At a press conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday afternoon, President Bush sought to explain why stronger action has yet to be taken vis-a-vis Darfur.
We shared our deep concern about the people in Darfur. And I — I share frustrations that the United Nations-AU peacekeeping force is slow in arriving. I made the decision not to put our troops in there on the expectation that the United Nations, along with the AU, could be effective — and they haven’t been as effective as they should be, and we’ll continue to work to help them.
The slow deployment of UNAMID — the peacekeeping force scheduled to reach full deployment in Darfur over three months ago — is indeed frustrating. But the argument that Bush is making here — a myth that he has promulgated before — is deeply disingenuous. The alternative to a slow-deploying UN force was never sending U.S. troops into Darfur; this option was simply never on the table. No U.S. troops have been available for this kind of peacekeeping mission — let alone those in Liberia, Congo, Lebanon, and the other various war zones where the UN is deployed — nor would sending U.S. troops to these places, or to Darfur, necessarily have been a good idea. As Condoleezza Rice reminds Bush in Nick Kristof’s imagined rendition, “you can’t invade a third Muslim country, especially one with oil.”
No, the alternative to U.S. troops in Darfur was, is, and will continue to be putting an effective UN peacekeeping force on the ground there, which the U.S. has been in the most opportunistic position to ensure. By failing to provide more robust support for UN peackeeping, to invest a deeper commitment in Sudan’s tortured peace processes, and to exert more concerted pressure on Sudan and its enablers, the U.S. has consistently watched opportunities for peace and protection in Darfur sail by. Faulting the UN for a slow-deploying and under-resourced peacekeeping mission is a bit like blaming one’s shadow. If the U.S. is going to cast stones at the UN, it would do well to remember that the UN is no more than its Member States, and that the U.S., with the huge amount of influence and funding that it brings to the world body, may well end up looking to itself, with a stone in its hands.
Yet President Bush continues to present this false dichotomy: unilateral U.S. military action, for which the American population largely has no stomach, versus a failed UN mission, which the U.S. can conveniently scapegoat for the continually deteriorating situation in Darfur. The media should call the administration out on this self-exculpatory tactic, and the U.S. should discard its smoke and mirrors and work honestly with the international community to achieve real, tangible progress in Darfur.