April 08, 2005

Darfur: Where is Egypt?

Immediately to the north of Sudan, as I read the map. But we'll come to that in a minute.

At the risk of starting off a couple of days behind the news cycle, I found nothing much to disagree with in Nicholas Kristof's latest column about the ongoing atrocities in Darfur (registration required). Kristof and others have been saying for a while now that the United States and Europe ought to be doing more to halt the carnage there, and they're right.

In fairness to the Western powers, though, the tools available to them are limited. Applying military pressure against Sudan, in particular, is difficult with the American military so heavily committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. For French and other European air forces, even enforcing a no-fly zone over far western Sudan would be like holding a heavy dumbbell at arm's length. It could be done, but it wouldn't be easy.

Well, then, what about Egypt? Sudan's government is mostly Arab; the people committing genocide are almost entirely Arab. Egyptian officials like to talk about not wanting to "internationalize" the Darfur situation, code for not wanting an Arab government to appear to submit to Western dictation. So, what leadership is Egypt actually exercising itself to bring the crimes in Darfur to a halt?

The short answer is, none. Egypt is prepared to talk, at some as-of-now unspecified future date, with Sudan, Libya, Nigeria and Chad about "containing" the crisis, an approach likely to yield no more result than a previous talkfest held in October of last year. That's it. No sanctions, no deadlines, absolutely no military pressure of any kind. Faced with the mass slaughter of Muslims by other Muslims right on its doorstep, Egypt is content to do nothing.

Now, it may be that expecting an Arab country to lead the enforcement of something resembling civilized norms just over its borders is expecting too much. It may be also that the government in Khartoum and perhaps its patron in Beijing has more influence in Cairo than the other way around. And, to be perfectly fair, even from Egypt the logistics of mounting something like a no-fly zone over all of Darfur are not simple.

But is Egypt part of the civilized world or not? Criticize Paris, Washington and other governments all you want -- and I agree with much of that criticism -- but Egypt is by far the country best positioned to lead the forceful international effort necessary to stop the appalling mass atrocity now being perpetrated by the Sudanese government. No one would stand in Mubarak's way if this is what he decided he wanted to do. He could probably get enough aid from Western governments to pay for the cost of bringing Sudan to heel and then some. Who knows, even some of the Arab oil states might find a verse in the Koran somewhere that justified contributing money to stop a mass murder.

As far as I know no government and certainly not the United Nations has yet been so impolite as to suggest to the Egyptian government that it has regional responsibilities that can't be met by talk alone. Perhaps it is time for that to change.

Posted by at April 8, 2005 04:57 PM | TrackBack (7)
Comments

What if the United States were to make continuation of the billions we give to Egypt in foreign aid contingent upon Egypt actually being a leader? I mean, isn't that why we started giving them money to begin with, because Sadat actually took an unpopular but courageous and moral decision in reaching peace with Israel? What's Egypt really done since then to warrant continuation of such aid? Dr. Hawas' digs at Giza don't strike me as being worth billions in foreign aid; the British Museum and the Louvre could easily cough up the few millions that would be needed to keep that enterprise in continuation.

Posted by: Bruce at April 8, 2005 11:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Anybody know how the Darfur situation is being covered in the Arab media, especially the independent media like Al Jazeera or the Daily Star?

Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 9, 2005 12:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sure, it would be nice if Egypt stepped up to the plate, but the invocation of Iraq and Afghanistan as keeping the US too busy is a bit much. Look: Sudan is not Iraq, not by a long shot, and enforcing a no-fly zone would be easy. If we don't think we could spare any surveillance assets on an ongoing basis, how about just destroying Sudan's air force on the ground? That sounds like a one-weekend project to me.

Posted by: cp at April 10, 2005 12:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Egypt may be politically best positioned to do something, but militarily I doubt they are up to the task. Even if you throw Western support into the mix you are now asking them to co-ordinate such an effort, something they are even less capable of. So, no, I don't think any goverment has the courage to put Egypt in the awkward position of asking them to do something they have no ability, let alone desire to do.

Posted by: Buckster at April 10, 2005 03:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, most countries will only act if it's in their own self-interest, which is why nobody wants to get involved, and why I think the only answer to these sort of problems is a stronger and more decisive UN.

But nobody wants that exactly because they don't want to get involved in these sort of things.

Posted by: fling93 at April 12, 2005 01:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

A stronger and more decisive UN is not in itself the solution. That's ability. What's missing from the UN is a culture of true liberalism. It is not liberal to have Libya and Cuba on the Human Rights Commission. It is not liberal to have Kofi Annan, a Third Worlder, quibble about the genocide in Darfur.

Posted by: Bruce at April 12, 2005 08:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
nobody wants ... to get involved in these sort of things

Certainly the reluctance is understandable. But if I'm right about the magnitude of the effort required, how about if we just sell it as a large-scale training exercise?

Posted by: cp at April 12, 2005 08:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bruce: A stronger and more decisive UN is not in itself the solution. That's ability.

True. But ability to get things done is more important than good intentions.

And much of the culture issue is inherent in the nature of the world today, which the UN reflects by necessity. As the Economist noted a couple of years ago (regarding the Security Council, but it's a similar issue):

That, of course, is a consequence of the nature of the institution, which tries to marry legitimacy with realpolitik. It is no good whining about the Security Council's lack of legitimacy if you wish it to reflect the distribution of power in the world: the council must recognise geopolitical reality or, like the League of Nations, it will surely fail. This, incidentally, is the rejoinder to be used against those like Mr Perle who draw attention to the unhappy fact that the vote of China, hardly a democracy, can alone make the difference between international legality and illegality. That's tough, but that's the real world.

cp: if I'm right about the magnitude of the effort required, how about if we just sell it as a large-scale training exercise?

Heh, well it's worth a shot. I don't know that you can guarantee zero or even minimal casualties, let alone costs. It's why global human rights seems to be a classic case of tragedy of the commons. In most cases, if the UN can't or won't do it, nobody will.

Posted by: fling93 at April 12, 2005 09:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This link to the Kristoff article should be free indefinitely.

Posted by: John at April 13, 2005 06:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
I don't know that you can guarantee zero or even minimal casualties, let alone costs

OK, fine: exactly which training exercises are free, or have guaranteed zero casualties? In the real world, people get hurt in training all the time. I would have thought it was inherent in the nature of the beast: if it's realistic enough to be useful, it's going to have real risks.

Posted by: cp at April 15, 2005 06:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You've got to be joking.

While we're fighting two wars, you want American pilots making continuous left turns over the Sudan. Meanwhile, the French, Chinese, and pretty much everyone else can continue to beat us over the head as imperialists sticking ourselves into business that doesn't concern us, even as their oil companies continue to court the Arabs.

Thanks, but no thanks.

Posted by: JackC at April 17, 2005 08:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
you want American pilots ... over the Sudan

JackC, do you have any idea how few it would take? And as far as "continuously", I wasn't suggesting a no-fly zone--in fact, the phrase "one-weekend project" is right there in my original comment. And I'm quite serious about that--Sudan doesn't have that many airfields.

Posted by: cp at April 18, 2005 06:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't see how it matters how few or many it takes. The point is we're stretched, and the Airforce and Navy are our emergency reserve at the moment.

Once again we'll step up to the plate, and get whacked on the head for our troubles, while rival powers make a buck over the situation. Our resources aren't unlimited, and no-fly missions, like those previously over Iraq, are the opposite of training missions. Skills rust from monotonous missions.

Posted by: JackC at April 18, 2005 11:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Furthermore, for a military option to be done right, it will take much more than merely a few planes. Otherwise, they'll wind up just like the UN 'peacekeepers' did during the Balkan wars when they were completely ignored by the Serbs, and in that case, even taken hostage themselves. These people don't care about symbollic no-fly zones. You need a reserve force that is ready and willing to intervene on the ground, otherwise it is just another incredible threat.

Posted by: JackC at April 18, 2005 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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