Monday, May 01, 2006

Darfur Rally

Yesterday was the main rally in Washington to urge the government to "do more" about Darfur. As the AP report noted, Thousands of people joined celebrities and lawmakers at a rally Sunday urging the Bush administration and Congress to help end genocide in Sudan's Darfur region. "Not on our watch!" the crowd chanted as a parade of speakers lined up for their turn on a stage on the National Mall, the Capitol serving as a backdrop.

The Darfur rally, to me, epitomized what's wrong with the American foreign policy discourse, what Harvey Sicherman calls the "hustle"--the belief in short-term, low-cost, easy solutions.

What we heard at the rally:

1. Talk about action is just as good as action. Consciousness-raising and protesting equals social responsibility. (It was also interesting that some of the coverage of the rally focused more on the participants, stressing the cross-religious, cross-ethnic, cross-political nature of the crowd, rather than on the issue of Darfur itself.)

2. "Someone else can do it." The African Union can handle the situation. (Let's just ignore the less than stunning peacekeeping successes in West Africa.) What we need is a "broad-based international force." (Code for: this means no U.S. forces). China is the problem.

I don't mean to minimize the human suffering and tremendous loss of life. But celebrities and politicians pontificating doesn't do much either. What leadership on the Darfur issue REALLY demands is the following:

1. Stopping the killing and strife requires a U.S. commitment--it requires U.S. logistics, equipment and trained personnel in sufficient numbers to be effective. It cannot be "subcontracted" out to ill-trained unmotivated conscripts from Third World militaries. Air power does not have much impact. The one feasible alternative is the one most pontificators refuse to countenance--private military contractors and mercenaries.

2. You want China to back us on Darfur--we have to be prepared to give China real commitments on its energy supply. I didn't hear any speech that said, "Paying $5 at the pump is a small price to pay for stopping genocide."

3. It is going to be complicated. To stop the killing any force has to insert itself into the situation. The force will have to navigate between defending a civilian population and "not intervening" in the political question of separatism. (The other alternative is simply to support, a la Kosovo, the separation of Darfur from Sudan).

Here the U.S. track record is not encouraging. 17,000 NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo can't quell pogroms and violence when they erupt. Peacekeepers in Bosnia from 1992-95 were also pretty ineffective (remember Srebenica?), unless forces on the ground are prepared to get down and dirty. They usually aren't.

The Darfur rally follows the Somalia script: shame the country into action. The problem is that shame is a very short term motivator.

Leadership would require American politicians to tell the truth, to make clear the costs and risks and to lay out the reasons for going. I am no White House speechwriter, but I think it would have to go something like this:

"My fellow Americans. Today I have ordered the mobilization of an American Expeditionary Force to Darfur. We have informed the government of Sudan that it can peacefully permit the deployment of U.S. forces in the region to end the cycle of violence and destruction or face the forcible intervention of the U.S. military. We have notified the various rebel groups in the west that they can peacefully stand down or run the risk of being targeted by U.S. forces.

"I have called president Hu Jintao to inform him that the United States will guarantee the equivalent of China's imports of oil from Sudan, from our own reserves if necessary, and requested that China fully support this humanitarian intervention.

"Many Americans have often lamented that we did not do more during the Holocaust, or the slaughter in Rwanda a decade ago. This is our chance to act. In ordering this intervention, I am very aware that America's sons and daughters are at risk. There are also real costs to pay, including the possibility of higher prices at the gasoline pump. We must be prepared to make sacrifices in order to guarantee the famed "Four Freedoms" to all people on this earth.

"In order to continue our operations in Iraq, in order to maintain a credible threat of military action against the mullahs in Iran and the dictator of North Korea, and in order to have sufficient forces for humanitarian action, I am asking Congress for the authority to call into service America's young. I am pleased to announce the creation of a new branch of service to begin training young Americans to serve in conflict-zone reconstruction forces, for those many young American men and women who have asked for the opportunity to serve and to be involved."

In an election year--such sentiments are highly unlikely.

What you suggest, the re-imposition of the Draft, will not be acceptable to the American people.

Moreover, its implementation would only further serve to facilitate the dissipation of US power and prestige in God-forsaken places that are ultimately irrelevant to US.

What is being suggested is in the interests of Russia and China; weaken US.
For America's couch potato kids, you don't have to go to Sudan, you can "play" a refugee on the computer. This Washington Post style section story talks about the Darfur "reality" game.

Will it raise the profile of the issue? Perhaps, but it also reinforces America's dangerous illusion about "video game" solutions.
To the first "anonymous"--I think that the point is clear. If stopping genocide is an American priority, and as Fred Hiatt's editorial in today's Washington Post makes clear, "So without U.S. leadership in a place such as Darfur, the likeliest outcome is that nothing happens." While he goes on to say unilateral action would probably be disastrous, the point is that without sufficient forces at its disposal the US can't act.
Perhaps what is needed is the development of a voluntary corps in the military (with an equivalent in the civilian bureuacracy) of people who would volunteer for these types of missions (peace-keeping, etc.) so we avoid the whole "debate over national interests" once casualties start coming home.
How successful would mercenaries and PMCs be in Darfur, given that peacekeeping is both manpower-intensive and long-term if it is to be successful? Not to mention that neither has excelled in the past at achieving strategic objectives anything like what we face in Darfur -- subduing mobile bands of janjaweed, securing food supplies and refugee encampments, and in the end overseeing a relocation of refugees from Chad and the camps back to their home villages, most of which have been destroyed and which are often located quite near the homes of those who expelled them in the first place.
Mercenaries would not be accountable for their conduct in the way that U.S. troops are. Also, given the history of mercenaries in Africa, I'm not sure using them would be welcome or would help the African Union become the kind of force that it needs to become to deal with situations like these.

The problem in Darfur won't be settled until the people who live there are able to fight back, as did those in the south Sudan. I don't know whether the people of Darfur would fight if armed, but at least it would be their decision.
Mercenaries did the job in Sierra Leone in terms of stabilizing the country and allowing elections to be held. THis is why, in part, a British parliamentary "Green Paper" recommended using PMCs as an alternative, under appropriate supervisory conditions.

I think we have to move away from thinking of mercenaries as the Wild Geese of the movies in favor of PMCs that are comprised, usually of professional retired military and police.

There is no reason why we can't contract out with firms that are members of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA):

Here is an excerpt from their code of conduct:

This Code of Conduct seeks to ensure the ethical standards of International Peace Operations Association member companies operating in conflict and post-conflict environments so that they may contribute their valuable services for the benefit of internaitonal peace and human security.

Members of IPOA are pledged to the following principles in all their operations:

Human Rights

In all their operations, Signatories will respect the dignity of all human beings and strictly adhere to all relevant international laws and protocols on human rights. They will take every practicable measure to minimize loss of life and destruction of property. Signatories agree to follow all rules of international humanitarian law and human rights law that are applicable as well as all relevant international protocols and conventions, including but not limited to:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
Geneva Conventions (1949)
Protocols Additional to the Geneva Conventions (1977)
Chemical Weapons Convention (1993)
Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (2000)
The Sudan debate is a perfect example of the dilemma U.S. politicians face: the "right" thing to do is to intervene, to stop the killing and genocide. But the right thing is neither cheap nor easy in terms of blood, treasure, engagement and attention.

David's question is a variant of the 1990s "lift and strike" proposal for Bosnia--give locals the means of self-defense, forcing the central government in Khartoum to have to negotiate a settlement. But even that variant still requires, at some point, international involvement, because the main Sudanese government will always be able to buy better weapons; plus with armed groups now fighting they can shift the focus away from genocide toward "this is an armed rebellion." So sending arms may delay the question of U.S. involvement but doesn't end it altogether.
Once again, the realists stand in the way of a humanitarian intervention. This is why realism will never appeal to the American spirit.

"Humanitarian" intervention is a fantasy. It was so in Bosnia, it was so in Kosovo. We have to be able to give War (Civil War) a chance for these peoples to settle their scores and come to a (bloody) understnding. We cannot live other people's histories for them. Humanitarian intervention is a chimera, right up there with the liberal fantasies that gave us Vietnam and neo-Conservative ones that gave us Iraq.

The only successfull and defensible humanitarian intervention that I know of was the initial phase of Somalia operations under GHWB.
Anonymous, does that mean you feel that troops should have been withdrawn from Somalia in December 1992/January 1993 after the food aid arrived?
Yes, absolutely.
Soldier of Fortune,

I was completely unaware that private military contractors had a professional association and code of conduct such as you describe. This changes my view. As long as member firms clear what they do with their countries of origin (so that PMC activities are in sync with national objectives), then I see very good reasons to employ PMCs in assignments that the UN or regional organizations cannot for the time being fulfill and that electorates in PMC countries of origin are reluctant to send regular troops to carry out.

It is troubling, however, to see PMCs employed in places where Special Operations troops are also deployed at a fraction of what PMCs are paid. It may be that what is going on is more like a continuum in which PMC work is a way for military personnel to continue in a private capacity to serve U.S. goals and get paid something closer to what they are worth. But I would be interested to know whether you think there is a problem and whether the military on balance benefits from career opportunities like these in the private sector.

This was the conclusion of a 2004 report (in the executive summary) issued by the British American Security Information Council, which noted:

The lure of higher salaries is causing an exodus of U.S. and British special forces to PMCs just as these military forces are being asked to play an increasing role in combating terrorism and helping to conduct nation-building operations worldwide. Competition over elite troops from private companies is so intense that the U.S. and British military commanders are formulating new pay, benefits, and educational incentives to try to retain them.
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