[Marxism] Stephen Gowans on Darfur

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 7 17:12:25 MDT 2007

August 7, 2007

Faith in UN Intervention in Darfur Misplaced

By Stephen Gowans


Many Western activists have rallied around calls for sanctions on Sudan 
and UN intervention in Darfur. But a review of recent Western 
interventions in the world’s trouble spots suggests their faith is 
misplaced. While the US and its allies, and the UN Security Council, 
point to lofty goals as the basis for their interventions, the true 
goals are invariably shaped by the economic interests of the 
corporations and investment banks that dominate policy making in Western 
countries. Worse, intervention has typically led to the deterioration of 
humanitarian crises, not their amelioration.

Conflict as Pretext

The United States and other imperialist powers look for conflicts, or 
provoke conflicts, in countries they do not dominate politically. They 
use these conflicts as pretexts to intervene in other countries in 
multiple ways: militarily, through proxies (which may include the UN), 
by funding an internal opposition, or by some combination of these 
means. The goal is to exploit these countries economically. Political 
control, through a strongman or puppet government, allows great nations 
to protect and enlarge the investments of their corporations and banks 
and to open doors to their exports. That is, the United States and other 
imperialist powers are engaged in a relentless pursuit of political 
domination of countries they do not currently dominate, in order to 
exploit their resources, assets and markets, by creating or looking for 
conflicts that provide pretexts for intervention.

In Yugoslavia, the US, Germany and the UK encouraged secessionists to 
unilaterally declare independence from the Yugoslav federation and 
helped ethnic Albanian Kosovars wage a guerrilla war to establish Kosovo 
as an independent country. The ensuing conflicts with the federal 
government were used as a pretext by NATO to intervene militarily to 
bring the conflicts to an end. The secessionist governments and KLA 
guerrillas were portrayed by the Western media as the victims while the 
federal government, which was reacting to the provocations, was 
portrayed as the instigator. The result was that Yugoslavia was 
re-balkanized and brought under the control of the US and Germany, who 
have since imposed a neo-liberal tyranny and whose corporations, banks 
and wealthy investors have bought up the former federation’s state- and 
socially-owned assets. (1)

In Iraq, the US uses the conflict between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, as 
a pretext to remain in the country as an occupying force. Were troops 
withdrawn too early, we’re told that an all-out civil war would ensue 
(as if a state of all-out war, sustained by the presence of US and 
British troops, does not already exist.) Likewise, we’re assured that if 
troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan, al Qaeda will resume its use of 
the country as a base for its operations, leading to a string of 9/11s. 
  More than a decade ago, the US provoked a conflict in the Gulf – or at 
least allowed one to go ahead – when Iraq wasn’t turned down by the US 
ambassador, April Gillespie, after it sought permission to invade 
Kuwait. Iraq was thereby entrapped into undertaking an invasion 
Washington used as a pretext to launch the Gulf War. The effect was to 
begin the process of bringing Iraq, and its considerable petroleum 
resources, under the control of the US. (2)

Sudan is not today under US political control, and like Iraq, is a 
source of immense oil reserves and the potential for gargantuan 
petroleum profits to be reaped by foreign oil companies. The Bush 
administration complains that the Sudanese government interferes in 
Sudan’s petroleum and petrochemical industries. Khartoum is not, then, a 
partisan of the three freedoms that matter most in Washington: free 
trade, free enterprise and free markets. This, from Washington’s point 
of view, is a threat to US foreign policy (i.e., corporate) interests. 
If Sudanese policy prevents US oil companies from exploiting the 
country’s oil resources, Sudan is a threat to the foreign policy 
interests of the United States. Accordingly, it must be treated as an 
enemy. And indeed it is an enemy – but only an enemy of the class of 
corporate board members, hereditary capitalist families and investment 
bankers in whose interest free trade, free enterprise and free markets 
are promoted and enforced. Sudan, its people, and the economically 
nationalist policies of its government are not, however, enemies of the 
bulk of Americans. (3)

There are existing conflicts in Darfur which the US and its allies have 
used to argue for Western intervention. There is a conflict over water 
and land between sedentary and nomadic peoples, made worse by 
desertification. There is a conflict between rebel groups, which have 
attacked government installations, and the government itself. And there 
is a conflict among rebel groups. These conflicts are used by the US and 
its allies as pretexts to impose sanctions and to argue for 
intervention. But the US is no more interested in resolving these 
conflicts than it was in resolving conflicts in Yugoslavia. It’s 
interested in dominating Sudan politically, so that US and British oil 
companies can amass huge profits from Sudan’s vast petroleum reserves.

A record of deception

There was no genocide in Kosovo. When forensic pathologists went looking 
for the scores of thousands of bodies NATO said were hidden throughout 
Kosovo, they found two thousand – a number that was consistent with a 
small scale guerrilla war, not a campaign of genocide. But after NATO 
intervened militarily with a 78-day bombing campaign, thousands fled, 
bridges, factories, schools and hospitals were destroyed and hundreds, 
if not thousands, of civilians were killed. What was a low intensity 
guerrilla war was turned into a humanitarian crisis by NATO. (4)

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But after the US and 
Britain invaded, some 600,000 Iraqis died as a result of violence 
provoked by the invasion, four million fled their homes, poverty became 
rampant and infrastructure destroyed by US and British bombs remained in 
a state of disrepair. A once modern country that had used its oil 
revenues to develop itself economically and to build a robust system of 
social welfare was turned by the US and Britain into an almost peerless 
humanitarian disaster. (5)

According to the UN commission appointed to investigate Washington’s 
charges that the Sudanese government is pursing a policy of genocide, 
the accusations have no foundation. It’s true, the commission found, 
that Khartoum has responded disproportionately to attacks on government 
forces by rebel groups, and it’s true that Khartoum is implicated in war 
crimes, but the commission found no evidence the Sudanese government is 
engaged in the project of seeking to eliminate an identifiable group, 
the defining characteristic of a policy of genocide. As far as 
humanitarian disasters go, the disaster in Iraq is far worse. So who 
would trust the perpetrators of that disaster – who, after all lied 
about there being a genocide in Kosovo and banned weapons in Iraq -- to 
intervene in Darfur to resolve the humanitarian crisis there? That would 
be like giving your car keys to a known thief and pathological liar. (6)

Ignoring conflicts

The other side of the coin is that there are countries the United States 
already dominates in which terrible humanitarian disasters and human 
rights violations occur about which very little is said. When conflicts 
occur in these countries, the conflicts are ignored by the Western 
media, because they’re not needed as a pretext for intervention by 
Western governments. In fact, it’s in the interests of Washington that 
these conflicts not be brought to the attention of the public.

In Ethiopia, for example, thousands of members of the opposition were 
imprisoned after elections were disputed. Recently, the government 
threatened to execute dozens of opposition leaders on treason charges. 
Foreign reporters and human rights groups have been expelled from the 
country. Because Ethiopia is politically dominated by the US, there’s no 
reason to bring its deplorable record to the public’s attention. There 
is no need to build a case for intervention. Ethiopia is already under 
the US thumb. Accordingly, few people know anything about what’s going 
in the country because Ethiopia is off the Western media’s demonization 
radar screen. But they are likely to know about Robert Mugabe, the 
president of Zimbabwe, who many believe has committed all the crimes 
Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, has committed. Except 
Mugabe hasn’t arrested thousands of members of the opposition or 
threatened to execute the opposition’s leaders. The difference between 
Zenawi and Mugabe is that Zenawi is a US puppet and Mugabe isn’t. For 
opposing imperialist meddling in southern Africa and seeking to 
indigenize Zimbabwe’s economy, Mugabe is in the dead center of the 
West’s demonization radar screen. (7)

There are about half a million people displaced in Somalia as a result 
of an invasion by Ethiopia, undertaken at the behest of the US 
government. This is a humanitarian disaster created by a US proxy. There 
is no Save Somalia Campaign. (8)

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is a conflict provoked by the 
former intervention of US proxies Rwanda and Uganda that has led to the 
deaths of four million people since 1997. The 200,000 deaths in Darfur 
(80 percent from starvation and disease; 20 percent from violence) are 
dwarfed by the millions of deaths in DR Congo. But while there’s a Save 
Darfur campaign, there is no Save Congo campaign. (9)

The solution to Darfur

If UN intervention in Darfur isn’t a solution – and it isn’t -- what is? 
While it sometimes seems that the UN is a neutral body that 
democratically decides how to resolve conflicts, that’s not what the UN 
really is. The UN, in all important respects, is the UN Security 
Council, a small group of mainly imperialist powers who do what 
imperialist countries do: try to divide the world up among themselves. 
The United States, the dominant member of the Security Council, has no 
interest in resolving the conflict in Darfur. It’s interested in 
establishing a permanent military presence to wrest control of Sudan’s 
oil from the Sudanese government. If the US can induce other countries 
to commit troops to carry out its objectives, so much the better. Bogged 
down in Iraq and Afghanistan, a UN military mission to secure the US 
goal of bringing Sudan under US domination is a welcome development in 

It should be clear that the record of UN and NATO interventions is one 
in which small conflicts are turned into humanitarian disasters. Gordon 
Brown, the prime minister of Britain, says Darfur is the world’s 
greatest humanitarian disaster. There are 200,000 dead in Darfur but 
there are probably 600,000 dead in Iraq. There are four million refugees 
in Iraq and far fewer in Darfur. (10)

Liberal public intellectuals like Michael Ignatieff, the former Harvard 
professor and now aspirant to the job of Canadian prime minister, said a 
war needed to be waged on Iraq because of what Saddam did to the Kurds. 
US military intervention under the authorization of the UN was supposed 
to deliver peace, prosperity, human rights and democracy between the 
banks of the Tigris and Euphrates.  What it delivered was something far 
worse than when Saddam was around. (11)

The solution to Darfur is to stop pressuring the US government to 
intervene in Sudan and start pressuring the one rebel group that won’t 
sign a peace accord to do so. Khartoum has sat down with the rebel 
groups to work out a peace deal and one group has refused to even 
participate in the talks. Conflicts cannot be resolved if one side is 
uninterested in peace. Nor can they be resolved if powerful forces are 
using the conflicts as pretexts to invade and impose sanctions.

If pressure is imposed on the hold-out rebels to arrive at a peace with 
Khartoum, and peace ensues, what then? Will the activists who agitated 
for Western intervention in Darfur turn their attention to rescuing the 
Congo from its humanitarian crisis? Will grassroots pressure be brought 
to bear on Ethiopia to withdraw from Somalia? And what of Iraq? Will the 
same people who worked themselves up into high moral dudgeon over Darfur 
demand immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq?  Shouldn’t they 
demand this first? After all, the dimensions of the Iraq disaster are 
worse than those of the Darfur disaster, and it is the activists’ own 
governments that have authored the larger disaster.  One would think 
Americans and Britons would give priority to working for the immediate 
withdrawal of troops from Iraq, rather than channelling their energies 
into pressing the governments that lied about and created tragedies in 
Yugoslavia and Iraq to intervene in yet another oil-rich country. 
Activists have an obligation to understand the institutional patterns of 
behaviour of their own governments, to inquire into the forces that 
shape those patterns, and to prevent emotion from undermining reason and 
analysis.  It does no good to allow our own governments and media to 
mobilize our energies to work on behalf of imperialist goals, while 
diverting us from projects that are legitimately in the interests of the 
bulk of humanity.

(1) Michael Parenti, To Kill a Nation,  Verso, 2002; Elise Hugus, “Eight 
Years After NATO’s ‘Humanitarian War’: Serbia’s new ‘third way’”, Z 
Magazine, April 2007, Volume 20, Number 4.
(2) David Harvey, The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press, 2005.
(3)  Nativdad Carrera, “U.S. imperialists increase efforts to recolonize 
Sudan,” Party for Socialism and Liberation, November 3, 2006, 
(4)  Parenti; Stephen Gowans, “Genocide or Veracicide: Will NATO's Lying 
Ever Stop?” Swans, July 23, 2001, 
(5) Stephen Gowans, “The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster,” What’s 
Left, August 1, 2007, 
(6) Stephen Gowans, “Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and the Politics of Naming,” 
What’s Left, July 9, 2007, 
(7) Ibid.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Ibid.
(10) The Unacknowledged Humanitarian Disaster
(11) Stephen Gowans, “Ignatieff’s Mea Culpa,” What’s Left, August 5, 
2007, http://gowans.wordpress.com/2007/08/05/ignatieff%e2%80%99s-mea-culpa/

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