As a presidential and vice presidential candidate in 2008, Joe Biden repeatedly pledged to use U.S. military force to end the genocide in Darfur. The government of Sudan is rightly listed as a state sponsor of terrorism and poses a threat to U.S. interests. Now that he’s in office, Vice President Biden should persuade President Obama to match their words with action and fulfill his campaign pledge.
“I would use American force now. I think it’s not only time not to take force off the table. I think it’s time to put force on the table and use it,” then-Senator Biden said in April 2007.
The specific recommendation Senator Biden was making was to create a No-Fly Zone over Darfur, preventing Sudanese aircraft from flying over the territory to bomb the population or supply government-sponsored forces with weapons used to carry out the genocide. Biden also said in April 2007 that he was told by senior military officials that the deployment of 2,500 soldiers to the area would “radically change the situation on the ground now.”
Biden justified his proposed intervention in moral terms, reflecting on the ongoing humanitarian disaster. The United Nations estimated in April 2008 that over 200,000 people have died as a result of the conflict, and over 2.5 million refugees have been created. The International Criminal Court has even issued a warrant for the arrest of President Omar Bashir and other Sudanese officials for their role in the genocide.
However, intervention can also be justified by national security. Sudan has become a client state of Iran, used to covertly sponsor terrorism. The Sudanese government has admitted that a truck convoy that passed through their territory in January 2009 and was carrying Iranian arms destined for Hamas in an operation managed by Iranian Revolutionary Guards members working out of Port Sudan. The trucks were destroyed by Israeli air strikes. When Egypt foiled a large Hezbollah terrorist plot on its soil, the arrested operatives confessed that the group was planning to send recruits to Sudan for training in how to carry out suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism.
Although it is not known to be a sponsor of Al-Qaeda right now, the Sudanese government previously granted Bin Laden safe harbor in the early 1990s and a former mentor of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command of Al-Qaeda, says that al-Zawahiri was a paid Sudanese agent during these times and was used to plan attacks against Egypt. A 2006 intelligence report said there were credible reports that about 15 Al-Qaeda terrorists were training members of the Janjaweed, the militia used by the regime to carry out atrocities, under the leadership of Musa Hilal.
It is also important to note that the current regime came to power in a coup in 1989 with the assistance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan, which continues to defend the regime and attribute the Darfur situation to a Western conspiracy. The country has been closely allied to Iran ever since and is a participant in the joint Iranian-Syrian-North Korean WMD efforts. Sudan has notified the IAEA of its beginning of a domestic nuclear energy program, and not-so-coincidentally, when Ayaollah Khamenei announced that Iran would share nuclear technology with other countries in 2006, he was meeting with President Bashir.
European intelligence believes that as far back as 1998, high-tech nuclear equipment was being transferred via Sudan which has still not been located. One of the focal points of the smuggling operations is a state-owned company in Khartoum which has offices in Tehran and “is cooperating intensively with Iran.”
Sudan has also been reported to have cooperated with Iraq and Iran on chemical and biological weapons in the 1990s, and there have been frequent reports of the regime using such weapons against the population in the south. Syria was also reported to have sent weapons scientists to Sudan to test aerial bombs carrying chemical and biological weapons in Darfur in June and July, which were said to have killed hundreds. Scud-C and Scud-D missiles were also stored in Syria, but the weapons were removed after the Western media reported on it. There were conflicting reports on whether President Bashir knew about the weapons, but it is highly unlikely that such secret cooperation between the two militaries could occur without his approval.
The Obama Administration may be tempted to wait and see if upcoming elections significantly change the situation. After several delays, the Sudanese government is scheduling general elections for April 2010, and a referendum to decide whether to create one single autonomous Darfur state is scheduled for the following July. In 2011, South Sudan is planning to hold elections to decide whether to become independent.
Given the Sudanese government’s human rights record, it is wishful thinking to assume they will allow elections to significantly change the status quo, although any irregularities could cause a backlash in the international community and among the population. In the meantime, the Sudanese people will continue to suffer, and the regime will continue to sponsor terrorism on Iran’s behalf.
Critics of any action will argue that the U.S. is acting as a global policeman. One of the wisest statements I’ve ever heard is that being unable to do everything isn’t an excuse for doing nothing. And right now, the U.S. is doing nothing.