Anyone who has seen The Devil Came on Horseback, the heart-breaking documentary film about the genocide in Darfur, will recall ex-marine officer turned unarmed observer Brian Steidle’s comment that “If these photos were seen” — that is, the photos that Steidle himself took of the atrocities committed against civilians, including women, children, and babies, by Sudanese forces and government-backed Arab militias – “there would be troops here in no time.”
What Steidle meant was that if the American people could see what was happening in Darfur, they would not allow the Sudanese slaughter of the innocents to continue, but would demand that America use its military might to force an end to the genocide that has already killed more than 300,000 people and displaced more than two million others into refugee camps where they are subjected to constant government attacks, rape, malnutrition, starvation, and disease.
Steidle now readily acknowledges that his belief in America’s willingness to put boots on the ground to protect Black Africans in Darfur was naïve: “I honestly thought, as I wrote in an email home, that if the people of America could see what I’ve seen, there’d be troops here in one week…. Man, I am so naive. Because that’s not true at all. They’ve seen it now. And we’ve still done nothing.”
As Richard Just recently noted in a brilliant and disturbing essay in The New Republic on the ineffectual American response to the genocide in Darfur, “All the information – the dispatches, the websites, the columns, the books, the films – have not roused anybody with the power to stop this tragedy actually to stop it.”
Faced with the reality of genocide in Darfur, Steidle, the ex-marine, wished that he could take matters into his own hands. “If we had a mandate to defend these people,” he wrote, “and if I was looking through a scope instead of looking through the lens of my camera, these [Sudanese military] vehicles would be done. These people could return to their village, and they’d be safe.”
But there still is no international or American mandate to effectively defend the people of Darfur.
In Steidle’s words, the United States and its allies have “done nothing” to prevent the continued killing of unarmed Darfuri men, women, and children.
The reasons for our impotence and inaction, according to Just, are many: “True, we were poorly served by a small-minded president and his bungling administration. But did liberals demand the right things of him? Did we push for what would really save the people of Darfur? Or did we get trapped by the inclinations of our worldview, and advocate for too little?”
There is at least one American political leader who is clearly on record in support of Steidle’s military approach to stopping the killing of Darfur’s innocents – Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden.
At an April 11, 2007, hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which he chairs, Biden said “I would use American force now. I think it’s not only time not to take force off the table. I think it’s time to put force on the table and use it.”
Biden argued that 2,500 U.S. troops in Darfur could “radically change the situation on the ground now.”
“Let’s stop the bleeding,” Biden said. “I think it’s a moral imperative.”
Biden’s engagement with the crisis in Darfur goes back to at least 2004, when he and Senator Feingold wrote to President Bush, urging him to take action to prevent the genocide unfolding in Sudan. Biden visited the Oure Cassoni refugee camp on the Chad-Sudan border (after being denied a visa to go into Darfur) in March 2005 and met with refugees and African Union commanders. On his return, Biden called for NATO to send combat troops to Darfur. In February 2006, Biden pressed his Senate colleagues to support NATO enforcement of a Darfur no fly zone to prevent air attacks by the Sudanese government against Darfuri civilians.
More recently, on April 23, 2008, Biden told the Foreign Relations Committee “Genocide is happening on our watch. What are we going to do about it? What we’re doing now is not working.”
Further chilling evidence that “what we’re doing now is not working” came this week with the news that Sudanese troops opened fire inside a Darfur refugee camp, killing at least 27 people. Sudanese government troops in over 100 trucks with mounted machine guns surrounded the sprawling Kalma camp, home to more than 90,000 people who have been forced to abandon their homes and flee from Sudanese army and Arab militia attacks on their villages, and opened fire.
You can see a short film by Doctors Without Borders showing the atrocious conditions in the Kalma camp here.
In response to this most recent outrage, the Bush administration issued an appallingly tepid statement saying that the United States was “concerned by indiscriminate weapons fire by Sudanese government forces on the Kalma internally displaced persons camp” and calling on the Sudan government (which planned and committed the attack) to “thoroughly investigate this incident and ensure that such actions are not repeated.”
In his TNR piece, Richard Just reports the hands-off policy toward Darfur of “[current World Bank president and then United States Deputy Secretary of State] Robert Zoellick, who by that time had become Bush’s point man on Darfur: ‘It’s a tribal war. And frankly I don’t think foreign forces want to get in the middle of a tribal war of Sudanese.’ … If Omar Bashir [the president of Sudan] knew of Zoellick’s comment, then he would also have known that he would win in Darfur. And he has won.”
Despite the Bush adminsitration’s saber-rattling bluster aimed at other parts of the globe, it has been meek to the point of complicity in regard to the genocide in Darfur.
That meekness toward the regime in Khartoum is likely to change under an Obama-Biden adminsitration.
Before he was nominated for vice president, Joe Biden had vowed that he would use his Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairmanship to hound a president Clinton or Obama into real action on Darfur.
Perhaps as a leading voice in an Obama administration, Joe Biden will lead the United States to take the military action necessary to end the “genocide that is happening on our watch.”
Those who live in Southern California may be interested in the play In Darfur, written by Winter Miller, presented by Moving Target Theatre in partnership with Orange County for Darfur.