10/26/2007 01:15 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Darfur Is Just A Preview

The Comprehensive Peace Accord of 2005, of which Secretary of State Colin Powell had a hand in shaping, brought an end to Sudan's second civil war. The 21-year war between the dominantly Muslim Arab North and mostly non-Muslim African South concluded as the world's longest running civil war. With two million dead, it was also the bloodiest conflict since WWII.

One-fifth of the entire population of South Sudan was killed during the civil war, prompting the US government to accuse the north of genocide in 2002. It would not be for the last time, of course.

One of the Peace Accord's main stipulations was the creation of a "Government of National Unity," allowing for semi-autonomy in the South and shared governance of the whole of Sudan, as well as shared oil-profits and development.

Last week, the south withdrew from the Government of National Unity, sending a very clear warning to the world: If you think Darfur is bad, things could be about to get a lot worse.

The peace accord is on the brink of collapsing.

The explanation given by the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the governing body of South Sudan, echoes a long and bitter series of accusations leveled at the northern Khartoum government over the last decade:

They refuse to negotiate and consult with their southern African counterparts in decisions that affect them; they show blatant contempt in hoarding the country's oil profits in the north; and they have failed to remove thousands of troops from the oil fields located in Southern Sudan.

McClatchy reports, "The inequities that spawned the conflict haven't changed. The north, including the capital, Khartoum, is experiencing an oil-fueled economic boom, while the south remains a vast forest lacking roads, reliable water and power, and even school buildings."

This latest crisis won't come as a surprise to anyone who's familiar with the divide & conquer and attrition tactics of the north's president, Omar Al-Bashir, or his National Islamic Front government.

As John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group has noted, on several occasions after diplomats were able to convene the myriad of rebel groups in Darfur for negotiations toward peace, Khartoum's military would bomb the meeting place in an attempt to kill the parties involved, rather than negotiate.

Bomb them with the shiny new planes China sold them, in exchange for the oil being pumped out of the South.

This is the same government that actively arms and coordinates its military strikes on civilians in Darfur with the Janjaweed, that all-raping, all-mutilating band of merry homicidal horsemen.

The same government that Human Rights Watch and the BBC reported of actively supporting pro-government militias in their enslavement of non-Muslim Southern Sudanese, to the tune of 11,000 men, women and children.

And, of course, the same government that outlawed apostasy, allowing for the disenfranchisement and execution of not only non-Muslims, but also those moderate Muslims who support secular government.

As if created by a coked-up 1980's Hollywood action movie screenwriter, here, finally is a regime of such over-the-top cruelty and blatant disregard for human rights that any country or international body on earth could bring force, either political or military, to bear against them without having to fabricate justifications.

Europeans are clamoring for intervention. Africans are outraged. Americans of all political and religious persuasions are rallying around the issue: they're even writing letters to their Congress people! Regardless of whether or not those letters are being read and responded to by interns, Americans are actually writing letters!

And they've been met by silence.

Actually, this isn't exactly true. There has been a response from Washington, and it has been so vague, so placating, so equivocating that it begs comparison to Neville Chamberlain's failed strategy of "appeasement." But it isn't appeasement. It's the voice of the complicit.

After it became clear there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the only justification left for the war was that Saddam Hussein was a very bad man who needed to be stopped by any able party. This argument has been trumpeted loudly since then.

A strong stance was similarly taken against the Sudanese government in the beginning of Bush's first term, when Secretary of State Powell declared the situation in Darfur to be genocide.

However, not only was there a complete failure of meaningful action following this declaration, the administration has actively backpedaled since making it.

Andrew Natsios, while administrator of USAID in 2003, stated on Nightline with Ted Koppel that the rebuilding of Iraq would cost only $1.7 billion from U.S. taxpayers. Not one cent more.

It should be noted here that his previous job was manager of Boston's "Big Dig" debacle: the public works project that opened five years late and billions over budget.

Not long after his Nightline performance, Natsios found himself in a promoted role as the President's Special Envoy to Sudan, where he declared before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2007 that very little violence remained in the region, backhandedly declaring that the situation in Darfur was no longer genocide.

Two months after this claim, violence in Darfur would grow so widespread that even the most resolute aid agencies were forced to restrict their operations, just to protect their own aide workers.

Congressman Ron Paul, that maverick, stood on the house floor to oppose the bill recognizing the Darfur genocide, adding, "We must realize the implications of urging the President to commit the United States to intervene in an ongoing civil war in a foreign land thousands of miles away."

He's referring of course to the same harmless foreign land that sheltered Bin Laden from 1991 to 1996. The same that harbors the Taliban's and Al Qaeda's gold for them.

Occasionally, President Bush will be moved to make a declaration to the tune of: if Sudan doesn't mend their ways pretty soon then America will eventually start to think about possibly intervening. Maybe.

In May of 2007, under heavy criticism from grassroots activists, Jewish coalitions, and his own Christian base alike, Bush was pressured to declare sanctions, though mild and parsed with language that hardly reflected the fortitude he was so quick to flex against Iraq.

Not surprisingly, little has changed on the ground in Darfur.

Washington's lack of meaningful action in Sudan's deteriorating situation only plays into the worst stereotypes of US foreign policy: that Americans only care about humanitarian issues when they occur on top of oil deposits, or when white people are the victims.

More immediately and concretely, if Washington and its allies allow the Peace Accord to crumble and the Darfur massacres to continue, the whole of East Africa could be plunged further into armed chaos. One predicted outcome could be, to use André Glucksmann's term, the "Somaliazation" of the entire region.

Bringing the Al-Bashir regime to heel wouldn't necessarily even require direct military intervention. As John Prendergast has noted, Sudan's government has traditionally responded more "to the stick than the carrot."

But as he explains, this can also be interpreted as imposing harsh and focused sanctions, divestment by US universities, pressuring China to cease its unconditional support for Sudan and frustration of UN initiatives, and the creation and enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur - options which have only been minimally explored or talked about to date.

Ambassador Donald Steinberg, whose 29-year diplomatic career culminated as the Special Assistant for Africa under President Clinton, said during a talkback at the Public Theater on April 18th, 2007 that one of the biggest disagreements he ever had with Clinton came over his decision to pull US troops out of Somalia following the Battle of Mogadishu.

"I believe he underestimated the American people's resolve when it comes to preventing atrocity," he said.

Future inaction by Washington ignores more than the American people's outrage over the Sudanese government's practices; it undermines the United State's very credibility on the world stage.

To drag Dante into it, "The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality."

And if you think Darfur is already hell on earth, things could be about to get a lot worse. We've been warned.