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The United States and Darfur

In 1994, the Clinton administration initially used fine semantic distinctions to avoid calling the genocide in Rwanda by its true name—and it led the Security Council coalition against intervention. In 2004, the Bush Administration was the first and only Security Council member to declare that the abuses committed in Darfur constituted genocide—and it initially led the push for the Security Council to act. But U.S. leadership on Darfur was a mixed blessing.

In 2001-2002, the Bush administration had made ending the Sudanese civil war one of its top foreign policy priorities in Africa. Correctly or not, many observers believe it did so mainly because of pressure from conservative religious activists who have long campaigned against Khartoum’s Islamist government for its gross human rights abuses in the non-Muslim south. When the rebel attacks and government counter-offensive began in Darfur, Washington was among those governments that were reluctant to criticize Khartoum for fear that doing so might derail the North-South peace initiative. On April 7, 2004, however, with a bipartisan handful of U.S. Congressmen calling for sanctions, President Bush condemned the “atrocities” in Sudan. In midsummer, Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Darfur. Then, on September 9, 2004, Secretary Powell told the U.S. Congress that the State Department had concluded that genocide had been committed and that the Sudanese government and the Janjaweed bore responsibility. 

However, the fact that the Bush administration was waging a globally unpopular war in Iraq without a U.N. mandate, inevitably affected how other U.N. member states responded, particularly once the graphic images of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib were broadcast around the world. Khartoum seized the opportunity by portraying U.S. accusations on Darfur as part of a global American assault on Islam and Arabs. But the most disturbing aspect of U.S. policy toward Darfur is the striking inconsistency between Secretary of State Powell’s finding in September 2004 that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed had committed genocide and the administration’s apparent decision in November 2004 to return to its earlier policy of trying to use carrots to induce Khartoum to sign the Naivasha accords. It was that shift, and not just the threat of a Chinese veto, that was responsible for the Security Council’s failure to even debate the need to take stronger action to halt continuing human rights abuses in Darfur.  

<<previous  |  index  |  next>>January 2005