From A World to Win News Service

U.S. and Sudan: The Phony Game of "Humanitarian Superpower"

Revolutionary Worker #1261, December 12, 2004, posted at

22 November 2004. A World to Win News Service. For the last few months the world media have been focusing on atrocities against the people of Darfur in western Sudan. At the U.S.’s insistence, the United Nations Security Council met last week in a special session held in Nairobi, Kenya, to consider the situation in neighboring Sudan. A cease-fire brokered at that conference broke down almost immediately as Sudan Liberation Army rebels attacked government forces and took over Tawilah, and the regime responded with indiscriminate air strikes that destroyed the Darfur market town entirely.

Tens of thousands of people have died from hunger, disease and other causes related to the conflict that began almost 22 months ago. Reportedly, more than a million people have been made homeless inside the country, while another hundred thousand have left for neighboring countries like Chad. The West blames this situation on the Janjaweed, a militia reportedly backed by the Sudanese government, accusing it of burning villages and looting cattle in an attempt to crush a rebellion. The Sudanese government has been trying to downplay the depth of this crisis. It claims that at most 5,000 people have died, including government soldiers, while the Western powers, particularly the U.S., are citing far higher figures to justify what they say would be a humanitarian intervention, even if it involves direct military action. Whatever the real numbers are, clearly the people are suffering and crimes against them are being committed.

Some Background

Darfur province consists of three states, North Darfur, South Darfur and West Darfur. The north is occupied by desert nomads. The southern part is home to African tribes who mainly work the land. The central and southern regions have long seen conflict between the nomads looking for grass and water to feed their livestock, and peasants defending their small farms. For many years disputes were settled among the people themselves. For instance, the nomads from the north used only certain paths. But since 1980, traditional solutions have collapsed. One reason was the 1980 famine in which 75,000 people died. Since then drought has led to a water shortage and the expansion of the desert. But interference from successive governments and foreign powers has played a role in antagonizing these differences among the people.

The Omar Al-Bashir regime that came to power in Sudan in 1989 is reactionary and brutal, and is known for the extensive use of torture and executions and its enforcement of Islamic law. It has based itself on the relatively better off Moslems in the north. One of its main sources of arms is Russia, which provided "MiG-29 attack aircraft, completing a total of 12 bought with as much as $370 million of oil revenue, augmenting the Antonov bombers and Mi-24 helicopters whose aerial raids on villages in western Sudan are coordinated with attacks by the Janjaweed militia," according to an article in the July Middle East Report. On the eve of the UN Security Council meeting, Amnesty International denounced Russia, China, Poland, France, Iran and Saudi Arabia for fueling the conflict by supplying the regime with weapons.

Prior to the current rebellion in Darfur, the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) waged a war against the central Sudanese government in opposition to its policies of Arabizing and Islamizing the peoples of the south. Towards the end of 2002, when an agreement between the government and the SPLA was about to be signed, the Darfur Liberation Army, the initial name for what is now called the Sudan Liberation Army, started a rebellion in Darfur, charging that the central government was neglecting the province. They had early successes in defeating the government forces. Then a predominantly Arab militia called Janjaweed from North Darfur, reportedly armed by the government, confronted the rebels and gained the upper hand. Both ethnic groups are Muslim and physically indistinguishable, but there are cultural differences between them. Later another Islamic organization called the Justice and Equality Movement also joined the fighting against the government. According to the BBC, these two Darfur organizations are both linked to opposition politicians at the national level.

In April 2004 the government and the SLA signed a cease-fire agreement, but no real halt in the fighting took place. Within three months, as foreign involvement mounted swiftly, the talks collapsed altogether. Last June, the U.S. accused the Sudanese government of being behind the killing of thousands of people in Darfur. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made a dramatic visit to Darfur refugee camps in July and warned that events were "moving towards a genocidal conclusion." The African Union agreed to send a "protection force" of 300 troops to support the 60 monitors it had sent to Darfur earlier. Currently the AU plans to send 3,000 soldiers, although they are not supposed to fight. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that Britain was prepared to send as many as 5,000 troops to Sudan, for purely "humanitarian" purposes, of course. The Sudanese government replied that the country’s people would consider this an invasion and turn it into another Iraq. France sent 200 of the 1,000 soldiers it has stationed in neighboring Chad to the Sudan border.

The U.S. dragged the matter before the UN Security Council, where the great powers began pulling in different directions. Two Security Council resolutions each gave Sudan 30 days to disarm the Janjaweed militia or face punishing sanctions. But the Council remained split on whether or not to take further action. Pieter Feith, an adviser to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, told reporters that while "it is clear there is widespread, silent and slow killing going on, and village burning on a fairly large scale," this did not amount to genocide. The U.S.’s Powell insisted that it was genocide, and announced new and more alarming figures of the number of people at risk. Nevertheless, the London Observer reported that the "genocide" charge was rejected by "the Security Council of the United Nations, the European countries and the African Union and even by British officials in private." (3 October 2004) Apparently this split in the Security Council is still going on, because in its 19 November Nairobi meeting it confined itself to passing a third similar resolution.

The London magazine went on to report, "American warnings that Darfur is heading for an apocalyptic humanitarian catastrophe have been widely exaggerated by administration officials, it is alleged by international aid workers in Sudan. Washington’s desire for a regime change in Khartoum has biased their reports, it is claimed.. While none of the aid workers and officials interviewed by The Observer denied there was a crisis in Darfur‑‑or that killings, rape and a large scale displacement of population had taken place, many were puzzled that it had become the focus of such hyperbolic warnings when there were crises of similar magnitude in both northern Uganda and eastern Congo."

Imperialist Rivalry

Why is the U.S. so eager to intervene in Sudan? While the Sudanese government is not on the "A list" of the "axis of evil," it is certainly among those G. W. Bush and the U.S. government have targeted for regime change. In fact, Sudan was on that list years before Bush got to the White House. President Bill Clinton authorized a missile attack on the al-Shifa pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan in 1998, using the completely baseless accusation that it was manufacturing anthrax instead of aspirin.

Sudan has acquired increasing strategic importance for the U.S. It is situated to the west of the Red Sea and south of the Suez Canal, the passage for much of Saudi Arabia’s oil, as well as trade between Central Africa, the Middle East and China. Further, vast reserves of oil have been discovered in southern Sudan and even Darfur itself. China and France are involved in oil exploration and extraction and pipeline and port building projects. France began looking for oil in a large swath of southern Sudan in 1980 but had to stop due to the war between the government and the SPLA. Today Sudan’s economy is almost entirely dependent on oil exports, especially to China. Its production is predicted to increase to 750,000 barrels a day by 2006, small by the standards of Middle Eastern oil giants like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and potentially Iraq, but still a considerable amount. So far most of this is in the hands of the China National Petroleum Company. China is now Sudan’s biggest foreign investor.

Sudan should be seen in the context of the increasing rivalry between all the imperialists and the U.S.’s drive for global domination. In the last few years, the U.S. has shown a sudden interest in some parts of Africa, especially but not only North Africa. High-ranking U.S. officials have been scurrying around North Africa and some sub-Saharan African countries for the past two years, signing new political, economic and military treaties. Raw materials go a long way in explaining American interest in the region. As a 6 July 2004 article in the International Herald Tribune explained, "Sub-Saharan Africa’s production‑‑more than four million barrels of oil a day‑‑surpasses that of Iran, Venezuela and Mexico combined, and the region has the potential to become as important a crude oil resource as Russia or the Caspian Sea. . According to estimates by the U.S. National Intelligence Council, sub-Saharan Africa could fill up to 25 percent of U.S. fossil fuel needs by 2015, up from 16 percent now."

It is true that the U.S. sees this oil as a way to decrease its dependence on Mid-Eastern oil and reduce its vulnerability to events there. But even more importantly than its own oil needs, it cannot tolerate this oil falling into the hands of potential rivals or rival alliances. It wants to control oil as a means of controlling them. This is a major factor in why the U.S. invaded what it calls the "Greater Middle East" at both ends, Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the U.S.’s ambitions in Sudan, on the border between North and sub-Saharan Africa.

It is also very likely that U.S.-French rivalry is playing a big role in the Darfur conflict, just as it currently is in the Ivory Coast and elsewhere in Africa. The U.S.’s determination to prevent China from achieving energy independence is also a strategic question. Imported oil is a potential chokepoint for China’s economic expansion. Although China, far from becoming imperialist, has become increasingly dependent on the West since the dismantling of the socialist economy built under Mao, it does carry more and more weight in world affairs. Whoever controls this oil has its hands on China’s jugular vein economically and politically. No wonder China’s representative was so outraged by the U.S. use of the word "genocide" in the Security Council. The actions the U.S. wants the UN to take against the Sudan government are aimed in large part at China, which in turn has played a major role in openly blocking Security Council agreement.

Intervention and Humanitarian Crisis

Even some people and organizations who stood up against the invasion of Iraq have been silent in the face of the U.S. and UK threat of another invasion in Sudan. Worse, some have joined the choir calling for quicker imperialist intervention in the region and punishment of the Sudan government, at least through sanctions and possibly military intervention. But who would benefit from this intervention and who would suffer the most?

Britain’s intervention in Sudan during the late 18th century‑‑under the excuse that it was waging a "war against slavery"‑‑lasted until 1956 and laid much of the basis for the conflicts there today. As Peter Hallward wrote in the Guardian 28 August 2004, "Britain’s disastrous southern (Sudan) policy, inaugurated in 1929, made permanent the long-standing division between a relatively prosperous (mainly Muslim) northern territory and a much poorer (mainly animist or Christian) southern territory."

U.S. intervention in the late 1970s resulted in the reign of Jaffar Nemeiri, which plunged the country into a civil war in which neither side was fighting for the democratic rights of the people and independence from the imperialists. Today’s crisis has been fanned by continued imperialist intervention in the country’s internal rivalries.

The U.S. is pressing the UN for sanctions against Sudan. This kind of economic blockade would cause a humanitarian disaster, just as it did when UN sanctions starved Iraq. Already the majority of the deaths announced in the recent crisis have been due to malnutrition, starvation and poverty-related diseases. This threat shows the hypocrisy of the alleged concern for the Sudanese people that the U.S. and other Western powers claim is motivating them.

Furthermore, the U.S. itself has had a direct hand in the recent crisis. The CIA has reportedly been arming and financing the opposition groups in Darfur as well as southern Sudan to destabilize the Khartoum government. The U.S. insisted on holding the recent Security Council meeting in Nairobi, only the fourth time in UN history that the Council has met outside its New York headquarters. The ambassadors were flown in on American military planes. Not coincidentally, Kenya is where talks between the Sudan government and the SPLA are taking place. On the eve of the meeting, Bush personally phoned Al-Bashir and SPLA head John Garang to pressure Khartoum to give in to the SPLA’s demands. The U.S. previously forced Sudan to sign an agreement with the SPLA for the formation of an autonomous government in the south. The oil reserves were divided equally between the government and the SPLA. This agreement was an achievement for the U.S., since it put it in control of the south and part of the oil reserves and cut off rivals from those resources. However that did not satisfy U.S. strategists. They want it all, including the installation of a pro-U.S. regime at the national level. This is why the U.S. is continuing to destabilize the country and fuel more crisis to create a favorable situation for further intervention. The 29 November SLA attack on Tawilah in Darfur may have been encouraged by the U.S. exactly for this reason.

While the U.S. is helping the opposition forces in Sudan gain influence among high-ranking Sudanese army officers, at the same time it is also working to forge a group of Sudanese citizens living in the U.S. bought and bribed for future use as Karzai and Allawi-type puppets. So it seems that the Darfur crisis will go on for some time or other smoldering crises will be fanned into flames.

Given the difficulties the U.S. and UK face in Iraq, their lack of additional available resources (especially more troops) and the fact that Sudan is not as strategic as Iraq, so far Washington’s preferred mode of intervention has been through the expansion of the African Union forces already in Darfur. U.S. rivals such as France may go along with this, since they have their own influence over African neocolonies and their armies, and thus may hope to turn the AU intervention to their own advantage. It is important to note that this passing of the imperialist mission to the AU doesn’t mean that Africa is managing its own affairs. The imperialist powers are running the show from behind the scenes, in contention and collusion with one another. In other words, they are exporting their reactionary rivalries to Africa.

History and current events have demonstrated all too clearly that imperialist intervention in any form and under any pretext can only worsen the misery of the people. So the first step to a solution is to demand that that imperialists and their representatives get out and stay out.