Indifferent to genocide.
While Republican leaders in Congress were preening their fiscal responsibility feathers last week, the death spiral deepened in Africa's largest and most troubled country.
United States lawmakers on Tuesday shrugged off a request from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for $50 million in U.S. aid for African Union peacekeeping forces in Darfur, the war-torn region in western Sudan. One day later, 500 members of the Arab militia called the Janjaweed swept through the village of Abu Sorouj, slaughtering 20 civilians, including women and children, and looting and burning their houses.
Abu Sorouj was one of a number of villages that have been attacked and destroyed in recent weeks. Since 2003, the Janjaweed militias have killed as many as 400,000 and driven more than 2 million Darfuris from their homes, including another 5,000 in the most recent attacks.
The AU peacekeepers, which operate with logistical help from NATO, offer the best hope for stopping the killing. But the 7,000-strong force has inadequate equipment and too few troops to cover a region the size of Texas. In recent weeks, peacekeepers have been kidnapped and killed, and the vital aid convoys they escort attacked and looted. The few remaining relief agencies are considering pulling out, a move that would embolden the Sudanese government and its puppet militias, and hasten the pace of the killing.
In a letter last week, Rice asked lawmakers negotiating a major defense spending bill to include money for the deployment of additional AU troops. A spokesman for the House Appropriations Committee shrugged off the request as merely a "sugges- tion," remarking that an official budget request should have come from the White House.
If this bureaucratic parsing and unconscionable lack of urgency and commitment to halting genocide sounds familiar, it's because it's the same response that Congress and the Clinton administration exhibited in response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
Despite all the solemn pledges of "never again," a genocide is once again occurring in full view of the United States and the rest of the world, and no one seems willing to take the necessary steps to stop it.
To her credit, Rice at least is beginning to show the same concern about Darfur as her predecessor, Colin Powell. It was Powell who last year broke ground by formally declaring the situation in Darfur to be genocide. However, President Bush is saying little and doing even less to stop the killing.
All it would have taken is a few phone calls by Bush to the Republican leaders in Congress, and lawmakers would have swiftly approved additional funding for the AU's struggling force. The same is true of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, which has already been approved by the Senate would apply much-needed sanctions against Su- dan.
Similarly, all it would take is a news conference by Bush to announce the appointment of a special envoy, perhaps a high-profile statesman such as Powell or even Bush's father, to forge a peace accord between Sudan's government and Darfur's rebel groups.
The United States is standing by as the killing continues in Sudan. If it does not act soon, it will be too late.