Look no further than Darfur.
Darfur has become a catch phrase in the US media, a name that when thrown around evokes the notion that something is wrong there. Yet, most Americans would be hard-pressed to go beyond that. With so much of US international policy and media focus on Iraq and the broader middle east, we are missing the new terrorist breeding ground. Darfur – and the broader regions of northern Africa – are becoming what Afghanistan was in the 80s. We are living in the era of failed nations, and if the international community does not do something about it, we will face the consequences.
Currently, no one in the Bush administration will even bring up Darfur, with Iraq in chaos, the situation in Afghanistan deteriorating, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict they are right to do so. The political situation in Washington is so tense and polarized that almost no new initiatives can be taken. However, Darfur is one topic that almost everyone in Washington, Europe, and the UN can agree on. The Bush administration could make great strides to improve US relations with the Islamic world by backing the UN peace efforts there.
The conflict, between Arab communities and Fur, Massaleet, and Zagawa communities has already spread into neighboring Chad and created a powerful fundamentalist militia there. Islamic fundamentalists in Somali have already taken over that failed-state (until very recently) and had forced the UN out and threatened to attack peace keepers if they returned. The Darfur situation presents an opportunity to reduce Muslim skepticism around the world, bolster the ailing UN, and help some of the at at least 500,000 people who are starving to death.
First of all the United States must do everything it can to support the United Nations in Africa. This does not require the use or commitment of troops, but the public support their efforts, and provide supplies, relief, and take a leading role. Such a move could help to heal relations with Europe as well. Second the United States must do what it can to continue support for the African nations that have fledgling democracies and economics, not militias. Failed states occur in the absence of government, and when an economy is strong, the government can be stabilized.
Washington’s long standing policy of attempting to influence the “faction-du-jour” only gives money to our friends today and leaves us with enemies who have guns the next. It is a failed policy (the US helped finance Saddam’s regime in the 60s and Bin Laden during the 80s) that does nothing but reduce American credibility across the globe. The problem is once the extremists we support gain power (with our tax dollars) it is a rare occasion that they keep any of their (real or expected) promises to Washington.
With Washington thousands of miles away it is the civilians who are left to face the consequences. By backing the UN and using a bilateral approach, the world would help to bear the burden of failed foreign policy. The Europeans have been doing this for years – make no mistake – they are as placid as can be when it comes to international crisis, though they do so through inaction by the UN. The United States could take the initiative and revitalize a dying international body, and it could do so easily.
Let us not forget that many times in crisis it is American flags that are being burned, whether the US is there or not.
Darfur has been embroiled in a deadly conflict for over three years. At least 400,000 people have been killed; more than 2 million innocent civilians have been forced to flee their homes and now live in displaced-persons camps in Sudan or in refugee camps in neighboring Chad; and more than 3.5 million men, women, and children are completely reliant on international aid for survival. Not since the Rwandan genocide of 1994 has the world seen such a calculated campaign of displacement, starvation, rape, and mass slaughter.