Matthew Grayson/PA Wire/AP
Women fill barrels with water at a well in the El Salaam refugee camp, El Fasher, Darfur,

Bush’s Darfur Aid Plan Draws Criticism

January 06, 2009 03:01 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Bush administration’s announcement Monday that the U.S. will be sending an emergency airlift to the troubled Darfur region of Sudan has many questioning the timing of the move.

Emergency Airlift Planned for Darfur

In his final days in office, President George W. Bush has ordered an emergency airlift of military supplies to aid a joint peacekeeping force of the United Nations and the African Union in Darfur.

The State Department plans to deliver 240 containers of equipment, including vehicles, while the Defense Department will move equipment to the area from Rwanda.

President Bush bypassed a requirement that he notify Congress 15 days before taking such an action, a move the White House explained was necessary because such a delay would “pose a substantial risk to human health and welfare.” However, the White House also says that the airlift had been planned for months.

This seeming incongruity is one of several aspects of the timing of the move that have brought criticism. Several critics have questioned why the Bush administration would get involved in the Darfur conflict now after years without intervening; some have accused Bush of sending the aid in an effort to improve his legacy on the way out of office, but others have, less critically, simply wondered what changed to inspire action.

Opinion & Analysis: Is Bush’s Darfur Aid Too Little, Too Late?

Activists are raising questions about the timing of the airlift, after years of genocide and previous indecision by the Bush administration about using American military force to quell the conflict. The announcement comes just two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, who has advocated a more aggressive stance toward ending the genocide.

 “There is this question, ‘Why haven’t they done this before?’” said Jerry Fowler, executive director of advocacy group Save Darfur to The New York Times, who conjectured that it “might be a little bit of last-minute legacy shopping by the administration.”

White House spokeswoman Dana M. Perino, in response to questions about the airlift’s timing, said: “We’re doing what we can as soon as we possibly can. We’ve been working on trying to get the assets in place so that we would be able to actually do it.”

In a statement on Monday, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said the airlift showed that previous criticism of the administration’s approach to Darfur by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof was unwarranted.

Kristof wrote on Dec. 28 that the White House had not taken tough measures in Sudan and accused Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of “acquiescence in genocide.”

“President Bush has been committed to resolving the crisis there since the United States first labeled it genocide in 2004,” Hadley said in his statement.

In response to Hadley, Kristof wrote in his blog on Monday: “Look, I’m delighted that the White House is, belatedly, organizing this airlift. It sure smells of a desperate effort to burnish the administration’s legacy on Darfur, but better late than never. This particular step is one that the White House and the Pentagon have resisted for months, so my hunch is that President Bush finally weighed in after my column in question or that Hadley became concerned about his own reputation on this matter.”

Kristof also says that President Bush has repeatedly raised interest in addressing the genocide but he has been discouraged from acting to alleviate the situation by Rice and Hadley.

Background: Focus on Darfur

The conflict in Darfur, considered by the UN to be one of the “world’s greatest humanitarian crises,” rages on despite years of attempts by activists to bring public attention to the issue. The conflict started in 2003, when sectarian strife between ethnic rebels and the Arab government in Khartoum prompted the Sudanese government to enlist the help of local militias, who embarked on a campaign that is being called genocide. It is estimated that 450,000 people have died from disease and violent attacks, and that 2,7 million individuals have left their homes.

In July, the International Criminal court brought criminal charges against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for his connection to the conflict, making him the first sitting president to ever be indicted by the world body for genocide.

Reference: Maps of Darfur region


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