is some kind of less-unattractive alternative to bin Ladenism"
It is. It's horrible but it's less horrible than Bin Ladenism, much like Pinochet was less worse than Allende. If these are the only two possible worlds we have a fair shot at at the time, the rational regionally expansionist state is less worse than the irrational globally expansionist world ideology. Now, if you don't think these are the only two possible worlds we have a fair shot at at this time ( or that you want to go for worlds that are unlikely to come about ) then, if the former, tell us the possible world you think we can realistically expect to get or, if the latter, saddle up and assault a ( terrorist ) windmill.

Door opening: It was in large part under control under Saddam, with token support for Hamas et al against "Little Satan". Now Iraq will either a smaller Egypt or a bigger Lebanon. Mazel tov!

" the Baath have been financing fanaticism in the West Bank and in Lebanon for decades."
Was that the main reason to back the invasion of Iraq ( and then maybe Syria too )?

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Sep 11, 2004 7:02:18 PM

I saw Santo's comment right after I posted mine.

"predicted by many in the mainstream, including former Prez Bush, who years ago accurately described what would've happened had he gone all the way to Baghdad"

To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day hero ... assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an un-winnable urban guerilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability.
George Bush Snr, in A World Transformed, 1998

Bush Sr. was wrong about the "securely entrenched" part. But all that doesn't matter, since Nine Eleven Changed Everything ( hereby referred to as the "NECE" argument ).

Posted by: WeSaferThemHealthier | Sep 11, 2004 7:07:59 PM


Is the Sudan a "failed state," or merely a brutal one?

Posted by: Gary Gunnels | Sep 11, 2004 7:25:55 PM

The must-read author on Sudan is Alex De Waal. He has a recent overview of the background to the Darfur crisis that's still available on the London Review of Books web site.

Posted by: angry moderate | Sep 11, 2004 9:54:58 PM

The link is Counter-Insurgency on the Cheap

Posted by: link | Sep 11, 2004 10:44:34 PM

this message pertains to your post directly below this one, and most likely will be deleted, but how dare you call yourself elite!

a very large proportion of America's political, intellectual, and media elite

I can't believe you wrote this. How embarassing that you consider yourself one of the elite! I read about you, look at you, read what you post and can only think of you as an arrogant snob who thinks his young mind knows it all. You are hardly elite, what have you've done? I don't care what degree you received from Harvard and what honors were bestowed upon you. You've graduated and write for your own website and a magazine, big deal. You make me sick. You're the reason democrats get a bad name.

Posted by: Mike | Sep 11, 2004 11:13:31 PM

mike. dude. congratulations -- no one will ever accuse you of being "elite."

Posted by: der | Sep 11, 2004 11:51:08 PM

Well, if you think provoking the enemy is counterproductive, then you are right.

I disagree strongly. The whole purpose of a war is to be as provocative as possible. If we are at war with radical Islam, and we are against genocide, then to hell with what radical Islamists think. If they want to fight over us stopping a genocide, it just further highlights who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

Posted by: Adam Herman | Sep 12, 2004 2:04:31 AM

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