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Sudan: a true vale of tears

I was given a subscription to The Economist recently, and have enjoyed having a fairly comprehensive news weekly that aspires to a global view. It's one of a few good companions for the daily train ride to work.

Of course - like all such publications? - it has an "agenda," which is actually easier to prescind from than critics of "ideological" publications like to think - the dividing line between fact and evaluation is fairly easy to discern.

The cover and lead editorial of the July 31st - August 6th Issue pertain to Sudan and the barbarism in Darfur.

I can't fault anyone for being deeply concerned about the horrific circumstances there, haunted by the imperative that something be done posthaste. However, the editorial relies on categories which, while common enough, are in my view defective - yet revealing about current, dispiriting global realities.

The subtitle of the editorial is "The world must act now to stop the death toll in Darfur from exploding."

What/who is "the world"? Every nation bar Sudan? The "West"? The G7 nations? NATO? The UNSC? Evidently the editorialist intends the latter.

"There are several levers that could be used, but the great powers are not all pulling in the same direction. An arms embargo would be a start, but Russia, which is selling fighter jets to Khartoum, is likely to oppose it. The threat of an oil embargo would be more potent ... The French and Chinese governments may not like this idea, however, as their oil firms have interests in Sudan. As a last resort, outsiders should be prepared to use force. If certain members of the UN Security Council ... veto such a proposal, a coalition of the willing should go ahead regardless."

Who would spearhead such a coalition - who would comprise the "outsiders" or "certain members"? Earlier in the editorial, we're told that "A British general has said that 5,000 Britsh troops could be switftly despatched to Darfur, if the order were given."

Sounding familiar? It seems to boil down to this: "The World" means, ultimately, "us," and whomever we can cajole into blessing our endeavors.

I believe that the noted Leftist, Perry Anderson, got it exactly right when he observed vis-a-vis Iraq that there is no International community, though I'd accent the question differently than he does. A community implies a social order that is quasi-organismic, meaning: a whole that exemplifies a unity that cannot simply be reduced to the characteristics of its components. But "the world" is no such whole - it's a welter of nation-states (and worse); the notion that,say, the UNSC is such a "gestalt" is risible. However, the joke on another level is no joke: it's foolish to persist in the notion that something is what it clearly isn't.

In its penultimate paragraph, the editorial goes on to speculate that a force of white faces, nominally protector-liberators, might not actually be welcomed by the intended beneficiaries, some of whom are apparently "Sudanese Islamists." (NB: over at Limited Inc, Roger penned a piece that adverts to a similar issue). To the tragic dimension of of world politics and history is added, again, a farcical aspect - making one truly despair of effecting "the right thing."

The Economist finally alights on the idea of a force of African troops, "under the auspices of the AU [African Union]," acting in effect as proxies for "Western powers" (which ones?). The last sentence persists in its cosmopolitan assumptions by noting again that "the world has already dithered too long to save tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives." Indeed ... if anything is going to be done about Darfur, the U.S. and U.K. will lead the charge. I don't say this out of any kind of "patriotism" - it just seems obvious.

August 5, 2004 | Permalink


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Paul, I love the Economist -- one of my proud moments as a writer was penning a review for them -- but I dont understand why they have continued the canard that the French have some oil link to Sudan. I have a right wing, anti French friend who sent me an infuriating link from Instapundit that purported to show that France was the major oil producer in Sudan. What it really showed is that Total owns the largest field in Sudan -- a field that hasn't been worked in twenty years, due to disputes with the current Sudanese government. In reality, Canadian oil companies pump more out of Sudan than Total.
There's an article about Total here, in Forbes, which was published before the Francophobe rumor was passed around.

It isn't as if the French policy in Africa hasn't had its criminal moments -- look at Rwanda. But in Sudan, the French have been more on the spot than the Brits ... or the Americans. There are French troops on the border of Darfur now.

Posted by: roger at Aug 6, 2004 6:48:35 AM

Perry Anderson isn't American. He is British, though he is employed at UCLA.

Posted by: George Lee at Aug 14, 2004 8:42:39 AM

Thanks for the correction, George - I've updated the post.

Anglophilia again, it seems.

Posted by: Paul Craddick at Aug 14, 2004 9:22:18 AM