Monday, April 24, 2006

Are Liberals Failing the China-Darfur “Test”?

"I was in Darfur 20 years ago and people were killing each other then. It's an ancient battle between nomadic people and settled people, between Arab Africans and black Africans, between Islam and Christians ... The reason why it has not been resolved is because of China," Geldof said.
AP, Geldof Blames China for Problems in Darfur, April 20, 2006

An ancient African struggle that the Chinese are to blame for? Am I the only one for whom Sir Bob’s remarks elicit the spoink of cognitive dissonance?

Probably so, because dumping on China for its cynical Sudan policies is the cause du jour, especially on the liberal side of the blogosphere.

Nicholas Kristof’s call for 13 million Chinese internet users to rise up and flex their atrophied moral muscles with a call for China to confront its Darfur responsibilities has been linked to with approval by Asia-centric bloggers.

I’m not one of the chorus, because I regard a lot of the Darfur talk as an attempt to counter China’s highly successful economics-driven foreign policy in the third world.

And there may be a local tactical aspect to Washington’s ostentatious outrage as well.

The best thing I’ve read recently on China has been Howard French’s analysis of the covert “Beijing consensus” of economic penetration, contrasted with Washington’s increasingly unpopular reliance on the grim mathematics of zero-sum confrontation to rally allies outside of Europe and Japan.

As I recently posted, Washington’s rhetorical riposte to Beijing’s foreign policy thrust has been the relatively toothless epithet of “mercantilism”. Robert Zoellick has contributed the concept of the “responsible stakeholder”, which is so bloodless and corporate that the Chinese wonk establishment has appropriated the term as its own.

Given the way Beijing has been cleaning our clock in the Third World hearts and minds department in the last three years, by far a more effective way for America to assert that what’s wrong with the world is China’s amoral pursuit of economic advantage is to abandon doctrinal hairsplitting and simply point to Darfur.

Nick Kristof’s op-ed is of a piece with this thinking. He declares that Darfur is a test of China’s obligation to engage in “increasingly responsible behavior”. And right now, China is, according to him, “failing the test”.

After all, China has formed a close reliance with the Sudanese regime in order to obtain access to its oil, which reportedly accounts for 6 to 7% of China’s imports. The PRC reportedly provides military assistance to the regime as well as diplomatic cover at the UN.

All bona fide bad guy stuff.

But one also has to believe that the Sudan would still be pretty screwed up without China.

As the invaluable Wikipedia informs us, the Darfur crisis is the second civil war in recent years between the Arab Muslim regime and other ethnic groups in Sudan. The first civil war, with the non-Muslim south, was settled with a truce and sharing of oil revenues between the central government and the local forces.

The second war, between non-Arab Muslims of Darfur and the central government, commenced in 2002 with attacks by rebels of the Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement. The central government, apparently uncertain of the loyalty of its conventional ground troops (predominantly of Darfur origin), took the disastrous tack of turning to air attacks and an ethnic cleansing campaign against Darfur villages conducted by an Arab irregular militia, the Janjaweed, in order to counter the rebel strength in the area.

As a result, divisions between Arab pastoralists and non-Arab agriculturalists in the Darfur regime have been exacerbated and, one would expect, rendered permanent.

Peace negotiations between the rebels and the central government, a refugee crisis, a state of belligerence between Chad and Sudan, mediation through the offices of African states and organizations, arguments about whether the incendiary and politically useful charge of “genocide” can be applied to Sudan (answer, according to the UN, No, and according to George Bush and John Kerry, Yes), half-assed peacekeeping initiatives by the African Union, and bloviating by the Great White Fathers of Europe and the United States through the U.N. seem to have had little effect on the Sudanese regime’s determination to proceed with the ethnic cleansing of Darfur and create the “facts on the ground” it deems necessary to its security before the world community takes any meaningful steps to stop it.

Unless one is infected with terminal win-win optimism, there doesn’t appear to be any good solution to the Darfur problem.

The Sudan regime has taken its fateful bite of the ethnic cleansing apple, and there’s no easy return to whatever previous state of grace the nation enjoyed.

Given the orgy of rape, murder, and pillage that the Janjaweed have conducted in Darfur on behalf of the Sudanese government, a return to the status quo ante of somewhat peaceful coexistence and low-level friction between Arab and non-Arab Muslims seems impossible.

The Sudanese government’s probity and political and moral stature are fatally compromised by its encouragement of the ethnic cleansing campaign. A sealed report delivered to the International Criminal Court by the UN in 2005 reported includes a list of 51 war crimes suspects, including many high officials of the Sudanese government.

So it looks like the way forward for Sudan is 1) the world and the regime grits its teeth as a bloody, unjust, and criminal policy is applied successfully in Darfur or 2) Sudan staggers along, an imperfectly punished outlaw state in diplomatic limbo 3) Western troops and money establishes a safe haven in Darfur or 4) Western power forcibly impose a new, advantageous security arrangement on Sudan like we did in Yugoslavia: the outlaw state is attacked, its leaders imprisoned, and sovereignty is divided between various ethnic stakeholders subservient to the West.

Re Option 3, there was some agitation from the Madeleine Albright quadrant last year for using NATO to augment the woefully undermanned and underequipped African Union troops to protect Darfur. However, “Kurdifying” (create an ethnic enclave that was autonomous, permanent, and de facto independent) would simply take the responsibility for Darfur security off the shoulders of the Sudan government while creating a First-World funded buffer between Chad and Sudan—to my thinking, more of a gift to the Sudan regime rather than a punishment.

Also, it has a whiff of that open-ended Clinton incrementalism that the Bush administration repudiated in Iraq when it announced its disdain for “managing” the problem through sanctions, no-fly zones, and containment, and “solved” the problem instead through an invasion.

Finally, one thing that is totally unambiguous is Sudan’s fear and suspicion of an effective military force, be it American, UN, African, NATO, Chinese, or whatever, operating independently in the Darfur region and challenging the regime’s military and political supremacy.

However, Option 4, a Yugoslavia-style regime change undertaking is, given the global outrage over Darfur, somewhat surprisingly not on anybody’s drawing board.

NATO has apparently decided that it does not want Darfur as its first test case to flex its military muscles as world supercop outside the confines of Europe.

Invasion and regime change seem to be off the table, not only for NATO and the EU, but for Washington as well.

Sudan’s Arab Muslims seem to be rather strongly behind the Khartoum regime, and inside the Beltway martial fantasies of decapitating strikes and third-world thugs bending knee to righteous democratic conquerors is probably tempered by images of Black Hawk Down, a Muslim quagmire in Africa to bookend the fiasco in Iraq, and expectations that a new Arab Muslim warlord would probably arise from the rubble of a half-hearted regime-change adventure to reprise the role of the current strongman, Omar al-Bashir.

So, we have a situation in which the West is unwilling to select what might be the best option to end the humanitarian crisis through creation of an expensive and exasperating buffer zone between Darfur and the Sudan and an immense, open-ended effort to construct, fund, protect, and maintain refugee camps for the isolated population.

Military action—the seductive alternative for the great powers—to change the regime and its behavior, and reconstruct a shattered society so that the warring ethnic factions can be reconciled—is a job too big, dangerous, African, and Muslim for the US, UN, or NATO to consider, let alone the Chinese.

So we’re down with Options 1 and 2, which both depend on Darfur somehow becoming a small enough problem, either through the bloody efficiency of the Sudan government or the exhaustion of its enthusiasm for ethnic cleansing, for the West to comfortably ignore it.

That’s before the Chinese come on the scene and cynically cozied up this regime to make oil deals.

So, contra Sir Bob and Nick Kristof, although the Chinese might have plenty of Darfur blood on their hands, China doesn’t represent the origin of, or necessarily the solution to, the Darfur crisis.

In fact, Darfur may be simply another arena in which the Great Game between China and the US is acted out.

Undoubtedly the Chinese don’t like being in the Western bullseye on Darfur.

But they are stuck there.

Chinese oil interests are hostage to the Sudanese government.

The most likely consequence of a harder, more human-rights friendly line against the Sudan by China is the Chinese getting thrown out on their ear and Sudan turning its allegiance and exports over to the West.

Because, in my view, Sudan is not helplessly and exclusively dependent on Chinese support.

An oil exporting nation is never bereft of friends, leverage, or options.

And Sudan is probably no exception.

A rational pariah state might accept aid and support from China; but it would buy insurance by keeping channels open to the West.

And that’s exactly what I believe is happening.

Ever since early 2005, the Bush administration has been ratcheting down the pressure on Sudan over Darfur.

The administration has backed away from calling the ethnic cleansing “genocide”.

Ironically—or significantly—depending on how you construe it, Robert Zoellick, US Assistant Secretary of State and current proponent of the “responsible stakeholder” role for China, was called upon to visit Khartoum in April 2005 and skate away awkwardly from the genocide assertions previously made both by the US Congress and Colin Powell.

The US government reportedly welcomed a top Sudanese official, Major General Gosh—an architect of the ethnic cleansing program, no less--to Washington.

Rightwing fireeater John Bolton has promoted limited, toothless, and ineffectual sanctions and condemnation in the United Nations.

The official backstory is that Sudan has played the War on Terror card and Washington recognizes it as a valuable though unsavory asset in the battle against al Qaeda.

I have my doubts.

Sudan is far enough beyond the pale as an outlaw, radical Muslim state that stands accused of genocide, that its contributions against al Qaeda in the heart of Africa should not be sufficient to gain it an alliance with the United States.

Sudan’s other civil war, between the central government and the Christian tribes to the south, may have played a role in Washington’s rapprochement with Khartoum.

This conflict had made confronting Sudan a hot-button issue for the Christian evangelical movement in the United States and the Bush administration. According to the LA Times, notorious Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff had unsuccessfully solicited the stupendous sum of $18 million dollars from the Sudanese government in 2002 for his good offices in pleading Sudan’s case with Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition.

However, a peace treaty concluded this conflict in 2005 and partial, sub rosa normalization of relations between Sudan and the United States might have been a quid pro quo for an outcome that mattered deeply to President Bush’s evangelical base.

The United States, perhaps not unhappily engaged with the Sudan regime at last and with a diminished emotional stake in the Darfur tragedy, may have seen it primarily as an opportunity to discommode China.

A genuinely aggressive campaign by the United States of condemnation, ostracization, and destabilization on the issue of Darfur would simply drive Sudan irrevocably into the Chinese camp.

On the other hand, accommodating Sudan offers the US the chance that the Chinese can be expelled from one of their most precious spheres of influence—that’s a gambit in the Great Game that’s worth playing.

If this analysis is correct, then Sudan is playing a double game, relying upon Chinese economic, military, and diplomatic support while at the same time encouraging American hopes that it may eventually veer to the West.

American equivocation and Sudanese opportunism have placed China in the awkward position of having too much at stake and too little leverage in Khartoum.

So, if Chinese bloggers unite behind a campaign to support sanctions against Sudan (sanctions which Kristof himself derides as “the most feeble sanctions possible”), one likely outcome is that China gets kicked out of Sudan, Sudanese oil ends up in US gas tanks, and ethnic cleansing in Darfur continues without respite.

If this was a test for unintended consequences--blind promotion of a supposedly high-minded and moral foreign policy that yielded a catastrophic result--China would indeed “pass the test”: the same test that Nick Kristof and the New York Times and interventionist liberals in general passed when they condoned the invasion of Iraq.

4 comments:

Anna said...

I don't think that Africa and China were connected so close earlier...Winstrol

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