What Exactly Does Michael Kleinman Think We Should Do About Darfur?
Two genocide bloggers at Change.org, Michelle F. and Michael Bear Kleinman, have been engaged for the past couple of weeks in an impassioned debate over the ICC’s arrest warrant for Bashir. (See here and here, for the most recent installments.) Michelle, though certainly not unaware of its dangers, supports the warrant. Kleinman opposes it, blaming the ICC — like many ICC critics — for Bashir’s decision to expel humanitarian aid agencies from Darfur.
The debate ratcheted up a few notches in the past few days, following Kleiman’s particularly nasty attack on Nicholas Kristof for having the temerity to suggest, in an editorial in the New York Times last Wednesday, that Obama should pressure the Chinese to stop selling weapons to the Sudanese government and might even consider destroying a Sudanese military aircraft on the ground the next time the government violates the UN ban on offensive military flights (read: bombings) over Darfur. Kleinman’s post, entitled “Ground Control to Nicholas Kristof” accused Kristof of writing like Jack Handey (of Saturday Night Live fame, soon of the US Senate) and claimed that he “just doesn’t get it.”
Michelle finally had enough of Kleinman’s constant criticism (which included an equally nasty attack on the anti-genocide group ENOUGH). So she issued the following challenge:
Ok, then, what would you have us do? Nothing? You either shoot down or disregard every option presented without coming up with an alternative of your own — and you assume that no one is fleshing out the list of hypothetical consequences for any particular action, but that’s all it is: An assumption. And speaking from the perspective of someone who works on the issues everyday, I can tell you, with authority, that it’s a baseless one.
Kleinman’s response is illuminating. Would he have us do nothing? Actually, yes:
I think the US, the UK and France should work with the Arab League, the AU and China to broker a deal – the Security Council suspends the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Bashir, and Sudan allows the expelled aid agencies to resume work.
That’s it. That is Kleinman’s “solution.”
In the short term, of course, deferring the warrant would be better for a significant number of Darfuris. No one, not even the most fervent defender of the ICC, denies that there are immediate costs — very real, very human costs — to the arrest warrant. But what about in the long-term? As one of the contributors to Alex de Waal’s blog Making Sense of Darfur pointed out yesterday, the massive amount of humanitarian aid poured into Darfur over the past three decades may have alleviated suffering, but it has done nothing to eliminate that suffering’s root causes:
The first impulse of the media and international community has been to focus on the urgent need for aid to continue. But I think many people should consider why aid needs to continue so desperately, despite years of work and billions of dollars invested. How can it be that after 28 years of being there (as one organisation proudly states), 2.2 million people are dependent on international aid agencies for basic needs? For me, this is the real tragedy.
We know, of course, what has caused the suffering of millions of Darfuris for the past 20 years: Bashir’s murderous government. Bashir has never seriously negotiated peace — not even when he knew that an arrest warrant was a very real possibility. Michelle again:
Bashir had over SEVEN MONTHS to show the international community that he was committed to peace, but as he went on an international media charm campaign to push for a suspension of the ICC investigation, he was busy escalating violence in Darfur — from attacking IDP camps to violating his own ceasefire two days after it was announced. This is not a man known for sticking to his word. Even more, the conflict was escalating and the humanitarian situation was deteriorating even before the ICC drama began in July, with no apparent opening for any kind of way out, messy or otherwise.
This recent history explains why Kleinman’s response to Michelle’s question was a non-answer: she was asking him to explain his long-term solution for Darfur, not his short-term solution. And his response was… silence.
That is an unacceptable position for someone who so savagely criticizes anyone who dares support the arrest warrant. Does Kleinman really believe that this time — unlike all the others — Bashir will pursue peace and help the Darfuris if the international community leaves him alone? If so, he should say so openly. But if not — if he doesn’t believe that doing nothing is enough — I think it behooves him to (1) tell us what actions the international community should take instead of pursuing Bashir’s arrest, and (2) explain to us why those actions will be more likely to influence Bashir’s behavior.
I would be very curious to see Kleinman’s answers, especially to the second question. Suggesting that the international community do nothing seems hopelessly naive to me — equivalent to Charlie Brown’s unwavering belief that one day Lucy will stop pulling the football away, to borrow a metaphor from Becky Tinsley, the director of Waging Peace, a human-rights group — but at least it has the virtue of consistency. The same cannot be said, however, of any more aggressive solution. If the international community gives in to Bashir’s blackmail over the arrest warrant because of (understandable) humanitarian concerns, why would Bashir ever take seriously any other threat? All he would have to do is threaten to expel the humanitarian aid agencies again for the chorus to start anew: “keeping the aid flowing is more important than neutralizing or eliminating the regime that makes the aid necessary.” Bashir remains in power, the aid keeps flowing, and nothing ever gets better — it just doesn’t get any worse. Maybe that is enough for Kleinman. It’s not enough for me.
In his attack on Kristof, Kleinman wrote that “what’s delusional — if not dishonest — is the refusal to admit that perhaps [the arrest warrant] wouldn’t work.” I would suggest that what is equally delusional, if not equally dishonest, is for Kleinman to refuse to admit that doing nothing won’t work, either.