Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Noted with sadness, the death of Jane Jacobs

Great American Thinker. Author of the "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" when I was just in 6th grade. Dies this past week. Her ideas were profound in affecting the people who fought to design downtown Portland and who envisioned places like Pioneer Courthouse Square. We need a whole new generation of writers to reflect on what they see in America, not with an agenda but with honesty, innovative perspective and clear voices.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Darfur-acting on principle

Yesterday rallies and concerts across the country brought attention, again, to the bloody carnage and chaos in Darfur. This weekend as well, two of the rebel groups in Darfur rejected signing a 'settlement' which has been months in negotiation. From the great distance I am able to view this, it seems that what might have been a slim opportunity to bring a stronger mediating force into play following the settlement has been lost. If I understand the geopolitics correctly, the 'rebel's are the tribal siblings of the African Darfurians who have been most outrageously victimized in this conflict. One wonders what their motive is for not signing on to end the fighting, or at least create breathing space that would make some relief possible. On the other hand, they may simply mistrust that Khartoum will stop supporting the Arab militias and the conflict, which UN officials already have trouble monitoring, will just roll forward.

A couple weeks back I wrote my thoughts on the UN taking the lead role in the attempt to reach peace and my doubt that it could succeed. The rallies and public actions yesterday called on our government to take stronger action. Our leaders have been expending vast amounts of energy on Iran and the nuclear power issue in recent months. Much less effort has been expended on Darfur, though the US has made efforts to get the UN to act. In terms of relative urgency, I would say that Darfur rises higher on the list; thousands are dying and being displaced now. So what, in our marching and petition signing and praying and singing do we urge our leaders to do?

The Bush crew have been vociferous proponents of unilateral action when they believe circumstances dictate. Would telling the Sudanese government that failure to curb the violence will lead to military action be a solution? The government is primarily Muslim and such an action would certainly fuel the assertion that we are 'crusaders' among some Muslims. However, that aside, could we actually bring a credible force to bear to affect the situation? The distances from Saaudi Arabia and Iraq or from our naval assets in the Gulf are not so great that we couldn't put air power over Darfur much as we did in Iraq during the 90s to 'interdict' the use of air power against local civilians. Such an action might take much of the imbalance out of the conflict in Darfur since the Sudanese air force has been used to support the Arab militia attacks. Could we get concurrence from the UN or the OAU for air interdiction? Rumor has it that the French have oil interests which make them reluctant to act against Khartoum and that the Russians and or Chinese also have economic interests in the area. So Security Council support for air interdiction seems unlikely. Could the US give support through the OAU which has a force of some thousands on the ground but no transport, firepower, support or strong mandate? That might be possible. It is very very unlikely that the Bush administration will stage a military force, drop it into the area, and attempt to impose a solution. Apart from the attacking a sovereign state issue, immense questions arise. Does the force drop into Darfur and establish a safe zone holding off the Sudanese forces to the east? Or does the force establish a beachhead on the Red Sea someplace like Port Sudan and leapfrog to Darfur? Or some other strategy? The fact that we would be putting forces into close proximity to Somalia, Yemen, Ethiopia and Eritrea poses challenges since these areas are so volatile and refuges for militant groups.

Simply marching and signing petitions does not seem adequate. However, the fact that Americans are taking to the streets asking their government to act on foreign soil is quite different than what we have experienced in the past three years over Iraq. Putting more money in support of the refugee relief would seem desirable. And perhaps convincing the UN to put forces on the ground to create refugee safe areas strongly enough defended to stop wanton bloodshed would be possible. We must take action out of moral conviction. And the right actions by our government could help to polish our somewhat tarnished image as the world's compassionate leader as well as military leader.

It is tough, in my mind, to find an effective course of action. But inaction is unacceptable. Time for the tough to get going.

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