A new approach to Darfur: Shake hands with the devil

Andrew Natsios, a former U.S. special representative to the Sudan, argues in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs for a more pragmatic approach towards Darfur and peace in Sudan.

In brief: We’ve tried the stick, he says, and it ended in failure. So we need to think about the carrot.

What few successes the international community has helped to create—the signing of the peace agreement between north and south, for instance—were the result of conciliation and diplomacy, not of hard-line actions and words. Coming from Natsios, a former hard-liner, this is powerful stuff.

Natsios also takes a wary and critical view of the “save Darfur” crusaders:

The [ruling party’s] leaders are worried that U.S. policy might change to their disadvantage under the next U.S. President and that they have only until the end of 2008 to improve relations with Washington—a point I have reinforced in all of my conversations with them.

Unfortunately, rapprochement may face substantial resistance in the United States because the erroneous impression that tens of thousands of civilians continue to be slaughtered in Darfur is driving both a confrontational advocacy campaign and aggressive congressional action.

(Timely related article: Matt Damon leads the star-studded protests on Darfur day of action)

What I like best about Natsios’ article is his ability to communicate the complexity of the situation and the nuances of different polies and events, without losing the reader in the innumerable details of ethnic groups, locations, and armed group leaders. I don’t know enough about Darfur to fully endorse his view, but his is one of the best (short) synopses of the situation I have read.

Also worth reading is Alex de Waal’s short book on Darfur.

Also interesting in this issue of Foreign Affairs: Michael Ross on the coming oil conflicts, and Séverine Autesserre on what the international community is doing wrong in DRC.

2 thoughts on “A new approach to Darfur: Shake hands with the devil

  1. Commentary on Natsios
    Paragraph 1:
    “the Janjaweed militias, an Arab supremacist movement,” is probably not the right way to label the very irregular militias. There is very little evidence to suggest they are a “movement” in the way readers of Foreign Affairs would understand the word.

    Right in the very first paragraph Natsios reverts to very problematic language of Arab versus African, and even worse, goes right back to using “tribe” with no sociological nuance.

    In the next line, the 250,000 dead are “Sudanese”… what happened to the “African tribes”?

    The same line elides the distinction between “internally displaced persons” and refugees. Of all people, Natsios knows the distinction- but hey, the insurgents in Iraq are all al-Qaeda backed by Iran, right?

    “Both the Democratic and the Republican candidates for president have put Darfur on their foreign policy agendas.” Pretty laughable, that.

    Paragraph 2:
    Simplification started in previous paragraph carries over and will be developed throughout: the problem in Sudan is of various tribes (the Arabs here, the Africans there, the animist and Christians down below) who do not get along. Natsios writes, “new strains in these groups’ relations nearly broke out into a full-scale war”… here we all thought the strains were between named and organized political groupings that represent or claim to represent certain segments of the varied population- the National Congress Party and the SPLM….

    Natsios starts wearing the reader down: only two possibilities are allowed: “either the country holds free and fair multiparty elections and ends two decades of autocratic rule or it disintegrates, plunging this volatile region into its most severe crisis yet.” Only the Darfur advocates want the plunging disintegration, everyone else wants elections and peace.
    You can almost hear the police horn, “Good people of the United States, go back inside, nothing to see here, go back inside please.”

    Paragraph 3
    “The Bush administration can still help avert such a disaster.” Surely unwitting, but the implication lingers- nobody else really can help avert this disaster. Certainly not the Darfur activists.

    “Washington spends a disproportionate amount of its staffing and budgetary resources on resolving the crisis in Darfur rather than on supporting the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.” Meaning, all the Darfur activists take up a lot of our valuable time. It is a strange implication too: the two parties signed a peace agreement, and peace returned. Meanwhile there is an active war zone, with 2 million displaced. But this war zone and those displaced, and the threat continued war poses to the peace, should not receive “disproportionate” attention.

    “…peace cannot be achieved in Darfur if it is not secured between the north and the south. “ One could just as easily have written, “…peace cannot be achieved between the north and the south if it is not secured in Darfur.” Natsios frames again as an absolute, a fact, when of course this is an opinion. “In my opinion, peace, etc.”

    “The best way for Washington to proceed, moreover, is not by confronting Khartoum but by engaging it, even in the face of likely objections from the Darfur advocacy community.”
    Again, the basic gist of the article is to frame the problem in Darfur as a problem exacerbated by the Darfur activists… if they would just go away, the “practical policies” could take care of the situation, just as they did (you surely recall) during the period 2003-2005 leading up the the CPA. Oh, right, but nevermind, the “practical policies” didn’t actually do much in the previous 20 years of civil war 1983-2003(sparked you recall by the U.S. ally Jaafar Nimeiri’s government in a power play to secure oil revenues for the north… Chevron, Bechtel, conspiracy theories, all you crazies out there… get to work!)

    More later.

    Eustil Elive

  2. More on Natsios… how much credibility to give to his opinion?
    How about the following quote from 2003 when he was administrator of USAID planning reconstruction of Iraq, interviewed on Nightline:

    http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/iraq/koppel.htm
    ANDREW NATSIOS
    Well, in terms of the American taxpayers contribution, I do, this is it for the US. The rest of the rebuilding of Iraq will be done by other countries who have already made pledges, Britain, Germany, Norway, Japan, Canada, and Iraqi oil revenues, eventually in several years, when it’s up and running and there’s a new government that’s been democratically elected, will finish the job with their own revenues. They’re going to get in $20 billion a year in oil revenues. But the American part of this will be 1.7 billion. We have no plans for any further-on funding for this.

    Eustil Elive