By Nat Hentoff
Though Sudan's ruthless president, Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, is now subject to arrest by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity, he defiantly intends to continue traveling to friendly Arab and African countries and China.
For safety's sake, however, says an aide (Sudan Tribune, March 11), his plans "will be surrounded by as much secrecy as possible." Gen. Bashir's most recent crime against humanity was expelling the most vital foreign aid organizations providing food, water and medicine to the survivors of Darfur.
Because Sudan is a sovereign state, the U.N. Security Council, while verbally reprimanding Africa's Hitler, will not intervene with force, although Gen. al-Bashir - whose charges include murder, extermination, forcible transfer (of civilian populations), torture and rape - is now condemning even more of the black Muslims in Darfur to death.
For years, I've reported on this slow-motion genocide, and the only realistic way I see to ending these horrors came from a March 5 column in The Washington Post ("Grounding Sudan's killers"), by former Air Force Chief of Staff (1990-94) Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, who co-chaired Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
With co-author Kurt Bassuener, a senior associate of the Democratization Policy Council, Gen. McPeak strongly advocates creating a no-fly zone over Gen. al-Bashir's killing grounds. This decisive humanitarian intervention was proposed last year by our current vice president, Joe Biden, and Susan Rice, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Since he has become part of the Obama team, there has been no further word from Mr. Biden on actually doing something to end the genocide. And Ms. Rice, a once-passionate advocate of international intervention, now prefers to first fully strengthen the U.N.-African Union (UNAMID) peacekeeping force on the ground there. However, she adds (National Public Radio, March 6), "If that does not succeed, then we'll need to take a look at all the levers at our disposal." While we wait, more abandoned Darfurians will die.
Gen. McPeak and Mr. Bassuener emphasize that "air power plays a central role in al-Bashir's military strategy." His helicopter gunships clear the way for Gen. al-Bashir's Janjaweed's murders, mass rapes and razings of villages. And the Sudan Air Force bombs both rebel sites and the camps of brutally displaced black Muslims in Darfur.
Getting control of Gen. al-Bashir's airspace means being able to shoot down his planes that violate the no-fly zone. This must involve, the two current no-fly zone advocates make clear, "NATO and European Union allies, in particular France, which has a suitable airfield at Abeche, in eastern Chad."
Of all European leaders, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy has shown the degree of deep-seated indignation at other countries' war crimes against their own people to very likely be an active participant in this no-fly zone policy. And on March 11, he declared that France will become a full member of NATO, including its integrated military command, more than 40 years after Gen. Charles de Gaulle pulled out in anger over American influence in Europe. (France has continued to contribute funds and troops to NATO, but now it's a major force).
What about American involvement in the no-fly zone? During his presidential campaign, President Obama urged an end to the atrocities in Darfur. And on March 10, the Sudan Tribune reported that after a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Obama "urges a strong, unified stand against Sudan's expulsion last week of 13 humanitarian agencies that had provided the majority of aid in Darfur."
However, if President Obama is expecting real-time, real-life U.N. involvement - aside from clouds of words - to end the genocide, he is, as old-time labor organizers used to say, talking pie in the sky. Four days before Mr. Obama and Mr. Ki-moon solemnly conferred, "the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on even a nonbinding statement about the expulsion of the aid groups." (March 10, Sudan Tribune).
But if NATO and other European forces supplied fighter aircraft for the proposed no-fly zone, Gen. McPeak and Mr. Bassuener insist that an American contribution would be essential, "especially of aerial refuelers and command-and-control aircraft. About a squadron of each type of aircraft would be more than enough to end the impunity Sudanese military aviation now enjoy."
They recognize that a political solution will still be necessary for Sudan to rejoin civilization, but "by taking away the Sudanese government's freedom to use air power to terrorize its population, the West would finally get enough leverage with Khartoum to negotiate the entry of a stronger U.N. ground force."
Furthermore, notes Nicholas Kristof, who has actually been on much of the ravaged ground in Darfur (The New York Times, March 8): "Sudan cares deeply about maintaining its air force, partly because it is preparing for renewed war against South Sudan." And inside the government in Khartoum, there is growing dissent against Gen. al-Bashir's added disgrace of Sudan by the expulsion of humanitarian agencies that had been keeping millions of Darfurians alive.
What, if anything, do you have to say, President Obama, about helping to energize the creation of a no-fly zone so that, on your watch, we can finally say "never again" - and mean it? Gen. McPeak, who strongly advocates a no-fly zone, having been co-chairman of Mr. Obama's presidential campaign, should speak directly to the president about the plan.