What Exactly Does Michael Kleinman Think We Should Do About Darfur?

by Kevin Jon Heller

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.


9 Responses

  1. Kevin – thanks very much, and just posted your critique on Humanitarian Relief, at:


    Will respond manyana.


  2. Kleinman is unserious about solving the crisis.  A posturing jackass.

  3. Genocide solves itself if it’s just left alone.

    Eventually, there is no one left to kill and the killing stops.

    This is the “fairy dust” method.   While waiting for the situation to work itself out, concerned people make concerned noises to show how much they care.    Eventually the problem goes away and they are vindicated.

  4. Response…The simplest solution is to realize that people will defend themselves if given the opportunity.  Arm the people of Darfur and train them in the use of those arms.  The Sudanese can readily obtain weapons, yet they are denied to those the Sudanese would destroy.  Bolt-action rifles would suffice, along with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft rockets.  They are, after all, fighting savages, not a civilized nation

  5. Never been called a posturing jackass before.  There truly is a first time for everything.   Anyhows, my response to Kevin’s post is now online at:




  6. After two years working in one the biggest IDP camps in Darfur, I reckon I have what many people call “close experience”, which I hope gives me some credibility to say what I have to say on this matter. From a humanitarian perspective, it does not matter who provides the access to food, water, shelter, as long as access is given, and the most needed are provided with the minimum assistance to survive, hopefully within the frames of dignity and international standards. For a long time now, access has been a complicated matter for many national, and international aid agencies. This is not new! There are plenty of reports about how the absence of humanitarian space has limited, or even banished aid agencies to assist the most needed. It is also worrying that the effect of “protection by presence” as done by agencies in the field will be absent and that there will be few witnesses. But it is also important to remember that human beings are resilient, and the IDPs of Darfur, as survivors for many years now, in the middle of the desert, they are resilient, and they want things to change, they want justice, peace, compensation, restitution for lost assets and equality upon the law. From the equation represented by the humanitarian point of view, these are less important variables, but nevertheless, their voices are not to be ignored, they should be part of the process for the long term, and durable solutions.

  7. First of all, I personally find it pervert that anyone can ascribe any “joys” to debating Darfur…(or “excitement”, which in Kleinman’s opinion seems to be the only contribution by Jon to this apparently “joyful” discussion).
    Secondly, apparently just for the sake of this “Joyful debate”, Michael is “more than willing to sacrifice a potential, theoretical resolution to the conflict (at some indeterminate point in the future) in exchange for addressing the immediate humanitarian crisis.”

    In abstracto, fair enough. But how exactly is the idea of striking a deal with Bashir, right here right now, any less theoretical? In fact, the plans of striking a (lasting and implementable) deal with Bashir have been shattered in practice again and again. How exactly does Michael plan to make this (far from untested) idea work this time around? He “wishes he had an answer” and settles for “uncertainty”, which is part of the “real world”. 

    Well, I agree that most of the choices and strategies have uncertain effects in “the real world”. But the plan of “striking a deal” with Bashir has actually been proven futile over and over again. The carrots have not exactly proven productive in the past, have they? The ICC stick hasn’t really been given a chance yet.

    Wouldn’t the deferral send the wrong message accross? The one Bashir has been riding on for far too long? That at the end, he’s intouchable and unstoppable in his actions and that international community isn’t really all that serious about him and the situation anyway.  That they will bark but will not bite. How this would make him more cooperative and peace-loving than in the past, I cannot see. 

    I would not go so far as to suggest that the warrant will have a massive effect on Bashir himself, at least not in the short run. But perhaps waving the ticket to the Hague with more unity and determination, backed with concrete steps towards the implementation of the warrant, will affect the internal political dynamics in Sudan and eventually force Bashir’s supportes to oust him from power and hand him over (that has happened in Yugoslavia and Liberia, hasn’t it). It would be great to get a comment on this from those with more insight and experience with Sudan. 





Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. […] And, just to add a little excitement, I give you Kevin Heller of Opinio Juris, writing in response to my suggestion that the international community …: “Kleinman’s response to Michelle’s question [what would I do in Darfur] was a […]

  2. […] Over at Opiniojuris, Kevin Jon Heller is getting angry with those who criticise other people’s ideas without offering any real solutions themselves. Taking aim at Michael Kleinman, who had the temerity to criticise the New York Times’ Nick Kristof without offering any thoughts of his own, Heller writes: […]