Darfur: NY Times op-ed blames the victims

Alan J. Kuperman, author of Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention: Moral Hazard, Rebellion and Civil War, has a positively ghastly op-ed in the New York Times May 31, blaming the Darfur guerillas for sparking the genocide–as if they had taken up arms arbitrarily and not because Darfur’s Black Africans were already second-class citizens in their own land before the war began, as if the Fur had not been deported as slaves and usurped of their lands for generations, as if the iniquities of the Arab-dominated Khartoum regime had not been recognized by the world in the peace accord that ended the war in southern Sudan last year, as if the betrayal of the Black Africans of Darfur by their non-inclusion in those accords was not a key factor in the decision to take up arms. Worse than a Pilate-like washing of the hands, Kuperman actually advocates giving Khartoum a free hand to crush the guerillas (what, have they been restraining themselves thus far?). The fact that this noxious piece of propaganda is given such good billing (the lead op-ed) is the clearest evidence yet that US elites are divided on how to handle Sudan, with a significant faction opting for wooing the genocidal Khartoum regime as GWOT allies (or proxies). Hell, why not? It isn’t like the US didn’t do essentially the same thing in Guatemala a generation ago… Some excerpts, for those with strong stomachs:

Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region’s blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago — denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations. The most extreme Islamists are not in the government but in a faction of the rebels sponsored by former Deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Turabi, after he was expelled from the regime. Cease-fires often have been violated first by the rebels, not the government, which has pledged repeatedly to admit international peacekeepers if the rebels halt their attacks.

This reality has been obscured by Sudan’s criminally irresponsible reaction to the rebellion: arming militias to carry out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency. These Arab forces, who already resented the black tribes over past land disputes and recent attacks, were only too happy to rape and pillage any village suspected of supporting the rebels.

In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur’s rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide — which erupted only after they rebelled — but to gain tribal domination.

The strongest faction, representing the minority Zaghawa tribe, signed the sweetened peace deal in hopes of legitimizing its claim to control Darfur. But that claim is vehemently opposed by rebels representing the larger Fur tribe. Such internecine disputes only recently hit the headlines, but the rebels have long wasted resources fighting each other rather than protecting their people.

Advocates of intervention play down rebel responsibility because it is easier to build support for stopping genocide than for becoming entangled in yet another messy civil war. But their persistent calls for intervention have actually worsened the violence.

The rebels, much weaker than the government, would logically have sued for peace long ago. Because of the Save Darfur movement, however, the rebels believe that the longer they provoke genocidal retaliation, the more the West will pressure Sudan to hand them control of the region. Sadly, this message was reinforced when the rebels’ initial rejection of peace last month was rewarded by American officials’ extracting further concessions from Khartoum.

The key to rescuing Darfur is to reverse these perverse incentives. Spoiler rebels should be told that the game is over, and that further resistance will no longer be rewarded but punished by the loss of posts reserved for them in the peace agreement.

Ultimately, if the rebels refuse, military force will be required to defeat them. But this is no job for United Nations peacekeepers. Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia show that even the United States military cannot stamp out Islamic rebels on their home turf; second-rate international troops would stand even less chance.

Rather, we should let Sudan’s army handle any recalcitrant rebels, on condition that it eschew war crimes. This option will be distasteful to many, but Sudan has signed a peace treaty, so it deserves the right to defend its sovereignty against rebels who refuse to, so long as it observes the treaty and the laws of war.

Again, we’ve argued ourselves that the Darfur situation is a knot of complexities and Western intervention is no panacea–indeed, could even make things worse. But (as we’ve also repeatedly argued) an anti-intervention argument cannot be predicated on illusions about the Khartoum regime, or blame-the-victim thinking.

See our last post on Darfur.