I need to begin with a disclaimer: I have been closely associated with DoctorsWithout Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres/MSF-USA for many years, as chairman of their US advisory board. I am not joining this fast in that capacity. For reasons expressed in a March 27, 2009 New York Times op ed, MSF has stayed out of Sudanese politics. I fully support this stance, and therefore must reiterate that I join FastDarfur as a private citizen acting on my own conscience, not as a representative of MSF.
I will begin a 3 day fast on Friday, June 12.
I don’t know what effect this small action will have, but it feels right to put a little fat (if not skin) in the game. It motivates me to think about other ways I can help as well. In trying to figure this out I came across a terrific piece
in the soon-to-be-published issue of the New York Review of Books
by Nick Kristof. Though conceding the complexity of the situation, he does conclude with six very reasonable-sounding actions which our government (not you or I, alas) can take:
• Bring together members of Darfuri civil society—doctors, educators, leaders, and businesspeople among them—to form a common negotiating platform, so that there can be constructive peace talks (since the most plausible path to a solution is a negotiated peace agreement). A prominent Sudanese tycoon and philanthropist, Mo Ibrahim, is now pushing this approach in a project called Mandate Darfur. Sudan’s government blocked the Mandate Darfur peace talks this spring, with barely a murmur of protest from around the world, and it’s crucial that international pressure be focused on Khartoum to allow this initiative to proceed. This may be Sudan’s best hope.
• Apply pressure on the Sudanese government to make concessions so that such a negotiated deal is more likely, while also putting pressure on Abdel Wahid and the rebels. One of the basic problems is that the international community hasn’t applied credible sticks or carrots to Khartoum. Carrots are difficult politically, but we can do more with sanctions (especially, going after the wealth of the Sudanese leaders in foreign banks), with international pressure from Arab countries (here Qatar has been helpful), and with military measures.
• These military measures can include a no-fly zone. This doesn’t mean shooting any planes out of the air. Rather, when a Sudanese military aircraft bombs civilians in defiance of the UN ban on offensive military flights, Western forces can destroy a Sudanese fighter plane or helicopter gunship on the ground a few days later. For this purpose, the US could use aircraft from its military base in Djibouti, and France could use aircraft at its base in Abeché, in Chad. In a classified memo to the White House last year, the special envoy for Sudan, Ambassador Richard Williamson, also outlined other possible military measures, including jamming all telephones, radio signals, and television signals in Khartoum.
• Nudge China into suspending arms deliveries to Sudan. This would terrify the Khartoum regime, at a time when it is arming for renewed war with the south, for China is its main arms supplier and trainer of its military pilots. China won’t suspend its oil purchases from Sudan, but it is conceivable that China would suspend military sales (which yield modest sums for China relative to the cost to its image).
• Encourage some elements in the official Sudanese leadership to overthrow President Bashir, by suggesting that if this happens and they take steps to end the violence in Darfur, the US will normalize relations with Sudan. The other leaders will not be indicted by the ICC, so if they remove Bashir they can remove the albatross from Sudan’s neck. These other leaders also have blood on their hands, but they are far better than Bashir.
• Give a signal that the US has no objection to its allies selling anti-aircraft missiles to south Sudan (that is easier than providing the missiles ourselves). This would deny Khartoum air control over the south, and thus reduce the chance that the north will attack the south and revive the north–south civil war.
Kristof adds that “The lesson from places like Kosovo is that the most urgent need is less for sophisticated technical solutions than for political will to face the problem squarely.”
That’s right. Can we find a way to translate the energy and dedication of FastDarfur into political will? I very much hope so.
Richard Rockefeller, MD