It has taken President Bush nearly three years to match his impassioned rhetoric about what he decries as genocide in Darfur with tougher U.S. action against some of those blamed for the suffering.
When Bush announced sanctions Tuesday, advocacy groups and lawmakers wished the president had been harsher and wondered whether it was a case of too little, too late for Darfur. The violence has killed 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million more from their homes since it began in February 2003.
The sanctions target three people with suspected links to the violence, as well as about 30 companies in Sudan.
“Three people? After four years? And not one of them the real ringleader of the policy to divide and destroy Darfur?” asked John Prendergast, policy adviser to ENOUGH Project, an advocacy group to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. “This will not build multilateral pressure, and this will not end the crisis in Darfur.”
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also faulted Bush. “They could have sent a stronger message months ago and saved many lives from being disrupted or lost,” he said.
It’s not as if the Bush administration has been unaware of the bloodshed in Darfur,
The United States has been working on the issue at the U.N. Security Council, and Bush has appointed special envoys to the region.
The United States is the world’s largest single donor to the people of Darfur, providing more than $1.7 billion in humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance. Still, the administration’s steps have not been sufficient to halt the violence in Darfur, an arid region in eastern Africa about the size of Texas.
The conflict erupted when members of Darfur’s ethnic African tribes rebelled against what they considered decades of neglect by the Arab-dominated Khartoum government. Sudanese leaders are accused of retaliating by unleashing the janjaweed militia to put down the rebels using a campaign of murder, rape, mutilation and plunder – a charge they deny.
“The Bush administration has acted more vigorously than perhaps any other nation, but has seriously underestimated what it will take to end the genocide,” said David Rubenstein, director of Save Darfur Coalition. “These steps should have been taken earlier and should have been stronger.”
Bush’s sanctions, focused on financial transactions, are not overly ambitious. Bush also directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to draft a U.N. resolution aimed at placing multinational pressure on Khartoum.
“The president is right to expand U.S. sanctions against the Sudanese government and propose new steps at the United Nations, but it’s not enough,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has advocated committing U.S. troops to Darfur.
Strapped by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has no plan to send U.S. forces to Sudan.
It’s not the first time the United States has been accused of dragging its heels on an African humanitarian crisis.
President Clinton said one of his administration’s biggest mistakes was being slow to act to halt the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that left more than 500,000 dead.
Bush sees a possible opening on the diplomatic front. The president is headed to Europe next week where Darfur will be on the agenda of the annual summit of industrialized nations. And at the United Nations, China, which has veto power on the Security Council, may no longer be in the mood to block U.N. sanctions against the Sudanese government.
China, the biggest buyer of Sudanese oil and a major investor in Sudan’s economy, has been pilloried for not doing enough to pressure Khartoum to end the violence. Worried that Darfur activist groups will call for boycotts of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China recently appointed a new envoy to the region.
It’s unclear whether the new U.S. sanctions will help or hinder efforts to pass a U.N. resolution.
When the U.S. and Britain threatened sanctions against Sudan in mid-April, three Security Council members – China, Russia and South Africa – said it was the wrong time.
The time’s up for Sudan’s hard-line President Omar al-Bashir, said Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.
“President Bashir has failed on all counts,” Negroponte said, reeling off a list of unfulfilled commitments by the government, including ongoing support for the janjaweed, air raids and ground attacks and the obstruction of relief supplies.
“The Bashir government must see that its actions will choke off international investments that are very important to Sudan,” he said. “There is no good argument for giving the Sudanese more time.”
The Bush administration has said this before.
After signing an accord to end a long-running civil war in Sudan’s south in January 2005, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said the atrocities in Darfur must end immediately “not next month . . . but right away, starting today.”
That was nearly 2 1/2 years ago.
Deb Riechmann covers the White House for The Associated Press.