Clinton and Obama on Darfur

Clinton and Obama on Darfur


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I want to see more specifics from Obama, and am wary that the more militaristic Clinton approach

would end up costing more civilian lives. I would rather see both candidates show more

resourcefulness in pursuing diplomatic solutions toward untying a knot that cannot be loosened militarily



Julie Flint & Alex deWaal, Darfur: a short history of a long war. Zed Books, in association with International African Institute, 2005. 151 pages.

Gérard Prunier. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. Cornell University Press, 2005. 212 pages.

David Morse. The Iron Bridge (1998)

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Clinton or Obama: Who’s Best on Darfur?

By David Morse


Readers doubtless have their own opinions about the relative merits of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as potential future presidents. Though I don’t believe in single-issue politics, I feel strongly enough about Darfur, in western Sudan, to want to know how the two candidates stack up.

I’m focusing here on the two Democrats, because—although Darfur is an issue that cuts across traditional divisions between progressives and conservatives—John McCain’s fixation on Iraq would effectively doom any progress on Darfur.

To be fair, both Obama and Clinton have indicated concern for Darfur. Neither candidate is offering anything new. Neither seems to appreciate fully the precariousness of the situation in South Sudan, where the failure of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement there could re-ignite the same genocidal pattern that has racked Darfur.

Characteristically, Obama’s position on Darfur is long on generalizations and short on particulars. He voices sympathy for Darfur, favors a UN peacekeeping force that would include attack helicopters, and urges strengthening of the African Union force; he provides links on his web-site to such organizations as the Genocide Intervention Network, the Save Darfur Coalition, and the International Rescue Committee.

Hillary Clinton, true to form, is more specific and more aggressive. She wants to appoint a Presidential envoy to Sudan, a step President Bush has already taken. She wants to involve NATO more heavily, and to enforce the UN-declared “no fly” zone to prevent aerial assaults against Darfuri villages.  She seems quick to embrace a military solution. 

I want to see more specifics from Obama, and am wary that the more militaristic Clinton approach would end up costing more civilian lives. I would rather see both candidates show more resourcefulness in pursuing diplomatic solutions toward untying a knot that cannot be loosened militarily—one that must be teased apart with strong and steady diplomacy. To my knowledge, neither candidate talks about multifaceted economic pressures we might put on Khartoum directly and indirectly through China, and neither mentions our own CIA’s links to Khartoum—two key failings in the Bush administration’s posture toward Sudan.

Neither candidate emphasizes the regional approach that is needed in dealing with a huge and strategically located country (very nearly a failed state) bordered by ten countries—a nation whose chief export has been human misery.

Why do I lean toward Obama?

First, and generally, I think that of the two candidates he’s more serious about getting out of Iraq.

But in particular I would like to explore a point that’s been lost—like so many—in one of the recent dust-ups that have made this such a sour primary—a primary that threatens to sour whatever coherence the Democrats have managed to achieve.

I’m referring to the forced resignation of Samantha Power from the Obama campaign. It was Obama’s appointment of Power in the first place that leads me to think he could conceivably become the first American president to respond meaningfully to a genocide.

Power’s book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, examines both the causes of genocide and our collective failure as a nation to respond. When I interviewed her in November 2006, in her Harvard office, Power impressed me as particularly savvy in her understanding of the ways that Iraq and Darfur are inextricably linked. As senior foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign, she was uniquely positioned to apprise him of the challenges he will face if elected.

George W. Bush has remained paralyzed, like the proverbial deer in the headlights, before the present genocide in Darfur and the looming potential for genocide in South Sudan. His administration brokered the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in the South, and made political hay of it. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the CPA as the single most positive foreign policy achievement of his administration. But instead of supporting that hard-won agreement, the Bush administration has turned its back on the CPA—and worse, undermined it in various ways.

Samantha Power’s fall from grace is lamentable. An outspoken but respected scholar, she’s unfortunately a rookie at hardball politics. She lost her cool. What happened was this:

Obama had acknowledged in a speech that the speed with which he could withdraw troops from Iraq would depend on circumstances at the time. Power, in a subsequent BBC interview let herself get mousetrapped into calling her boss’s 16-month timetable for withdrawal of troops a “best case” scenario.

Hillary Clinton pounced on the BBC remark as though she’d caught Obama’s senior foreign policy advisor undercutting his message on troop withdrawal. Power, rising to Clinton’s bait, responded in anger during an interview with The Scotsman. She tried to go off the record, but the words were already out of her mouth. She’d called Clinton a “monster” who would stoop to anything. The Clinton camp landed on her with both hobnailed boots.

Power issued an abject apology and resigned. Obama distanced himself from her comment. The bruising tit-for-tat campaign slogs on. Power’s dismissal was matched by Geraldine Ferraro’s dismissal from the Clinton team days later for an even more stupid (because arguably racist) blunder.

What got lost, as usual, was the larger picture. Clinton’s attack served to muddy perceptions of Obama’s position on Iraq. Power’s fatal “Monster” outburst became the story and distracted attention from Sudan and Iraq.

If my hunch is on target—that Barack Obama is preparing himself to deal with genocide—seems underwhelming or obvious, consider our history of failures. Bush is hardly alone in his paralysis. Consider Bill Clinton’s performance on Rwanda, which Samantha Power critiqued in her book.

Again, Iraq enters the picture:

By continuing the first Bush administration’s policy of enforcing draconian sanctions in Iraq, President Clinton caused more civilian deaths than all the bombs dropped during the first Gulf War. The sanctions—technically UN, but enforced by the U.S. and U.K. “no fly” zones— were designed to heap such misery on civilians that they would rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein.

It was a cruelly cynical policy. Saddam Hussein and the Baathist elite were scarcely affected. The sanctions came down hardest on the Iraqi poor—especially children and the very old. By 1996 a UN report showed more than a million Iraqis had died, more than half of them children. 

In effect, Bill Clinton paved the way for the second Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Little wonder the Iraqis did not welcome American troops as liberators, and why the poorest neighborhoods such as Sadr City are most adamantly anti-American!

While this was going on, Bill Clinton turned his back on Rwanda, where an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered in the span of three months. Years afterwards, he apologized to Rwandans, claiming he “didn’t know.” But Bill did know. The record shows he was given plenty of facts. He was simply paralyzed.

Looking at Hillary Clinton, we see can’t help noticing that her claim on experience and readiness to handle crises “from day one” are based largely on her experience in her husband’s administration. So it’s only fair to ask: When is Hillary going to distance herself from Bill’s inertia in Iraq and Rwanda, and prove that she is her own woman?

The answer, I conclude, for now, is never. She is too invested in Iraq, too little invested in Sudan. Hillary Clinton would do business as usual. That, for my money, is the real monster: inertia in precisely those regions of conflict where Americans with any sense of decency expect serious change.

I’m casting my ballot for Obama.

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© David Morse. 2008. David Morse is a journalist whose articles and commentary have appeared in newspapers and on-line in Alternet, Salon, TomDispatch, and elsewhere. He recently traveled to South Sudan with support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and is now writing a book about Sudan.

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.” We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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posted 17 March 2008 




Home Nuba-Darfur-South Sudan Table Transitional Writings on Africa  Obama 2008 Table

Related files:   Lost Boys in Southern Sudan .  Blood, Ink, and Oil    What Can We Learn from Darfur?  Clinton and Obama on Darfur  /  Can Georgia Do Right?

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