Sunday, May 21, 2006

Darfur's Fleeting Moment

The New York Times
Darfur's Fleeting Moment


FOR three years, despite the official rhetoric and the growing public support for bold international action to end the first genocide of the 21st century, Darfur has largely remained a neglected tragedy.

Until now. With the signing of a peace agreement in Nigeria on May 5, Darfur, in western Sudan, faces a new and more hopeful prospect. Although two of the main rebel groups did not sign the accord, the Sudanese government and the largest insurgent faction did. President Bush's support of the peace process deserves applause, as does Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick's leadership at the negotiating table.

But as recent fighting between the rebel factions makes painfully clear, this significant achievement is in reality a window of opportunity that could close soon, leaving Darfur still more gravely afflicted. If the piece of paper signed in Nigeria does not quickly produce tangible progress toward peace, including protection for Darfur's people from both the government-backed janjaweed militia and the rebels, more than diplomatic momentum will be lost. Deepened anger and despair could defeat future efforts at peace and provide fertile ground for the seeds of military conflict and even terrorism, as demonstrated by Al Qaeda's recent threat to take jihad to Sudan.

Last Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting the peace agreement and created a team to prepare for a peacekeeping mission that will take over from the African Union force in Darfur.

To seize the moment, the Bush administration should go beyond calling for urgency at the United Nations in planning a peacekeeping force. It should also give the government of Sudan a brief time in which to accept such a force. Sudan has said it would do so once there was a peace agreement, but has waffled in recent statements. It must be held to its words.

Mr. Bush should also now get ready the logistics, intelligence and headquarters assistance that the United States could provide to such a force. Showing we are prepared to act quickly should help persuade the United Nations to move smartly itself.

President Bush could join President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who was instrumental in pushing through the peace agreement, in personally soliciting pledges of troops for a United Nations force. While NATO itself will not be accepted by the Sudanese government, why not include alliance members in a United Nations operation?

And Washington should make it clear that if Sudan refuses to accept a United Nations force, we will press NATO to act even without the consent of the Sudanese government — including a no-flight zone to ground the Sudanese aircraft that have provided support to the murderous janjaweed. And we would bring further sanctions to bear.

While recent sanctions by the United States and the United Nations against four Sudanese men involved in the genocide are a step in the right direction, far more expansive measures should be taken against the high-level propagators of genocide based in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, if they block a United Nations force. Beyond multilateral sanctions, the United States could work with countries where Sudanese officials have assets or hope to travel to impose penalties on them.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis grows more desperate. As the needs grow, money to meet them has dwindled. The World Food Program is halving daily rations to Darfurian refugees to a dangerous 1,050 calories a day. Unicef is being forced to scale back its operations, including its nutritional programs for children. The president has asked Congress to increase food aid to Sudan by $225 million. That request must be put on a fast track.

And the many Americans who have voiced their outrage at the dithering of the international community should and can act as well as speak — by contributing to humanitarian organizations like Unicef, the International Rescue Committee and Doctors Without Borders.

At the United Nations World Summit meeting last September, the United States and other participating governments agreed that the international community has a responsibility to protect innocent civilians when a government is unwilling or unable to do so. In a letter organized by the Stanford chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur and personally delivered to one of the president's aides last month, we, along with 16 of our colleagues, called on President Bush and Secretary Rice to lead the international community in honoring this pledge.

A failure of international will has allowed Darfur to bleed into another year of rape, slaughter and starvation. Only strong leadership and urgent, resolute action can save lives before this moment of hope is lost.

Anthony Lake, a professor at Georgetown, was a national security adviser to President Bill Clinton. Francis Fukuyama, a professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins, is the author of "America at the Crossroads."