Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Omar al-Bashir has played you for fools

Oh sure - we've all seen the news about the Darfur conflict since it began nearly four years ago. Millions of refugees, you say? How awful! Rape, murder and torture? For shame! Government sponsored mass murder? We must stop this!

Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, however, is having the last laugh. Having comfortably called the world's bluff on the Darfur crisis, al-Bashir is successfully gambling that, however appalled foreign leaders and non-governmental organizations claim to be by his government's actions in Darfur, none of them will lift a finger to stop him. Because that might require war, and war is, like, bad and stuff.

Instead, al-Bashir has stalled for time by halfheartedly playing the diplomacy game, making, and then forgetting, 'tentative' peace agreements, knowing all the while that if push comes to shove, he can rest easy knowing that the same "international community" who spends so much time talking about Darfur would never do anything about beyond issuing dozens of sternly worded letters of condemnation, and perhaps, trade sanctions. Not surprisingly, al-Bashir isn't losing any sleep over any of this. In fact, it's hard to believe he isn't enjoying watching them squirm.

The endless faux-diplomacy has also been an excellent way to chew up the clock. While "concerned" United Nations diplomats fly between New York and Khartoum, the government sponsored janjaweed militias are mopping up in Darfur. By the time the world actually resolved to take concrete actions, their job will be completely finished, and al Bashir can wash his hands of the whole affair.

What is more surprising is the way Omar al-Bashir's name is rarely linked to the news about Darfur. As dictator, he is the architect of the war against the rebels - and the population - in Darfur. To date, I have not seen any world leaders suggest that the best chance of stopping the Darfur crisis might be a change in the Sudanese leadership. After all, that might "smack of imperialism" (heaven forfend!) and "complicate diplomatic negotiations".

It's time to get something straight, here. Omar al-Bashir is not afraid of trade sanctions. He's not afraid of the opprobrium of leaders in America or Switzerland. He's not afraid of the United Nations. What he most certainly is afraid of is a powerful nation bringing him to justice by force, and removing him from power. In a way, we can thank Omar al-Bashir for proving the impossibility of trying to stop genocide without using force. You'd think it's a lesson the rich and powerful nations of the world would have learned over a decade ago, but apparently, they haven't. I only hope they can justify why they were willing to let civilians in Darfur make this point for them again.

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