Mark Helprin’s “Bomb Sudan” piece in the New York Times today would have been a bit more persuasive back in 2004-2005, when the Sudanese government was more directly responsible for the fighting in Darfur. Today, it reads as completely detached from reality on the ground.
Helprin advocates a bombing campaign targeted against Sudanese military interests in Darfur in order to force Khartoum to “stop the mass killings and dislocation and…to pressure Sudan into negotiating settlements in good faith,” This is obviously a sentiment which I would totally agree. However, Helprin seems to not really have paid much attention to political and military developments in Darfur over the last two years.

Ever since the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2005, the conflict has proliferated from the government and janjaweed vs three distinct rebel groups to a conflict that pits a panoply of over 15 rebel groups fighting the government, former janjaweed, each other, and sometimes humanitarian workers and peacekeepers. Some of the janjaweed have joined the regular Sudanese armed forces, some have joined the rebels. (This International Crisis Group report gives an excellent overview of each group’s parochial aims.)

Frankly, there is a reason that people who follow the situation in Darfur most closely, like activists at the Save Darfur Coalition or experts at the International Crisis Group or Enough Campaign do not advocate strategic bombing. After the dust settles and the Sudanese army is evicted from Darfur, what kind of peace do we expect will take hold? To be sure, the government is responsible for much of the violence, but not all of it–IDP camps and villages will still be attacked by marauding janjaweed and rebels.

Countries with sophisticated air power capabilities can bomb all they want, but bombing alone will not protect people as they gather firewood or water or help them return home. Rather, security for people on the people of Darfur can only be achieved through a large infusion of ground forces in Darfur. So far, the only organizations willing to take on this challenge are the African Union and UN peacekeeping, which Helprin dismisses as a “camping trip to the tower of babble.” The fact is, these peacekeepers that Helprin mocks are the only armed forces putting their lives on the line to save Darfur. We just need more of them–and they need more equipment like APCs and Helicopters. The best way to provide security for the people of Darfur is to empower the peacekeeping mission there, not devote precious resources to a fanciful bombing campaign.

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