Lack of US response to Darfur genocide unpardonable

by Ogi Overman

Bill Clinton has been asked on several occasions what he considers the greatest failing of his presidency. Most everyone, no doubt, would expect him to reply with the obvious, something about “that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” with whom he did not have sexual relations. The rest would likely surmise that his failure to catch or kill bin Laden when he had the chance would rank near the top. And he has admitted that it does, but not at the top. No, his biggest regret is his failure to act to prevent the genocide of 800,000 people in Rwanda.

Wonder what Bush’s answer to that same question would be.

Granted, there’s a lot to choose from, but do you suppose Darfur would even make the top 10? If he admitted to any failings at all, which runs contrary to his megalomaniac personality, would he place America’s lack of response to the ethnic cleansing underway in that region of Sudan anywhere on the list? Since he sleeps so well at night – or so he claims – does it even occur to him that he has it within his power to intervene, to lead a true coalition of the willing, on humanitarian grounds? Is it even worth a second thought?

Of all the peculiar (putting it mildly) decisions and non-decisions made by this so-called president, his lack of attention to the hell on earth that is Darfur certainly ranks among the most deplorable. Each time, it seems, when given a chance to do the right thing, he either does the opposite or does nothing. In the case of Darfur, he has made a few token gestures – appointing a special envoy, helping negotiate a north-south peace agreement, and threatening sanctions against the Jangaweed militia – but they have amounted to little more than lip service. The cold truth is that the only reason Darfur is on his radar screen at all is because the public outcry would be ferocious if he didn’t at least pretend to be concerned, and on his good days outraged. In fact, had it not been for local hero Olympic speedskating gold medalist Joey Cheek putting the issue in the forefront of the public consciousness, I dare say that it would merit no more than a passing mention in the State of the Union address.

To be fair, Bush is hardly alone in ignoring the gravity of the situation. The UN, which should have sent in a peacekeeping force in 2001, can barely bring itself to utter the word “genocide,” much less do anything meaningful to stop it. NATO, likewise, has revealed itself to be nothing more than a paper tiger. Both the African Union and European Union have so far chosen to sit this one out.

Which leaves humanitarian agencies around the world, like the one Cheek has thrown his weight behind, Right To Play, bearing the brunt of the relief efforts to this savaged region. (Incidentally, the Peter B. and Mary Ann Bush Family Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro recently kicked in $5,000 to the cause.) But, brothers and sisters, it’s not even a drop in the bucket.

Last Friday as part of my day gig as editor of The Jamestown News I had the privilege of attending and reporting on a speech at GTCC by a Darfur refugee named Mohamed Yahya. As executive director of a group called Damanga Coalition For Freedom and Democracy, Yahya travels the world trying to inform anyone who will listen of the horrific crimes committed against his people by the Sudanese government and pro-Arab Jangaweed militia. He knows from whence he speaks: While studying at the University of Cairo, the village where he grew up was destroyed and 21 members of his family were killed. They were among the 400,000 plus casualties so far, and he is among the 2.5 million Sudanese people displaced.

Yahya weighed his words carefully, praising America (which has granted him political asylum) throughout as the moral leader of the world. While refusing to blame Bush directly, he appealed to the higher instincts of this great country to take the lead in uniting the world’s superpowers to stop the daily killing in his homeland. He urged us to write our senators and congressmen asking them what they propose to do about this humanitarian crisis.

In essence, he was asking the very same questions most Americans are asking about our elected representatives: Who is going to lead? Who is going to get beyond partisan politics and step up and do the right thing?

In his only direct criticism of this administration he said, “I don’t expect any real help from America until President Bush is out of office.”

It was the only comment of the speech that drew applause.

Ogi may be reached at, heard Tuesdays at 9:30 am on “The Dusty Dunn Show” on WGOS 1070 AM, and seen on “Triad Today” Fridays at 6:30 am on ABC 45 and Sundays at 10 pm on WMY 48.