In his State of the Union address, President Bush voiced US resolve to continue to focus world attention on the deteriorating crisis in Darfur, Western Sudan and the urgent need to protect civilians from an ongoing genocide there. The United States has been working to ensure that an effective international peacekeeping force be put in place immediately in Darfur. Congressman Steve Israel of New York serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees US foreign policy. He says he’s hopeful the President’s remarks will send a message to world leaders to change Khartoum’s policies.
“I think that it’s critically important that the President address Darfur and that the America people are focused on it. I know full well that where you have conditions of oppression, of poverty and violence and instability, those are the places that terrorists recruit best, and it would be a lot cheaper and a lot safer for us to stop this genocide now than to have to fight a full-scale war to protect ourselves from it later on,” he said.
A long-time advocate for continued American pressure on Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the Democratic party lawmaker invited former Darfur refugee Fatima Haroun, a nationally recognized spokesperson on the genocide, to sit in the US Capitol visitor’s gallery Tuesday night to hear the President address issues in her former country. Congressman Israel says he appreciates that President Bush keeps speaking out for the American people on the Darfur genocide issue, but says it has reached a point where more needs to be done.
“There’s a big difference between what a President says at a State of the Union speech and what he does about it. The President has said all the right things with respect to the regime in Khartoum and the genocide in Darfur. The fact of the matter is that despite his pronouncements, there continue to be killings and the Janjaweed continues to rampage throughout Darfur. What we need to do now is use stiffer tools and penalties against the regime,” he said.
Feeling the impact of Washington’s failure to stop the violence raging in Iraq, Congressman Israel says that solving the crisis in Darfur gives President Bush an opportunity to restore domestic and international confidence in US foreign policy goals around the world.
“There’s no question in my mind that our ability to engage the American people and engage the world on challenges like the genocide in Darfur has been compromised and undermined by the President’s performance in Iraq. Our credibility has been eroded because of how we treated our friends and allies with respect to Iraq. The President needs to regain that credibility with our allies. He needs to regain it with the American people,” he said.
To counter Khartoum’s unwillingness to accept the stationing of an enlarged multinational peacekeeping force on Sudanese territory, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer vowed earlier this month that Washington would toughen its policies toward Sudan if President Bashir did not show greater cooperation on the peacekeepers. Because the Sudanese leader missed a December 31st deadline for accepting the UN force, Congressman Israel says the United States and the world community should impose a no-fly zone over Sudanese airspace.
“That is one of the most effective and enforceable sanctions,” he says. “Simply not allowing the aircraft of the regime to be operating against villages and refugee camps. And it doesn’t need to be a US obligation alone. It ought to be an international obligation. I’m hopeful that the Bush Administration will enforce the no-fly zone, which has already been approved by the United Nations.”