"Save Darfur" Must Save Itself

With time running out to stop Sudan's genocide, the last thing Darfur needs is for its Western allies to turn on each other.

There are many myths afoot about the movement to save Darfur. Chief among them in recent weeks is the rumor of its death. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, a longtime ally, has declared the movement to be fragmented by internal disagreement and dismissed by those in power. Alex de Waal, a leading self-critical voice among Sudan watchers, laments that it is archaic and unwilling to adapt its ways. Columbia University scholar Mahmood Mamdani, in a recent book on the subject, all but declared the Darfur movement a waste of time.

Mamdani's distorted broadside notwithstanding, there are probably grains of truth to any thoughtful critique of the Darfur movement. It is far from perfect, and an accurate accounting of its strengths and weaknesses is long overdue. But such calls to declare defunct efforts to save the war-torn Sudanese region miss the point. Millions of activists around the world remain committed to the cause of peace in Sudan. It's just that no one is telling them that now is the moment they are needed most.

There has never been a more critical time in Sudan's history than the present. This summer, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is celebrating two decades of dictatorship, having come to power in a coup in 1989. During Bashir's tenure, Africa's largest country has steadily declined into a model failed state. Home to the 21st century's first genocide, Sudan now boasts more displaced persons than any country on Earth.

According to the current issue of Foreign Policy, it is among the three countries in the world most at risk of total collapse. Bashir himself is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, rape, and attacks against civilian populations. Even so, he looks set to win a national election next year. The following year, 2011, will bring a national referendum on the secession of Southern Sudan, which most experts expect to pass. This will split the country in two and render obsolete existing peace agreements, including the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that was intended to end the country's 12-year civil war and set out the parameters for peace.

All of this means the international community now faces an 18-month window in which to fix the whole mess. And originally, nobody seemed better equipped to do so than Barack Obama. As a U.S. senator and presidential candidate, Obama seemed particularly attuned to Sudan's urgent and tragic trajectory, calling it "a stain on our souls." Joining him were Senate colleagues Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. During the campaign, Clinton was fond of demanding a "more robust response." Biden was the most out front, at one point proclaiming he did not "have the stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur." But since taking office, the Obama administration has been slow to translate rhetoric into action.

In fact, there now appears to be internal discord within the administration over how to best bring about cooperation from Khartoum, the hub from which Sudan's violence emanates. It seems that the president's special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, is taking a conciliatory line toward Bashir, going as far as to declare last month that what we now see in Sudan is the "remnants of genocide." Just days earlier, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had said the opposite, accusing the Sudanese leadership of ongoing genocide in Darfur and citing the "urgency and complexity of the overall situation."

This kind of muddled interplay might normally be forgiven early in a new administration. In the case of Sudan, however, it plays directly into Bashir's hands. Since his March indictment by the ICC, Bashir has expertly capitalized on the lack of a focused, comprehensive effort by the international community to advance his strategy of delay, deny, divide, and detract.

Enough is enough. If there is agreement on anything within the Darfur movement, it is that Obama must start living up to his promises of leading a bolder path forward in Sudan. Both Bashir's recent expulsion of humanitarian aid groups upon which millions depend for basic survival and the actions of his government to prevent the Mandate Darfur conference scheduled for last month, which was to bring together Sudanese civil society groups as part of the peace process, are unacceptable behaviors by any standard. Yet the United States and other countries remained nearly silent.

It's time to start speaking up. The White House must begin shaping a new international road map that provides a framework for sustainable peace in Sudan. The road map should be grounded in existing commitments, including the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the various existing Darfur commitments. It must also set measurable milestones and hold accountable Khartoum for its decisions and actions. The way forward must include Sudan's key geopolitical partners, principally China and Russia. Both can offer enticing carrots to Khartoum and apply immediate pressure in the face of noncooperation. Peace and stability in Sudan is in these states' interests, either for economic or political reasons. There is room for cooperation -- if the U.S. government signals that this discussion is a priority.

Exercising the political will necessary to craft a road map for lasting peace in Sudan will not come easily, nor will success. And that is precisely why the Darfur movement is needed now more than ever. Will it help apply immediate and meaningful pressure to those in power, at home and abroad, and ensure meaningful action to bring peace to the people of Sudan at this critical juncture? Ultimately, history may judge the Darfur movement not on the last five years, but on the next 18 months. With deadlines in Sudan looming -- and both the north and south rearming themselves for civil war -- it seems likely that the epitaph of the Darfur movement is far from written.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images


Clean Kills

Despite valid concerns, targeted assassinations are legal and necessary.

The term "targeted killing" has become a political lightning rod lately, with new revelations of the development of a CIA antiterrorism assassination program, but the concept really shouldn't be so controversial. As a former U.S. Army judge advocate, my instinct is to assume that being as precise as possible when targeting an enemy opponent is generally a good thing. Nonetheless, debate persists over where such operations fall within the spectrum of international law. But in their inquiries into the legality of the strikes, critics may themselves be aiming at the wrong target.

For the United States, the legal basis for targeted killings was provided early in what former President George W. Bush called the "global war on terror." In April 2003, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights asked the United States to explain its justification for the use of a Predator drone to attack and kill a group of suspected al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Without ever conceding that such a mission even took place, the United States contested the commission's jurisdiction to inquire into such an attack on the grounds that the killing was an act of war governed not by human rights law, but by the law of armed conflict.

This response was a logical extension of the Bush administration's invocation of wartime authority to respond to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. When Bush, followed almost immediately by Congress, chose to characterize the struggle against al Qaeda as an "armed conflict," he wasn't just playing word games. His comments meant the United States would no longer confine itself to peacetime law-enforcement authority to combat the threat of transnational terrorism. Instead, it would employ the full spectrum of national power, including the U.S. armed forces, to destroy this threat.

In terms of law, the main difference between peace and war is the authority of states to use deadly force. In peacetime, deadly force may only be used as a last resort and only in response to an actual threat. All police officers understand this paradigm, and they often assume great risk to exhaust lesser means before resorting to deadly force. War, in contrast, is defined by the exact opposite assumption: Use of deadly force is a measure of first resort and is permitted not only in response to an actual threat, but also a presumed one. Targeted killings of identified al Qaeda operatives are thoroughly consistent with the authority associated with armed conflict.

This is not to suggest that these strikes occur in a legal vacuum. Such a proposition verges on preposterous. It simply means that the law that defines whether such strikes are "lawful" is the law of armed conflict. Under that law, before any such strike is executed, there must be a determination that the object of attack is a "lawful military objective." This is certainly a more complex question when dealing with a nonstate enemy such as al Qaeda than when dealing with a uniformed opponent on a conventional battlefield. But the law of armed conflict is flexible enough to respond to this challenge.

When the United States is armed with sufficient intelligence to indicate that a proposed target is a terrorist operative or someone involved in the command and control of terrorist operatives, the use of a targeted strike is consistent with the authority derived from the principle of military necessity, perhaps the most fundamental rule of war.

Of course, there are many who argue that outside the confines of Afghanistan or Iraq, the United States must operate within a law enforcement framework to deal with such individuals, but the new administration, at least, seems to have come around to the logic of wartime authority. It is noteworthy that President Barack Obama continues to treat this struggle as an armed conflict, albeit without the hyperbolic characterization of a "global war." Democrats in Congress might complain that they weren't briefed about the CIA program, but they made no move to limit the use of military force against al Qaeda.

The reason seems obvious: They, too, realize that the struggle against al Qaeda is not simply a law enforcement job. The nature of the threat requires a response that includes the authority to kill as a measure of first resort. One need only consider how history might have been altered if the same tactic had been adopted prior to 9/11.

This is not to say that there aren't legitimate legal concerns raised by the Predator program and the proposed assassination teams. Whether such operations should have been authorized by then Vice President Dick Cheney, and whether to allow CIA personnel to execute such operations, are both interesting questions. It is hard to identify a legal basis for the vice president to order such attacks without implied authority from President Bush. Assuming, however, the president did grant such authority, what about the CIA's role? Leon Panetta, the new agency director, may have canceled the Bush-era program to train CIA assassins, but the Predator strikes continue. Under what legal authority can the CIA participate in programs like this?

Throughout the "war on terror," there has been the consistent perception that the Bush administration tried to take advantage of the authority of war without accepting the obligations and limitations associated with such authority. This was at the very core of the debate over the treatment of detainees at Guantánamo. Targeted killings by the CIA raise the same concern. If the United States is in an "armed conflict" with al Qaeda, then it would seem only lawful combatants should be authorized to participate in combat operations. It is difficult to reconcile the U.S. treatment of alleged "unlawful combatants" with a practice that permits civilians -- albeit members of a government agency -- to take such a significant role in the execution of combat missions.

But, perhaps unfortunately, this is not the aspect of this issue that most critics have seized on. Instead, it is the fact that Predator strikes symbolize an expansive conception of war powers. They would be well advised to consider the alternative. Is the fight against terrorism really just a law enforcement matter? Are the objects of these attacks really like any other criminals? Should the United States forego the opportunities to kill them if they present themselves? From my perspective, the answer to all these questions is no. If I'm right, then let's hope that our killings remain "targeted."

Rob Jensen/USAF via Getty Images