Wesley Clark: Why We Should Care About Darfur

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Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark — also a one-time contender for the Democratic Party nomination in 2004 — discusses the ongoing violence in the Darfur region of Sudan, why the international community has been slow to react and why Americans should care about the ethnic and religious strife that has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and countless refugees.

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Today, John Eglin, head of the Humanitarian Aid at the United Nations, delivers his long awaited report on the ongoing violence in Darfur, West Sudan. Since 2003, government armed militia have driven more than two million mostly non-Arab villagers from their homes, killing perhaps hundreds of thousands.

Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on the Sudanese government to allow a strong UN peace keeping force into the region to restore order. There are currently only a few thousand African union troops trying to safeguard an area roughly the size of Texas. Trouble is all also brewing in the South despite a newly brokered peace deal. Armed rebels from Uganda's notorious Lords Resistant Army have attacked several Southern villages in recent weeks, including at least one UN compound.

For more on the trouble in Sudan, NPR's Farai Chideya talked with General Wesley Clark. He was supreme allied commander of NATO during the 1999 Kosovo campaign and now sits on the board of the International Crisis Group. He says Americans should care about what is happening in Sudan.

General WESLEY CLARK (Supreme Allied Commander, NATO): First for humanitarian reasons; and secondly, for reasons of regional stability; and ultimately, even for matters of energy. What we don't need is we don't need another crisis where the West stands by as hundreds of thousands of people have died. Already, the casualty toll from Darfur is estimated to be 300,000. And rather than the instability easing off, it's actually depended, with longer cross-border operations--back and forth across the border between Sudan and Chad, and greater challenges throughout the region for stability.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

By energy you mean that we have a stake in the region's fossil fuels?

Gen. CLARK: Well, I think the whole world has a state in this. Where we are right now is in a worldwide energy--integrated energy market. Oil that's taken from one place and consumed in another place, is, in economic terms, fungible. And not technically maybe, every oil is a little bit different, but it's a world market. So a shortage that results from a supply interruption in Nigeria, or somewhere in Africa, is just as significant as a supply interruption, let's say, in the Middle East, or off the coast of Texas--because the whole market is ultimately affected by this.

CHIDEYA: President Bush has broken ranks with others in his administration in calling for an end to the violence in Darfur, but we haven't gotten involved yet, as a nation. Why is this?

Gen. CLARK: Well, I think it goes back to the competing priorities for the president and his attention. I wouldn't presume to be able to explain why. But if the president, in normal times, says we should do something--normally, people hop to and do it. And I think it's clear that this is--in the first case it's a humanitarian tragedy. It's continuously unfolding. And it won't be stopped without U.S. leadership to stop it.

CHIDEYA: You mentioned humanitarian tragedy. We recently had on Paul Rusesabagina, who is the gentlemen whose life was portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda. And he said, that in Darfur--what was called, during the Holocaust, genocide: never again--has become again, and again, and again. That's a pretty grim warning.

Gen. CLARK: I think it's a very grim warning. And in every case, there are specific matters that are different than every other case. There are always competing explanations. There are always assurances that it is different this time, that for some reason it's not going to expand, or whatever. But the point is, these episodes have a lot in common. This is war by proxy. It's war underneath the visibility of the major powers. If they had formed up an army and moved in with tanks, and artillery, and 200,000 troops, it would have gotten worldwide attention, in all probability.

They don't have those kinds of resources, and they proved they don't need them--the Sudanese, I'm talking about. What they are able to do, is move out populations, intimidate whole regions of a country, and throw a neighboring country into turmoil by supporting groups of irregular fighters--this so-called Janjaweed. And these, assisted by helicopters and other assets from the Sudanese forces have been very effective in carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing.

CHIDEYA: But the Khartoum government says, or claims, that it is not endorsing the actions of the Janjaweed.

General CLARK: Yes, it claims that, but the fact is that we know that Khartoum's military assets have been engaged. We know that these people are connected to the government and Khartoum. It's that simple and clear cut.

CHIDEYA: In a recent OPED you recommended appointing a new U.S. envoy to Sudan. Why? And who would be up to that kind of a task?

Gen. CLARK: Well, it's up the administration to pick someone. But you need a tough minded diplomat who can go in, and understands diplomacy, and understands how to threaten the use of force. And then I think you need something more. I think you need a United States government that's committing the resources and the prestige of the United States government to back him up.

CHIDEYA: When you were in Kosovo as the supreme allied commander of NATO, there was a situation where the global community was heavily critiqued for not entering sooner to prevent bloodshed. What did you learn from Kosovo that can be applied to the situation in Sudan and in Darfur?

Gen. CLARK: Well, in the first place, we were heavily critiqued--the United States was heavily critiqued--for two years, for not getting engaged effectively in stopping their Bosnian war. So when I got there and saw what was unfolding in Kosovo, I immediately worked behind the scenes to help formulate a strategy, to help bring nations together, to help focus NATO's attention on it. And we put a diplomacy first strategy in place. But we also knew our adversary.

I had spent 100 hours with Slobodan Milosevic and I understood that he was a man who respected only the threat of military force, and therefore without a viable threat, the diplomacy wouldn't be empowered. So we put a threat in place, and it's a matter of having strong, proactive diplomacy with a strong threat. That is what we did in Kosovo. It worked for a while until after the diplomacy didn't take up after we had delivered the strong threat.

We forced to pull back, but Milosevic, I guess, had gone to the Russians who said, Oh, don't worry about U.S. airplanes. We had airplanes in Afghanistan. It didn't help us. And you can do whatever you need to do without NATO getting involved. They're really not going to do it.

He set in motion a broad campaign, and he was proved wrong. NATO did take effective action and NATO stopped him and rolled it back, and we put a million and a half Albanians back in their homes. It was an enormous success for NATO and for the power of United Action. That's what it's going to take in Darfur.

CHIDEYA: But when you talk about united action, what do you mean? And I'm going to just tread on some sensitive ground here. In Kosovo and the whole Balkans conflict, you had a bunch of white people who were dying, who were being killed by other white people. There seems to be a certain level of compassion fatigue about black people who are being killed by other black people or brown people, and a lack of ability to mobilize international forces to the aid of groups like that.

Gen. CLARK: Well, I don't know if it's racist. I do know this, that the United States is heavily committed in Iraq right now, and in Afghanistan. Certainly, the administration has got its hands full. And so does NATO, which is, by the way, looking well beyond its borders. But here is something that's immediately important to do. I think, with the right kind of leadership from the administration, we could focus NATO on this problem. I don't think it could be done without the presence of some U.S. troops on the ground, in the region, as well as U.S. assistance with air power, and command and control.

But I think it's a relatively small number of U.S. troops that would be required, and I think we could muster a large force of supporting troops. You know, in the occupation in Kosovo at the end of the war, the U.S. troops were never in the majority in that operation. I think the most we ever had was on the order of five or six thousand U.S. troops, and yet we had over 40,000 total troops involved, in occupying Kosovo.

It shows what kind of leverage the United States can provide when the United States is engaged.

CHIDEYA: Now the U.S. has a complicated relationship with Sudan. We have mentioned energy, but also we've received valuable information from their intelligence minister--who was once bin Laden's personal handler and is considered an architect of the campaign in Darfur. Are we, as some reports would allege--a long Los Angeles Times series, for example--enabling a genocide in exchange for intelligence in the war on terror?

Gen. CLARK: Well I suspect that the intelligence is of some utility. But, I also believe that we've got to be very careful, not to buy off and endorse regimes like this, just because they'll provide intelligence. There's no telling how valuable the intelligence really is. We don't know what part of it is accurate, what's inaccurate, and more importantly, we don't know that we're getting all that could be gotten. So in this case, I think the intelligence is certainly useful, but if the government of Sudan wants to remain a government in the world, in good standing, then its got to obey international law. It hasn't done that.

CHIDEYA: International law often comes down to the United Nations. Now, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently called for an increased UN presence in Sudan, particularly in Darfur. And the House, here in the U.S., recently passed a bill calling for action in Darfur and economic sanctions. Is that enough? Are these rumblings enough to make something happen?

Gen. CLARK: No, I don't think it is enough. Because without a stronger international presence along the border, without U.S. troops there to bring this mission home to world opinion, we won't have the leverage to stop the government of Sudan.

CHIDEYA: Let's move to the south. Things there are deteriorating rapidly as well. The government in Khartoum appears to be using the Lord's Resistance Army the same way that it used militias, including the Janjaweed, in Darfur--to destabilize the region, to persecute those unsympathetic to the government's interests. So, is the whole peace treaty that is supposed to be in place, in trouble?

Gen. CLARK: Yes, the peace treaty is in trouble. But that doesn't mean that we should junk it. What we need to do, is use the commitments that have been made as leverage, and demand that they be lived up to.

CHIDEYA: How do we do that? How do we do just what you said?

Gen. CLARK: I think you have to have a U.S. Envoy to the Sudan who has competence to work both the south and the west, both Darfur and the Lords Resistance Army, and hold the government of Sudan accountable. He's got to have the kind of leadership and charisma, that some of our great diplomats do have. And we've got to put the muscle of the United States government at his beck and call, and behind him.

CHIDEYA: Gen. Wesley Clark was Supreme Allied Commander of NATO during the 1999 Kosovo campaign. He's now a member of the Board of the International Crisis Group.

Gen. Clark, thank you for joining us.

Gen. CLARK: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

ED GORDON, host:

That was NPR's Farai Chideya.

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