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ISR Issue 50, November–December 2006

Save Darfur from U.S. intervention


AT LEAST 200,000 people-possibly twice that number-are now dead as a result of a nightmarish civil war in the Darfur region of Sudan.1. In 2003, the government responded to rebel attacks by unleashing militia campaigns of mass slaughter, rape, and scorched-earth expulsions against the civilian populations that form the rebels' base. Some two million refugees, scattered throughout Darfur and into neighboring Chad, live on inadequate rations and are subject to further violence if they stray from their camps for firewood or food.2 Some who returned to their villages are now fleeing a second round of ethnic cleansing-a result of a May 2006 “peace agreement” that splintered Darfur's already fractious rebel forces into factions that have started up a new tribal turf war.3

These horrific conditions began to be widely reported in 2004, and calls for armed intervention in the crisis have grown louder since then. In the U.S., an odd coalition of human rights activists, African American and liberal Democrats, Zionists, and right-wing evangelicals has spearheaded two rounds of pro-intervention demonstrations, the latest when the United Nations convened in September 2006. They called on the UN to build a force of 20,000 with a mandate to impose “peace,” by force if necessary, and protect the refugees. The UN force, envisaged as a joint effort with NATO, would replace 7,000 lightly armed African Union (AU) monitors who were posted in Darfur after a now-forgotten 2004 ceasefire. The AU mandate is set to expire at the end of the year, and the U.S. is stepping up pressure on the Sudanese government of Omar al-Bashir to accept the UN/NATO force as a replacement.

The movement is attempting to rehabilitate U.S. military intervention just at a time when interventions in Iraq and elsewhere have been discrediting the idea that U.S. intervention makes people better off.4 Some may be attracted to the campaign to “save Darfur” out of genuine humanitarian concern, but U.S. interests in the region are anything but humanitarian. A “robust” intervention in Darfur, as George Bush demands, would need to bribe, kill, and intimidate the warring parties until they stop fighting. But the only forces with that kind of strength are controlled by people who don't have Darfurians' interests at heart. Even if no U.S. troops set foot in Sudan, U.S. support and guidance would be key to the force. U.S. involvement in Sudan is already considerable, and imperial planners will escalate it only if they see it as a way to further their prime objective in the region-to muscle out potential rivals such as China in a scramble for oil and other resources. If the U.S. is allowed to get deeper into Sudan, things could actually get worse for Darfurians-and for many other Africans.

The perennial idea that imperial forces can be made to do some good “just this one time” relies on a focus on isolated crises without a sense of what really moves imperial governments into action. We need to look at the way the U.S. has used past humanitarian crises for strategic gain, or indeed ignored them where no strategic benefit was likely. But first, it's important to see that the roots of the Darfur crisis itself grow, in part, out of previous wounds inflicted by imperialism. There are local forces, chief among them Sudan's central government, that bear major responsibility for the current crisis. Imperial plunder, however, has made such catastrophes likely to break out and recur.

Legacies of colonialism

Sudan, one of the world's twenty-five poorest countries, has gone through a devastating social crisis for nearly thirty years. The actions of Western powers lie behind the major sources of the crisis-a crushing external debt and persistent internal strife.

Some of the internal division dates back to before the British conquest. The late-nineteenth century regime of Mohammed Ahmad (known popularly as the “Mahdi,” or the chosen one), based in “the Arab and Muslim North, treated the South…a region of numerous languages and ethnicities…as a hinterland-a source of resources and slaves.”5

The Mahdi led a fierce resistance movement when the British sought to extend their control of the Nile south from Egypt, but the British took power over Sudan in 1898-99 with the help of the Maxim machine gun. They held power by continuing to set Muslim against Christian and Arab against African. Their main interest was in the produce of the fertile Nile valley, which they controlled from the northern city of Khartoum.

The focus on wealth extraction was universal among colonial overlords, and it produced two legacies that still fuel today's conflicts.

First is a string of weak post-colonial states whose infrastructures were shaped to assist the flow of wealth to the colonial power. A capital city such as Khartoum was thus relatively developed, and the “periphery” was first defined by its irrelevance to the colonizer's goals, then neglected. If the periphery did not start out poor in absolute terms, it tended to become so because it was politically marginalized. And once the period of colonial looting was over, the new states were starved for capital. Where foreign investors filled the gap, their own needs for wealth extraction reinforced the existing regional disparities. For example, Darfur, in Sudan's far west, is still not connected to Khartoum by a single paved road, and it has the country's worst schools and hospitals.6

Second, the practice of setting up colonial “centers” to serve as nodes of wealth-extraction produced outer colony boundaries that have no relation to language or ethnicity-or were drawn deliberately to split troublesome groups. So the peripheries are not only poor but tend to be ethnically distinct from the center, while often bearing a connection to a major ethnic or language group in a neighboring territory. This circumstance has set up a pattern of rebellions by peripheral minorities against discrimination by the center-backed by rulers of neighboring states who exploit their ethnic connections to disrupt their regional rivals. Sudan and its neighbors Chad, Eritrea, and Uganda, for example, regularly trade credible charges of cross-border support for insurgencies in each other's territory.

The same option is open to imperial powers that are located farther away. Local rebellions, based on real grievances in a post-colonial country, can become the entry point for an outside power to manipulate the country's internal situation. This is true, of course, with the Kurds in Iraq, but also throughout South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. But a superpower like the U.S. can do more than a regional power can. It can strive to become a remote “super-sponsor” of multiple rebellions against a target state, such as Sudan, through its own clients in the region.

Ravages of civil war and debt

Sudan achieved independence from Britain in 1956 and was soon plunged into a civil war between the Arab north and the animist/Christian south. The U.S. and USSR fought their Cold War through opposing factions. In 1969, General Gaafar Nimeiri took power allied with Moscow, but switched to Washington's side two years later.

When Nimeiri reached a peace agreement with the south in 1972, a period of some hope and progress opened. Agriculture and industry received state support, and Sudan was to become the breadbasket of the region-thus integrating it into the rising economic bloc of Arab oil states. Profits would be reinvested into textiles and heavier industry. Initial finance came from the early 1970s glut of petrodollars on the Arabian Peninsula. The U.S. tolerated these moves toward development and independence-although the World Bank did cut off some projects-because Khartoum sided with them in the Cold War.7

But Sudan was ultimately caught in the same noose as most countries that launched development schemes in the 1970s. As worldwide profit rates declined, ending the relative global prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s, commodity prices fell, interest rates rose, and finance dried up. Through policies such as the interest rate hikes of Jimmy Carter's Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, the rich countries pushed the worst effects of recession onto the poor. Like Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and others, Sudan entered the 1980s with a ballooning public debt-some $11 billion by 1985. Debt service consumed half of all government spending. The U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) required Sudan and other victim governments to apply Hoover-style economics during recessions as a condition for new loans. The IMF imposed no fewer than six devaluations on the Sudanese pound between 1978 and 1988, and the economy nosedived from a GDP of $468 per capita in 1978 to $288 in 1984.8 We may never know how many children starved.

In Darfur, economic downturn coincided with prolonged drought to produce a Sudanese component to the African famine that captured world attention in 1984. This combination of drought and economic crisis forms the backdrop to today's Darfur conflicts. Khartoum's inaction during this crisis highlighted Darfur's neglect and fueled resentment. The central government in turn responded by cultivating alliances with Arab-identified herders in their conflicts with farmers.9 While virtually all Darfurians are Muslims, tribal and racial dimensions in this conflict have allowed Khartoum and, as we shall see, other powers to stoke tensions and play divide and rule.

Having pushed it into recession, and then required measures that created a depression, the Reagan White House stood by the corrupt Nimeiri government as economic crisis turned to class struggle. Food riots broke out in 1983.10 A desperate Nimeiri responded with repression and a declaration of sharia (Islamic) law, in an attempt to hold power by turning the struggle for food into a religious bloodbath.

Nimeiri also encroached on the autonomy the south had gained in the 1972 settlement of the earlier civil war. The central motive was Chevron's 1978 discovery of oil deposits in the south. Nimeiri was overthrown anyway, but he succeeded in provoking a revival of the north-south war. John Garang pulled together the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army (SPLA) in 1983 to fight for southern autonomy and an end to sharia law. But once again, legitimate southern grievances became enmeshed in the strings of Cold War puppet-masters. The USSR backed Garang's SPLA through its Ethiopian proxy, the junta of Mengistu Haile Mariam.11

The U.S. backed the Islamic fundamentalist governments that succeeded Nimeiri. The corporate connection to Sudanese oil was broken early on, though, as Chevron pulled out in 1984 when rebels killed three of their employees.12 In the mid-1980s, Khartoum pioneered the tactic in the south it later inflicted on Darfur-forming ethnically based local militias to lay waste to the civilian population of rebel-controlled areas. Assured of U.S. support in a war to expel people from local oil fields, the Khartoum-backed militias created famine and resurrected the capture and sale of slaves.13

The U.S. war-criminal alliance with Sudan was stable until 1991. That year, the fall of Ethiopia's Mengistu, combined with the general decline of the USSR's power, reduced pressure on the U.S. to find regional allies such as Khartoum against Soviet influence. Thus, in the same year, when Sudan refused to back the first Gulf War against Iraq, George Bush Sr. retaliated by declaring Sudan a state sponsor of terror, and switched to backing his erstwhile enemies, the southern SPLA rebels. The U.S. eventually transferred more than $2 billion of covert aid to the SPLA.14

The U.S. Christian Right enthused over the southern insurgency, even though most in the south-as animists-were what evangelicals would refer to as “pagans.” The southern elite, including Garang, were nevertheless seen by some as Christians in a holy war with Islam. The SPLA led a struggle based on mass sentiment and real grievances, and it had its own life, at least before becoming a pawn in the superpower contest. But the Fort Benning-trained Garang also ruled with an iron hand, imprisoning or killing those who opposed his rule in the south.15 Two million people died in this U.S.-fueled hell, and four million are still refugees.16

As the war ground on in the Clinton years, the rift with Khartoum deepened. Hassan al-Turabi, second in charge of the government and the country's leading Islamic ideologue, made the country an international focal point for political Islam. Many radicals made their way to Sudan, including Osama bin-Laden, who took asylum there after Saudi Arabia expelled him in 1991. The government made an overture to the West by assisting France in the capture of international fugitive “Carlos the Jackal” in 1995, but in 1996, the U.S. pulled out its diplomats in response to rumored threats against their lives. They've never returned. Sudan expelled bin-Laden later in the year, but Clinton blamed Sudan along with bin-Laden for the 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. U.S. cruise missiles destroyed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum on the false pretext that it was producing chemical weapons precursors under bin-Laden's direction.17

Clinton's actions in this period put off the day when U.S. corporations could return to the south's oil business. In 1997, he declared Sudan a “state sponsor of terror” and issued a ban on U.S. corporate connections with Khartoum. Oil-hungry China lost no time in filling the gap. That same year, China partnered with Sudan, Malaysia, and Canada to renew exploration. The joint venture funded a 900-mile pipeline from the south to Port Sudan on the Red Sea that opened in 1998.18 China now owns 40 percent of the rights to Sudan's main oil field.19

These developments gave the U.S. incentive to repair its ties with Sudan. Meanwhile, Khartoum drew closer to the U.S. on its own. Three years after expelling bin-Laden, president Omar al-Bashir fired Turabi from the government. And following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Bashir turned thirty individuals and 200 files over to U.S. intelligence.20 In return, Bush removed his new collaborator from restrictions on international finance,21 though not from the list of terror-sponsoring states. U.S. direct investment is thus still banned.

To finally restore peace and corporate connections with Sudan, the State Department began pressuring Garang to the peace table. In a January 2005 treaty, Garang-who died later that year in a helicopter crash-won a position in the Khartoum government and a share for the South in its own oil wealth. But U.S. plans to return to Sudan's oil business were upset by the rebellion and counteroffensive in Darfur.

Crisis and conflict in Darfur

Darfur, a region three-quarters the size of Texas in Sudan's far west, has experienced even more isolation and neglect than the South. From its impoverished starting point, the region went into a crisis as a result of a drought, affecting all north African countries, that stretched from the 1970s into the mid-1980s.22 The ideological fracture lines of the crisis, however-which shaped up as a fight for land between Arab-identified and African-identified residents-were far from natural.

The contested area lies mostly in the Sahel, a region south of the Sahara that experiences a yearly transition from green (with rains) to brown (without them). Even when the Sahara is not spreading because of drought, nomadic animal herders-largely but not entirely Arabic-speaking-make yearly migrations in response to fluctuations in the Sahel's foliage. For centuries, they have mixed with settled farmers, who are largely but not entirely speakers of African languages. In good years, the two groups had complementary economies, but desertification began to set them at odds. During the famine year of 1985, Sheikh Hilal Abdullah, father of the future leader of the Arab “Janjaweed” militias, said that

he himself had traveled south every year to Kargula on the slopes of the Jebel [mountain] Marra, where the Fur chief…would welcome him with a feast and the nomads would assist the farmers by buying their grain, taking their goods to market and grazing their camels on the stubble of the harvest. On leaving, the sheikh would present the [chief] with two young camels. But now all this was changing: Fur farmers were barring the Arabs' migratory routes and forcing the camel herders to range further south in search of pastures.23

Despite the brewing conflict, Hilal's tribe was not armed-with guns or Arabist ideology-until Nimeiri's successor opened the desert road into Libya in 1985. This allowed an influx of Sudanese and other Arabs who had been gathered by Muammar al-Gadhafi into an armed Arab-supremacist force. Their original aim was to install an Arab ruler of Chad, but now they flooded into Darfur-with the guns and the ideas that would allow them to force the cost of Darfur's crisis onto the non-Arabic speaking tribes.24

When Bashir and Turabi took power in a 1989 putsch, they did not initially side with Darfur's Arabists. Darfur's “African” tribes are Muslims themselves, and the ideology that elevated Arabs above other Muslims only gained ground in Khartoum as the Arabist Bashir pushed aside the Islamist Turabi over a period of ten years. When Turabi was finally ousted in 1999, many of Darfur's non-Arab Muslims broke with Khartoum, drifted toward Turabi, and formed the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Islamist rebel group that burst onto the scene in 2003.25

The larger rebel group, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA), has adopted an “African” identification in response to the ideology of Arabism-and also in order to connect their struggle with that of the Christians and animists of the south. The SLA's connection to the south's SPLA is not just alphabetic or ideological. Since 1991, when the U.S. started to support him, John Garang sought to open up a Darfurian front in his war against Khartoum.26 The International Crisis Group (ICG) reports that the SPLA gave military training to 1,500 Darfurians in March 2002. These then went on to become the core fighters of the SLA. 27 Indeed, the initial manifesto of the SLA was edited by the SPLA.28

The ICG states that the Darfur guerrillas received aid from Chad and Eritrea, as well as Kenya and Uganda (through the SPLA).29 All of these forces are U.S. allies, and there can be no doubt that the U.S. gave its blessing. This build-up set the stage for the government's counteroffensive, in which the Janjaweed, backed by government aid and air cover, have committed their vast atrocities of ethnic cleansing.

The U.S.-brokered north-south peace of January 2005 has paradoxically stoked the Darfur war. That's because the terms of the deal-autonomy, 50 percent of southern oil revenues for the south, a share of ministerial posts for the SPLA in the central government, and Garang's appointment as vice president-have set the bar very high for peace agreements.30 Seeing the deal that the SPLA got with U.S. support, Darfur's rebels had good reason to think the U.S. would back them in equivalent demands. The 2005 discovery of oil by a Swiss company in southern Darfur,31 far from the fighting, has complicated matters as well, inspiring rebels to press hard on the SLA's original demand for 80 percent of the oil revenues of Darfur.

The Darfur peace deal of May 2006 hasn't made things any better. Even though only one faction of the SLA signed the agreement with the Sudanese government, George Bush threatened to “hold accountable” those that don't cooperate.32 The faction that did sign, led by Minni Minnawi of the Zaghawa tribe, took Bush's support as a signal to open an offensive to uproot the majority Fur tribe, which forms the base of the SLA holdouts against the peace agreement-and gives the region its name. Over the summer, the Minnawi SLA, Bush's “partner for peace” in the May agreement, led attacks that ethnically cleansed 50,000 more Darfurians from their homes.33

Journalist Paul Salopek, who was “pardoned” on September 9 by Bashir after spending thrity-four days as a government captive in Darfur, was actually first captured by Minnawi's “rebels.” He questions how an outside force can solve the region's crisis:

Vastly oversimplified as a good-versus-evil contest between African farmers and rampaging Arab herdsman armed by Khartoum, the complicated struggle is about to get a lot murkier-and more unstoppable. Once loosely united by the neglect and cruelty of the central government, the region's squabbling rebels now maul each other. They are a messy obstacle to peace. Many have devolved into ethnic militias, or worse, simple bandits.34

Those who, like Bush, call for a “robust” NATO/UN force to replace the AU monitors, have to admit that they are calling for invaders to choose sides in an evolving fight. Will foreign troops attack government forces if Bashir still refuses to bless the intervention? Will they try to disarm the Janjaweed by taking the guns away from the whole Arab population? Will they also attack the Janjaweed's opponents, the JEM rebels, who didn't sign the peace deal? And to “save Darfur,” will they start by killing Fur rebels?

Pro-interventionists sometimes ask how a NATO/UN force could make the situation worse. But the last NATO war waged in the name of refugees-the U.S.-led Kosovo war of 1999-drove the Kosovar refugee population up from 45,000 to 800,000.35 In Somalia, the U.S. intervened in 1992 under the pretext of famine aid, although the worst of the famine was over. Picking up a UN cover after the invasion, the U.S.-led “peacekeepers” sided with one set of Somali warlords against the others and, in 1993, precipitated 10,000 Somali deaths and injuries in the space of just four months of fighting. Official UN withdrawal in 1995 left Somalia to its chaos, and the CIA has continued to conduct less-than-humanitarian maneuvers in the country ever since.36

In Darfur, will NATO choose the “solution” it imposed on Bosnia and Kosovo-forcible separation of ethnic groups? In Darfur, this would mean final death for an economy that once depended on the movement and mixing of peoples. As Sudan specialist Alex de Waal declared,

A political settlement has been completely overlooked or downplayed by the U.S. The whole debate has gone off on a red herring-UN troops. From experience, we know that, ultimately, there is no real military solution to these complicated kind of ethnic wars.37

What the U.S. is really after

Far from being a neutral peacemaker, the U.S. is playing a cynical, murderous chess game on a board that's much bigger than Darfur. Africa's untapped reserves of oil and other resources-controlled mostly by poverty-stricken, weak states-make it a target for escalating rival interventions. The call for more troops to enter Darfur now can only legitimate a series of future interventions into Africa's crises-through which U.S. corporations can position themselves to seize the lion's share in a renewed plunder of the continent.

Besides the U.S., which abandoned many of its African connections when Cold War rivalries subsided, the other major player is China, which has become the world's second largest consumer of oil.

China is using its major strength-ready cash-to build relations with African rulers through loans and direct investment. In some places, Chinese capital is pushing aside the influence of the U.S.-led IMF. Angola, for example, recently took a $2 billion loan from China rather than submitting to the surveillance that comes with IMF money. In return, China won rights to Angolan offshore oil.38

Sudan is China's biggest overseas oil project, where it has invested $8 billion in oil infrastructure during the ten years since the U.S. broke relations with the government. Sudan has spent as much as to 80 percent of its oil revenue on arms, mostly from China-which has supplied tanks, fighters, bombers, helicopters, machine guns, and grenade launchers.39

But military connections are really the U.S. strong suit. Within countries such as Pakistan, Indonesia, or Colombia, the U.S. has ensured its long-term influence through intimate connections with the military. In Africa, the 2002 re-formation of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union opened new possibilities for military links. The new AU charter authorized armed force against member states that violate “democratic principles,” and the U.S. stepped in to offer itself as the supplier and trainer of AU forces. It has also forged closer ties with Nigeria and South Africa, the countries with the most clout in the AU-and thus the ones to determine where the AU puts its troops.

The U.S. seeks to anchor its African military presence with a new “African Command” on the island of São Tome, which lies just off the oil-rich coast of West Africa. John Pike of recently told the Asia Times, “Military planners like the idea of an offshore presence since it reduces the impression of a neocolonial maneuver.… So far there has been a clear preference…to lie low and work through African institutions to train troops and strengthen security.”40

The U.S. further covers its tracks by acting through corporate contractors. In Darfur, Dyncorp and Pacific Architects and Engineers provide transport, communications, and shelter for the thirty-four AU encampments. Closely connected to the CIA, Dyncorp offers a combination of high-tech services and the muscle of former U.S. military employees. As Eric Niiler of NPR's Marketplace remarked, “Using private contractors is a way for the U.S. government to keep a regional conflict at arm's length while still keeping a hand in the outcome.” Dyncorp also trained the Rwandans and Senegalese members of the AU force-and flew the Rwandans in. In southern Sudan, where 10,000 UN “peacekeepers” are already stationed, Dyncorp is training former SPLA rebels to become regular Sudanese army troops.41

Even though the plan for a NATO/UN intervention calls for no U.S. troops, the U.S.-its contractors and its CIA-would be deeply involved behind the scenes, just as they stand behind the current AU force.

Dyncorp may be best known for supplying the “civilian” thugs that guard the U.S. puppet ruler of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. And as NPR's Niiler notes, “Dyncorp employees have been accused of running a child sex ring in Bosnia and engaging in paramilitary activity in Colombia.” That's the humanitarian face of the U.S. intervention that's already happening in Sudan.42

Given this record, it's clear that the U.S. would take a UN/NATO occupation of Darfur as an opportunity to control Sudan's political future. The State Department already bankrolls the international branch offices of National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of Sudanese opposition groups.43 If the UN operation in the south is any guide, the U.S. will use a new intervention in Darfur to cement the ties it already has to some of Darfur's rebels. It may try to stitch together a political force, with U.S.-connected roots around the country, which can replace the Bashir government.

The State Department has already drawn up detailed plans for Sudan's future-through its Office of the Coordinator of Reconstruction and Stabilization-once the Bashir regime is out of the way. As Naomi Klein wrote last year, “teams of private companies, nongovernmental organizations and members of think tanks” stand ready to refashion Sudan and other “post-conflict” countries along U.S.-friendly, neoliberal lines.44

In the meantime, the U.S. collaborates with Bashir in the “war on terror.” In the past two years, security chief Salah Abdullah Gosh, named by Africa Confidential as the third-in-command of Sudan's offensive in Darfur, has repeatedly met with the CIA and British intelligence to discuss the war against al-Qaeda.45

By backing all sides, the U.S. is like a corporation that contributes to both Democratic and Republican campaigns in order to ensure its influence over whichever party ends up on top. In Sudan, the prize is oil, and the U.S. will adjust its intervention to outmaneuver imperial competitors such as China. On the resource-rich chessboard of Africa, U.S. planners see Darfurians as pawns.

The movement to create humanitarian cover

Those who call for more troops in Darfur, “no-fly zones,” and the like, should consider another situation that can only be described as a humanitarian catastrophe. To put down a rebel uprising, the army and government-linked paramilitaries are carrying out a campaign of rape, torture, beheading, and murder, clearing out villages so they can be commercially exploited, and killing children as young as two.46 In all, tens of thousands have been killed by the army and paramilitaries, and three million people now make up one of the world's largest populations of internally displaced refugees.47 That's the situation in Colombia, a catastrophe made possible by the U.S. government.

The U.S. has trained generations of army leaders at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, engages in joint operations through the “war on drugs” and Plan Colombia, supports the current right-wing presidency of Alvaro Uribe, himself linked to the paramilitaries, and provides $3 billion annually to the government.

Aside from further undermining the idea that humanitarian aims will ever determine U.S. foreign policy, these points about Colombia should spur “save Darfur” activists to ask a couple of questions. First: Do we not have the greatest responsibility and political leverage to address the catastrophic situations in Colombia, Iraq, or Palestine, where our government is directly involved on the side of the killing? And second: Why was somebody like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, a major architect of Plan Colombia, the keynote speaker in the September 17 Central Park rally to send UN troops to Darfur?

It's clear why some others were involved. Zionists who oppose the Bashir government's Islamist politics have rallied support for intervention by stoking the fears of a “new Holocaust” inflicted by a regional antagonist of Israel. But they have a hard time fronting a humanitarian cause when Israel has just killed 1,000 Lebanese civilians and is driving residents of Gaza to the brink of famine.48 And the National Association of Evangelicals got onboard against Khartoum when it was attacking Christians in southern Sudan. But conservative Christian support for imperialism-or support from the likes of former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, Newt Gingrich, Gary Bauer, and neoconservative luminaries Jeane Kirkpatrick, Charles Krauthammer, and Bill Kristol-is just preaching to the choir. They don't convince many outside their circle that they're really concerned about human rights.

The fact is, imperialism needs liberal advocates if it's going to achieve wide appeal. A sincere face like that of screen idol George Clooney has to be at the front, as it was at a Washington, D.C., rally while Albright spoke in New York. An imperial intervention done in the name of justice also needs a stamp of approval from respected organizations like Human Rights Watch-a group that, it should be noted, decries U.S. torture in Iraq but not the occupation itself.49 And it needs liberal theorists, such as the Clinton-era architect of the Kosovo war, Madeleine Albright-or Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton-who can keep raising vain hopes that U.S. guns and bombs can become a force for liberation. In short, liberal support for intervention is necessary to open new room for imperialism to maneuver, a feat of assistance that's no more smart or humanitarian than handing a ruthless gangster a loaded gun.

We can't let ourselves be fooled again. There are plenty of things we can demand that don't strengthen the plunderers' hands. These could include canceling Sudan's debt, welcoming refugees into Europe and the U.S., fully funding their immediate needs, ceasing to fund Sudanese political parties, breaking off CIA contacts with the government, and pulling out the paramilitary private contractors. But more than particular demands, the politics of the movement behind them is what counts. The exploited and oppressed of Africa don't need an American movement built on illusions in the charitable intentions of U.S. power. They need anti-imperial allies. They need us to hold back the U.S. and give them a breathing space to identify and defeat their oppressors at home.

That's what's missing from the liberal case-the idea that the downtrodden might be able to liberate themselves. But there is no reason that Darfurians, “African” and “Arab” alike, could not have united to press Khartou m to address their crisis from the 1980s onward. Their very marginalization, however, has drawn them into reliance on outside sponsorship from stronger parties that don't have their interests at heart. But they could have real allies instead of cynical sponsors. Even in destitute Sudan, there is a working class, nearer the centers of political and economic power, which has a history of intervening in the country's politics.50 It has the potential, if politically organized, to offer the revolts of marginalized populations a new pole of attraction, one that stands for uniting to share the wealth among all the region's oppressed. Building such a workers' alternative is no easy thing, but Africans will have an easier time of it if they have anti-imperialist allies in the U.S. who prevent their government from intervening to play the only game it knows: divide and rule.

Avery Wear is an antiwar and immigrant rights activist in San Diego. David Whitehouse is reviews editor of the ISR.

1 The death figure is the low-end estimate of a recent study that reevaluated evidence gathered in all previous surveys, John Hagan and Alberto Palloni, “Death in Darfur,” Science, September 15, 2006. The authors and many others believe that the real figure could be much higher. The World Health Organization estimated in 2004 that 15 percent of deaths were caused by war wounds, and most of the rest by diarrhea, pneumonia, and other illnesses attributable to refugee conditions. See “Surveys conclude deaths in Darfur exceed the emergency threshold,”

2 Samantha Power, “Dying in Darfur,” New Yorker, August 30, 2004; Alex de Waal, “Darfur's deep grievances defy all hopes for an easy solution,” Observer, July 25, 2004.

3 Xan Rice, “Darfur's rebel forces turn on each other,” Guardian, May 17, 2006, and Todd Pitman, “Darfur peace accord sparks rising insecurity,” Mail and Guardian, August 7, 2006. On previous frictions among the rebels, see “Rebels posing as janjawid,” Al Jazeera, August 3, 2004, and “Darfur's rebels: No angels,” Economist, August 26, 2004.

4 For example, see Elaine Engeler, “Torture worse in Iraq now than under Saddam,” Associated Press, September 21, 2006.

5 Justin Podur, “The forgotten conflicts in Sudan,” ZNet, March 14, 2004,

6 See De Waal, and Coco McCabe, “Traveling down West Salvation Road,” Oxfam America, December 15, 2004,

7 Fantu Cheru, “The role of the IMF and World Bank in the agrarian crisis of Sudan and Tanzania: Sovereignty vs. Control,” in Bade Onimode (ed.), The IMF, the World Bank and the African Debt, Vol. 2: The Social and Political Impact (New Jersey: Zed Books, 1989), 77-78.

8 Ibid., 81-82.

9 de Waal.

10 Cheru, 80.

11 On the revival of the north-south civil war, see Podur.

12 Karl Vick, “Oil money supercharges Sudan's civil war,” International Herald Tribune, June 13, 2001.

13 Ibid.

14 Chris Talbot, “Sudan: Death of Garang sets back U.S. plans,” World Socialist Web Site, August 5, 2005,


15 Talbot.

16 Ramzy Baroud, “Taking peace in Sudan rather seriously,” January 19, 2005,


17 Timothy Carney, “Intelligence failure?: Let's go back to Sudan,” Washington Post, June 30, 2002.

18 Vick.

19 Opheera McDoom, “China's interests in Sudan bring diplomatic cover,” Reuters, December 17, 2005.

20 Barbara Slaughter, “Mbeki facilitates U.S.-Sudan peace deal,” World Socialist Web Site, January 15, 2005,


21 Talbot.

22 Fred Pearce, “Africa's deserts are in 'spectacular retreat,'” New Scientist, September 18, 2002.

23 Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, “Ideology in arms: The emergence of Darfur's Janjaweed,” Sudan Tribune, August 30, 2005.

24 Ibid.

25 Alex de Waal, “Counter-insurgency on the cheap,” London Review of Books, August 5, 2004. Alex de Waal, “Victims of genocide, 2005,” ZNet, February 11, 2005.

26 Ibid.

27 “Darfur rising: Sudan's new crisis,” International Crisis Group, March 25, 2004,

28 Alex de Waal, “Review of Gerard Prunier, Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide,” Times Literary Supplement, August 8, 2005.

29 Brian Smith, “Mounting evidence of U.S. destabilization of Sudan,” World Socialist Web Site, November 19, 2004,

30 Ibid.

31 “Sudan says oil discovered in Darfur,” Sudan Watch, April 16, 2005.

32 Michael Faul, “Joy, concern over Darfur accord,” Associated Press, May 6, 2006.

33 Pitman, “Darfur peace accord sparks rising insecurity.”

34 Paul Salopek, “My time in Darfur,” Chicago Tribune, October 8, 2006.

35 Lance Selfa, “Can U.S. military intervention ever bring justice?” Socialist Worker, May 19, 2006.

36 Eric Schmitt, “Somali war casualties may be 10,000,” New York Times, December 8, 1993; Gerard Prunier, “CIA coup in Somalia,” Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2006.

37 Quoted in Salopek.

38 Victor Mallet, “The ugly face of China's presence in Africa,” Financial Times, September 14, 2006.

39 See David Blair, “Oil-hungry China takes Sudan under its wing,” Telegraph, April 23, 2005, and Peter S. Goodman, “China invests heavily in Sudan's oil industry: Beijing supplies arms used on villagers,” Washington Post, December 23, 2004.

40 Jason Motlagh, “China's Africa Corps,” Asia Times, September 21, 2006.

41 “America: Helping the people of Sudan,” U.S. Bureau of Public Affairs, August 25, 2006. Eric Niiler, “Washington using more private military contractors rather than military troops at overseas trouble spots,” NPR transcript, December 7, 2004, “U.S. firm to turn south Sudan rebels into soldiers,” Reuters, August 13, 2006.

42 Niiler.

43 Ibid.

44 Naomi Klein, “The rise of disaster capitalism,” Nation, April 13, 2005.

45 “Sudan: It'll do what it can get away with,” Economist, December 1, 2005.

46 Nicole Colson, “Murdered by the Colombian military,” Socialist Worker, March 4, 2005.

47 Pablo Serrano, “Terrorized by the Colombian army,” Socialist Worker, November 18, 2005.

48 Elizabeth Schulte, “Pushed to the edge of famine,” Socialist Worker, September 15, 2006.

49 See Human Rights Watch World Report 2006 (New York: Seven Stories Press), 1-9, 446-53.

50 For a capsule history, see Mahgoub Sid Ahmed, “Human rights and the development of the workers' movement in the Sudan 1946-1996,” Sudan Human Rights Organization-Cairo Branch, http://

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