SUDAN WATCH: Strategic Victimhood in Sudan (by Alan Kuperman)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Strategic Victimhood in Sudan (by Alan Kuperman)

Note this extraordinary opinion piece in the New York Times May 31, 2006 by Alan J Kuperman, assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas and editor of "Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention: Moral Hazard, Rebellion and Civil War" - copied here below in full, with many thanks to Eric at Passion of the Present. I agree with every word of it. As I am no writer, it is comforting for me to at long last see such an eloquently written piece echoing what I have clumsily banged on about, alone here at Sudan Watch, for so long.

"Strategic Victimhood in Sudan" by Alan Kuperman

THOUSANDS of Americans who wear green wristbands and demand military intervention to stop Sudan's Arab government from perpetrating genocide against black tribes in Darfur must be perplexed by recent developments.

Without such intervention, Sudan's government last month agreed to a peace accord pledging to disarm Arab janjaweed militias and resettle displaced civilians. By contrast, Darfur's black rebels, who are touted by the wristband crowd as freedom fighters, rejected the deal because it did not give them full regional control. Put simply, the rebels were willing to let genocide continue against their own people rather than compromise their demand for power.

International mediators were shamefaced. They had presented the plan as take it or leave it, to compel Khartoum's acceptance. But now the ostensible representatives of the victims were balking. Embarrassed American officials were forced to ask Sudan for further concessions beyond the ultimatum that it had already accepted.

Fortunately, Khartoum again acquiesced. But two of Darfur's three main rebel groups still rejected peace. Frustrated American negotiators accentuated the positive - the strongest rebel group did sign - and expressed hope that the dissenters would soon join.

But that hope was crushed last week when the rebels viciously turned on each other. As this newspaper reported, "The rebels have unleashed a tide of violence against the very civilians they once joined forces to protect."

Seemingly bizarre, this rejection of peace by factions claiming to seek it is actually revelatory. It helps explain why violence originally broke out in Darfur, how the Save Darfur movement unintentionally poured fuel on the fire, and what can be done to stanch genocidal violence in Sudan and elsewhere.

Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region's blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago - denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations. The most extreme Islamists are not in the government but in a faction of the rebels sponsored by former Deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Turabi, after he was expelled from the regime. Cease-fires often have been violated first by the rebels, not the government, which has pledged repeatedly to admit international peacekeepers if the rebels halt their attacks.

This reality has been obscured by Sudan's criminally irresponsible reaction to the rebellion: arming militias to carry out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency. These Arab forces, who already resented the black tribes over past land disputes and recent attacks, were only too happy to rape and pillage any village suspected of supporting the rebels.

In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur's rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide - which erupted only after they rebelled - but to gain tribal domination.

The strongest faction, representing the minority Zaghawa tribe, signed the sweetened peace deal in hopes of legitimizing its claim to control Darfur. But that claim is vehemently opposed by rebels representing the larger Fur tribe. Such internecine disputes only recently hit the headlines, but the rebels have long wasted resources fighting each other rather than protecting their people.

Advocates of intervention play down rebel responsibility because it is easier to build support for stopping genocide than for becoming entangled in yet another messy civil war. But their persistent calls for intervention have actually worsened the violence.

The rebels, much weaker than the government, would logically have sued for peace long ago. Because of the Save Darfur movement, however, the rebels believe that the longer they provoke genocidal retaliation, the more the West will pressure Sudan to hand them control of the region. Sadly, this message was reinforced when the rebels' initial rejection of peace last month was rewarded by American officials' extracting further concessions from Khartoum.

The key to rescuing Darfur is to reverse these perverse incentives. Spoiler rebels should be told that the game is over, and that further resistance will no longer be rewarded but punished by the loss of posts reserved for them in the peace agreement.

Ultimately, if the rebels refuse, military force will be required to defeat them. But this is no job for United Nations peacekeepers. Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia show that even the United States military cannot stamp out Islamic rebels on their home turf; second-rate international troops would stand even less chance.

Rather, we should let Sudan's army handle any recalcitrant rebels, on condition that it eschew war crimes. This option will be distasteful to many, but Sudan has signed a peace treaty, so it deserves the right to defend its sovereignty against rebels who refuse to, so long as it observes the treaty and the laws of war.

Indeed, to avoid further catastrophes like Darfur, the United States should announce a policy of never intervening to help provocative rebels, diplomatically or militarily, so long as opposing armies avoid excessive retaliation. This would encourage restraint on both sides. Instead we should redirect intervention resources to support "people power" movements that pursue change peacefully, as they have done successfully over the past two decades in the Philippines, Indonesia, Serbia and elsewhere.

America, born in revolution, has a soft spot for rebels who claim to be freedom fighters, including those in Darfur. But to reduce genocidal violence, we must withhold support for the cynical provocations of militants who bear little resemblance to our founders.
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Some reactions

May 31 2006 A Newer World - Spinning Darfur: Professor Kuperman, are you being paid to spin for Sudan's theocratic dictatorship? Or are you just drunk on anti-interventionism? What gives?

May 31 2006 Drima of The Sudanese Thinker: Strategic Victimhood In Sudan (A MUST READ): The following is a superbly written article that I checked today on Sudan Watch. I absolutely love it. It explains everything that Sudan Watch, Passion of The Present and I myself have been trying so hard to get across. The damn media talks about the Darfur conflict like they know it all when infact they got so many of their "facts" wrong. At the end of the day it's you the readers who end up getting distorted information. Please read it and enlighten yourselves to what is truly happening. The rebels are neither heroes nor victims in this tragedy. They are a sick and greedy bunch of people whom the international community shouldn't sympathize them.

June 1, 2006 Coalition for Darfur - Theory vs. Reality: excerpts and links to responses by NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof and Jerry Fowler of VOICES ON GENOCIDE PREVENTION.

[Sudan Watch Ed: Note how Fowler belittles Kuperman as 'a young academic with an iffy academic theory'. Is Fowler saying we all have to be old academics with sound theories to be entitled to an opinion? Old non academic Kristof opines: "First, of course it's more complicated than it seems at first. There are layers and layers of complexity to Darfur (although it's not clear to me that the author has ever actually been to Darfur to try to peel them away)." Is Kristof saying we all have to visit Darfur to be entitled to have an opinion on the war?]

June 2 2006 Jerry Fowler's blog entry Avid Readers says Alan Kuperman's op-ed in the New York Times found one appreciative audience: the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. They've posted it on their home page.

June 1 2006 Bitter Lemon: Personally, I hold George Clooney Responsible for the Genocide: Save Darfur movement has not discussed resolving the political crisis in Darfur, but simply stopping the Sudanese government from slaughtering their own people.

May 31 2006 Random Voices: Kuperman has no kind words for the Darfur rebels.

May 31 2006 Tas of Louded Mouth - Alan Kuperman needs to be smacked: Hey Kupster, maybe if the United Nations and western powers had listened to the Save Darfur movement and taken the crisis as a serious problem sooner, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But the fact is that they didn't; nobody did.

May 31 2006 American Scream - Men With Guns: While I do have an objection to this piece because it obstinately argues that we should do nothing, and everything will magically work out, it does have a point.

May 31 2006 Minerva - Epistemic Conditions For Foreign Engagement: What is compelling about his answer I think is less that it is obviously the right solution (it doesn't sound bad to me) but that it is reversable and causes less damage than humanitarian intervention. It is cautious. If there's anything you should be when it comes to giving guns to a bunch of people and sending them to face off with other people with guns, it's cautious. [Edit] I remember NPR interviewing a woman--someone in Iraq, I can't remember when or how--and she predicted virtually the exact chain of events that left us where we are now. I'm not talking about an expert. I'm talking about someone who sounded frightened, someone very ordinary, maybe even uneducated. Much of what she said--the resentment of the occupation, the internal turmoil between Sunni and Shia, the descent into chaotic violence--were things that seemed to me likely to happen.

May 31 2006 dcat - Touring Africa: Alan Kuperman writes in a Times op-ed piece that Americans misunderstand the conflict in Darfur and thus our solutions are simplistic. While Kuperman is right about Americans, his own proposed solutions are both too sanguine and too wrong. [Edit] While he is correct in his assertion that most of the rebel groups are hardly rife with good guys, any military force worth its salt would go in with the goal of stopping violence on all sides without taking simplistic dualities of good guys and bad guys.

May 31 2006 Just World News by Helena Cobban - Countering Darfur's anti-humane rebels: Put simply, the rebels were willing to let genocide continue against their own people rather than compromise their demand for power. This is a very strong statement of a case I've been making -- in much more tentative terms -- here on JWN over the past few weeks. Kuperman's conclusion is, "Ultimately, if the rebels refuse, military force will be required to defeat them." I disagree with this. I still maintain that there are always alternatives to the use of violence! ... Kuperman conclusion is this: we should let Sudan's army handle any recalcitrant rebels, on condition that it eschew war crimes. I agree, in general, with the argument that Sudan has a right to exercise its own national soveriegnty. ... Kuperman also makes a very good longer-range argument regarding the direction of US foreign policy. ... I am just glad to see Alan Kuperman entering the debate on Darfur with this feisty and generally strongly reasoned article.

May 31 2006 Compartmentalizing: I haven't read it, but I bet it's very good. A NYT op-ed about Darfur by Alan J Kuperman.

May 31 2006 Empire of Dirt - The Nail On The Head: Alan J Kuperman On Darfur: Occasionally, I come across an article that seems to have resulted from the writer's actually doing some thinking, rather than just rehashing some well-worn facts and tired cliches. It doesn't happen very often because new ideas are just few and far between, it seems. Anyway, in today's New York Times, Alan J. Kuperman really made me think anew about the Darfur situation. I'm no expert, so I don't know whether Kuperman is right in his prescription, but I do know that this is the type of writing that makes me sit up and take notice, for Kuperman demonstrates a refusal to bow before sacred cows and an unashamed devotion to the search for truth. Such concern for inquiry is today in short supply and therefore valued all the more by your Emperor.

May 31 2006 LookSmart's Furl - Strategic Victimhood in Sudan - Gives a little history on the Darfur conflict, which apparently isn't quite so one-sided as Kristof et al have led one to believe.

May 31 2006 Greg's Opinion: Alan Kuperman goes contrarian, pointing out that the Sudanese rebel groups aren't the clean-cut innocents that some might wish them to be. Focusing on Kuperman's take, I think it's worth pointing out that many genocides involve combatants on two sides that are rarely combating angelically. The problem is that that does NOT negate the obviousness of genocide. It does nothing to make the case against humanitarian assistance, if not placing boots on the ground to prevent more killing. The current rise of contrarian thought on Sudan is a bit surprising, I don't pretend to know what to make of it. But I would hope that it gets relegated to the asterisk mark of human thought that it deserves.

June 1 2006 Global Paradigms by Dr Leon Hadar, Cato Institute - The road to hell is paved with good intentions: It was interesting to read an op-ed in the New York Times this week Strategic Victimhood in Sudan in which the author Alan J. Kuperman deconstructs Darfour-as-a-Morality-Play and explains what we libertarians have known for quite a long time, that when it comes to most of these civil war in Third World spots, it's all about power, stupid!

May 31 2006 Life's Not That Simple - choosing the lesser of two evils.: one thing i've learnt is that things are never so simple ... no wonder the African Union was reluctant to let UN peacekeeping forces take over..

Jun 2 2006 CJR Daily - =eporter's Layered, Nuanced Work from Darfur

Jun 2 2006 Aplia Econ Blog - News for Economics Students: The Economics of Genocide

Jun 3 2006 The Human Province - Kuperman and "provoking genocie"

June 12 2006 Sudan Tribune Bill Andress Strategic victimhood in Sudan - A response: Tribal conflict is a blemish on all of Sudan just as it is on much of the African continent, but it is not the main issue here. [Sudan Watch ed: What a load of twaddle. By the way, the Sudan Tribune published a response to Kuperman's piece but not the piece itself. Lately, I've found Sudan Tribune (France based, I think) to be subtley biased in its selection of reports: seems to me, Sudan Tribune editors are pro rebel]

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Anonymous Drima said...

Hey great post... I love it big time... Finally someone speaking some sense rather those stupid twisted and distorted media reports. I linked up to you

Keep up the good work. I love your blog.

PS: what's your email address. Please let me know.

Mine is

Thursday, June 01, 2006  
Anonymous WPB said...

I don't understand how you can "agree with every word" of this article when your site also links to the Genocide Intervention Fund and articles like this one.

Do you really agree with Kuperman that the peacekeepers should pull out and allow the Sudanese government to stop the violence in Darfur?

Do you really think that the rebels started this conflict?

Do you really believe that the Save Darfur movement is to blame for the continuing bloodshed?

I sure don't: Spinning Darfur

Thursday, June 01, 2006  
Blogger Tsedek said...

I'm somewhat dissappointed. I don't care that much for "foreing" observations (this is an English gentleman, I gathered? And I didn't pay attention and thought it was a Sudanese gentleman instead)

The only explanations I believe are those coming from the people (in this case the Sudanese) themselves. I find this mengling and "knowing it all" - quite disturbing and grotesque.


Thursday, June 01, 2006  

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