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The Logic of 'Humanitarian Intervention'

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November 1, 2006

The Logic of 'Humanitarian Intervention'

Neo-colonial tool serving geopolitical interests

by Brendan Stone

Former Haitian Minister of Defence Patrick Elie asks, "Who is protecting the rights of the people of Iraq, killed by the bombs of those who would grant themselves the 'responsibility to protect?" photo: www.socialistvoice.com

Originally published May 13, 2006, updated September 2006. GlobalResearch.ca

In a recent appearance at McMaster University, former Haitian Minister of Defence Patrick Elie was asked by a member of the World Federalists NGO to support Canada's new 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) doctrine. The 'R2P' doctrine, developed by, among others, Michael Ignatieff, is that other countries should intervene in the politics of a sovereign country if they perceive instability or a human rights crisis.

Elie, who spoke at McMaster University early in March, acknowledged the need to protect people whose human rights come under attack. But since the 'R2P' doctrine is coming largely from the developed Western nations, many of which are violating human rights at this very moment, Elie asked, "Who is protecting the rights of the people of Iraq, killed by the bombs of those who would grant themselves the 'responsibility to protect'?"

In asking this question, Elie pointed out the dissonance between countries that are waging illegal wars on the one hand and painting themselves as 'responsible' for the 'protection' of those in the 'failed states' of the Third World on the other.

Do the terms 'humanitarian intervention' and 'responsibility to protect,' invoke soldiers from Ethiopia coming to the US to arrest George Bush for war crimes and the highest rate of imprisonment in the world? Implicit in the doctrine is that white colonial powers will be the ones doing the 'protecting.'

Recently, news outlets, celebrities and government figures have made efforts to draw attention to Sudan and its endangered population of refugees. Many have mobilized in favour of a 'humanitarian intervention' involving Western troops invading for the stated purpose of helping the innocent victims of what is said to be government-sponsored aggression. The fact that similar calls have not been made for nearby Congo, where millions have died in an ongoing civil war, however, calls into question what is driving the calls for 'humanitarian' invasion of Sudan, justified by the Responsibility to Protect.

The Jerusalem Post reported that, "the [Save Darfur] coalition, which has presented itself as 'an alliance of over 130 diverse faith-based, humanitarian, and human rights organizations,' was actually begun exclusively as an initiative of the American Jewish community." The embarrassed organizers of the recent Darfur rally in the US were forced to admit their failure to include other American ethnicities and organizations, such as the NAACP and the Africa Action group, and actually struggled to find a single Darfuri or Muslim speaker.

Christian fundamentalists have also been a key force in the coalition. According to the Washington Post from April 27, "Last week, after an inquiry from the Washington Post, [Christian evangelist group] Sudan Sunrise changed its web site to eliminate references to efforts to convert the people of Darfur". Beyond the religious groups, who play a subsidiary role, the idea of Western intervention into Darfur is primarily an initiative of the US State Department. Sudan's oil-rich South Darfur and South Sudan regions make it the second-largest oil producer in Africa and its strategic location places the country at the gateway to the Middle East. Perhaps crucially, Sudan has been using its oil money for projects that break with the dictates of the International Monetary Fund.

According to John Laughland, "Darfur is a region which is rich in oil and through which pipelines are to be constructed." The main investor in the Sudanese oil industry is the China National Petroleum Company, and China is Sudan's biggest trading partner. While there are numerous foreign oil companies present in Sudan, it is precisely in Southern Darfur that the Chinese National Petroleum Company has its concessions. USAID, the American humanitarian agency, has helpfully provided a map of Sudan showing exactly where the oil concessions are. China invested $300 million to expand Sudan's largest refinery and now buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil.

Well-known academics such as Noam Chomsky and Michel Chossudovsky have investigated a key feature of US policy in the MiddleEast: to deny oil to competitors, especially China. Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis argues that the US is interested in nearby Chad's oil as well. The US Congress has allocated $500 million for military assistance to African governments, including Chad's, whose military has been engaged in conflict with Sudan.

Former US President Jimmy Carter has said that

The people in Sudan want to resolve the conflict. The biggest obstacle is US government policy. The US is committed to overthrowing the government in Khartoum. Any sort of peace effort is aborted, basically by policies of the United States...Instead of working for peace in Sudan, the US government has basically promoted a continuation of the war.

In 2001, the US House of Representatives' 'Sudan Peace Act' provided $10 million in assistance to the National Democratic Alliance, described by US Sudan-specialist Stephen Morrison, the head of the Sudan project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC, as essentially a Darfuri rebel front group. Further support for Carter's claims comes from Enver Masud, who refers to a Washington Post article investigating how in 1996, the US sent nearly $20 million in surplus US military equipment to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda to topple the government of Sudan.

General Wesley Clark discovered that elements in the Pentagon have a five-year campaign to target certain regimes, and Sudan is number seven on the hit-list. In his book, Winning Modern Wars, he writes:

As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan... He said it with reproach--with disbelief, almost--at the breadth of the vision. I moved the conversation away, for this was not something I wanted to hear. And it was not something I wanted to see moving forward, either... I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned.

Attacks on Sudan are nothing new. The US under Bill Clinton bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, claiming it was used to produce WMDs. It was later revealed that US missiles had actually destroyed the largest producer of anti-malarial medicines in Africa. The US has funded insurgencies in Sudan ever since the country moved away from the control of Western powers in the late 1970s, especially the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement and Army [SPLM/A] group. The late leader of the SPLA, John Garang, allied himself with the Christian-right. Republican-right leader Senator Bill Frist once visited the disputed South Sudan and was photographed with Garang. The US Christian-right is using the alleged oppression of Christians in the predominantly Muslim south to advocate a 19th century-style colonial intervention.

In negotiations with the Sudanese government, Garang managed to secure Kosovo-style autonomy for areas of southern Sudan. As part of a US plan for balkanization, Sudan now has been strong-armed into accepting the unusual arrangement of a vice-president from Darfur and a vice-president from Southern Sudan. Garang's widow is now meeting with US leaders, including Frist, for further independence negotiations.

According to some observers, the US keeps Sudan in a perpetual state of war by making sure at least one rebel group is on the move while another is engaged in peace talks. The recent round of "Save Darfur" demonstrations have taken place during a time of negotiations between government and rebel groups and are further destabilizing the country. Yoshie Furuhashi explains, "The timing of the [April 30] rally was perfect, designed to coincide -- and scuttle -- the Abuja peace negotiations between the rebels and Khartoum brokered by the African Union, whose deadline is midnight today. And sure enough, the rebels rejected the peace deal." The US needs rebel groups to win bigger victories, if it is to reverse China's current advantageous position in Sudan.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush himself has encouraged activists who are calling for 'humanitarian intervention' in Darfur. In May, the New York Sun reported that Bush endorsed the Save Darfur rally and met with several activists.

"For those of you who are going out to march for justice, you represent the best of our country," Bush was quoted as saying.

In an editorial, the Sun wrote that leftists who support intervention in Darfur but oppose the invasion of Iraq or military aid to Israel are maintaining a double-standard.

"Mr. Bush is way ahead of the leftist Darfur advocates because he supports freedom and democracy and opposes terrorism everywhere -- not only in Darfur, but also in Iraq and Iran and Israel."

In order to gain support for a US military intervention, including NATO intervention as suggested by President Bush, corporate media outlets downplay the violence of, and refusal to sign peace accords among, the rebel insurgency and instead covers Sudan's civil war as if it is a one-sided human rights crisis, with the Sudanese government as the "bad guys." This lopsided picture has also been adopted by many progressives.

Far worse conflicts in Africa, such as the travesty in the Congo where millions have been killed, are ignored in favour of Darfur. As in Kosovo, all this coverage is designed to make Canadians think that by putting Western boots on the ground, we can avert a humanitarian catastrophe.

Edward Said has explained that colonialism is not just the occupation of territory, but it requires a state of mind as well; a state of mind which, "includes ideas that certain people and certain territories require and beseech domination."

Elie's comments and the focus of politicians and government officials on Darfur show that Westerners tend to believe that if a white, developed country is sending troops to the Third World, it must be for a good cause. But can we imagine an atrocity grave enough to justify a Brazilian invasion of Southern Ontario? Until we can, many argue that the 'Responsibility to Protect' exists as simply an expanded means for the West to control the affairs of other countries, particularly Sudan.

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