Friday, April 28, 2006

From Bad to Worse in Darfur

Not too long ago, a young mother put down the child that suckled at her breast and stood in the path of an onslaught that tore her village asunder.

The blood soaked into the dirt roads of Darfur as the Janjawid swept through. They killed every man and child that they came across and raped every woman.

The “lucky” ones (And as you’ll see, the word “lucky” can be defined quite subjectively) escaped and crossed the border into Chad. The others swelter and decay in the desert heat. A trip through the Darfur region must look more than a little like a walk through the ruins of Pompeii, the twisted, mangled bodies lying where they fell.

It’s easy to write it off as racially motivated violence, for that element is certainly there. The Janjawid are Arab, proxies of the barely existent government in Khartoum. Their victims are black.

But as in so many war zones around the globe, the real reason for the slaughter lies beneath the surface, for the farms of Darfur sit atop oil fields.

Usually, when there’s a drop of oil in the ground, we’re in a hurry to step in. Things are, of course, complicated by our heavy deployment into Iraq for the Great WMD Snipe Hunt.

But there’s another consideration. Apparently, Sudan throws us a bone from time to time on al Qaeda. We’ve got a history of looking the other way in exchange for information of al Qaeda. If you doubt that, I would suggest a quick trip to Uzbekistan to talk to the families of the people that their president, Islam Karimov, ordered to be boiled alive.

If you’re wondering just what information the Sudanese can be giving us about an organization that left their shores almost a decade ago that can be worth overlooking a massacre on this scale, you’re not the only one. Every so often, a Bush administration official (Perhaps not coincidentally, usually the African-American ones) will take the world stage, wag a finger, and say “Stop it or we’ll spank you.” But the Sudanese government pretends that they’re not sponsoring the Janjawid (And never really coming up with a plausible explanation as to exactly who was supplying the Janjawid with helicopter gunships and Antonov fighter planes).

So what about the refugees from Darfur? I saw some video from inside the refugee camp not too long ago. There are supplies, but never nearly enough. So another young mother had fashioned a piece of animal hide into a makeshift vessel. From sunup to sundown, she walked back and forth from the squalor of the refugee camp to a body of water so rancid that Americans wouldn’t even urinate in it. It wasn’t exactly watertight, so by the time she made it back to her young children, there was never more than a mouthful left. But that tiny amount of water was all that stood between her children and an agonizing death, so she made the trip all day, every day.

I’ll never forget the face of her youngest child. Malnutrition has a way of obscuring a child’s age, so it could have been anywhere from two to four years old. I’m not certain whether it was a boy or a girl. They all look the same when malnutrition is making their hair fall out. He or she was crying, but was far too dehydrated to generate real tears. His eyes, almost hollow sockets, were surrounded by a thick, oozing mucus. Medical expertise is not required to know that child was not long for this earth.

As bad as things were then, they just got worse today. I was quite sad to see that the UN has announced they are cutting aid to the refugees of Darfur. They’re citing “donor fatigue”.

I’m quite fatigued by it as well. I have this feeling that if the victims of this genocide were one shade closer to the skin tone of the ruling class of this nation, we already would have swept into town and displaced the Sudanese government.

Let’s not pretend this one is far beyond us. Foreign Policy Magazine just issued their 2006 Failed States Index, and Sudan is number one. Foreign policy wonks, let’s put this in perspective--- They ranked the Sudanese government as being less stable than Iraq’s, where there is an open civil war. If we simply imposed sanctions on them and cut off the money supply for a very short time, the Sudanese government would crumble into the same dust as their Darfuri victims.

But that’s simply not good enough. Drop a dozen National Guardsmen into Darfur, and there will never be another shot fired. The Sudanese simply cannot risk open warfare against us. They don’t mind bumping up against Chad--- The Janjawid have crossed the border and attacked the refugee camps several times. But they will not risk warfare with us.

We’ve gone to war for some pretty weak reasons. Nonexistent WMDs, a hearty game of Saddam Whack-a-Mole, a fictional attack in the Gulf of Tonkin… But this is worthwhile. Darfuri bodies are still hitting the dirt at an alarming rate, and the government in Khartoum is still not fooling anyone when they feign innocence.

And this is a situation where we can genuinely make a difference. If we can muster the will, that is.

Sometime soon, yet another young mother in Darfur will put down the child that suckles at her breast and stand in the path of an onslaught that is tearing her village asunder.

When that happens, I would like for the United States military to have her back. Because her life is worth something too.

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