Sunday, May 11, 2008

Manging the Warfare of the Oppressed--Containing the Exuberence of Darfur Warriors

I have written of the current turn in a certain turn of international relations and law--one grounded in a managerial approach to difference and conflict. See Larry Catá Backer, The Devil’s Advocate: The West, the Invincible Guerrilla, the Value of Violence and the Rise of a Management Model of War, Law at the End of the Day, August 7, 2006. The object is to say that the end goal is conflict resolution, when in fact the object is perpetuation until one side or another gives up in exhaustion. This represents, in a certain sense, the institutionalization of the patterns of behavior pioneered in the modern era in the so-called "Cold War" between the United States and its allies and the former (now vanquished) Soviet Union and its allies. In the end, ironically enough, Ronald Reagan might have been right--the United States was able to defeat the Soviet Union, in part, through a policy of small scale controlled conflict in proxy conflict states (Nicaragua, Grenada, Lebanon) coupled with a policy of extraordinary expenditures, rising wealth and cultural dominance which eventually overwhelmed the Soviet system.

Conflict perpetuation allows all actors to profit from managed instability: non governmental organizations, states, and combatants. Together they become locked in an autonomous and nearly self perpetuating system in which law, economics, and politics are deployed in the arrangement and re-arrangement of power relationships. Conflicts of this type are critical to the organization and growth of certain non governmental organizations, which can expand their donor and member bases, gain access to media and extend their markets in services for the length of time of the conflict. Conflicts, of course, are a great source of raw material for the production of the object critical to the news industry. Conflicts serve to enhance media power to legitimate events. Conflicts enhance the role of news institutions to choose those events worth investment by political institutions and civil society, and those that may not merit the effort. And, of course, conflict serves state interests. A certain measure of instability may be good for business. In some states, that business may be politics. But usually, the business is control. See, Larry Catá Backer, Proportionate Response and the Management of Violent Conflict in International Law, Law at the End of the Day, July 15, 2006

It seems that the Darfur rebels have been naughty of late. "Darfur rebels fought troops in a suburb of Khartoum on Saturday in a bid to seize power. Officials said the attack was defeated, but it was the first time in decades of war that Sudanese rebels brought their battle to the capital." France Condemns Darfur Rebel Attack on Khartoum, Reuters, May 11, 1008. But that is not the role the global media and other elites have set for these groups. Their role is to be pathetic--passive victims of circumstances beyond their control. There is an insatiable appetite for pictures of suffering peoples from a very different place. And the villains are picturesque as well--from Sudanese Arab Muslims to Chinese Communists, the cast of characters is operatic. They are the nice peace loving people whose blood sacrifice will arouse indignation in the West and provide the forces of the developed world--from its military, to its civil society, cultural and political elements--the context in which it can act, once again, for the salvation of the poor (outside their own countries).

But the Darfur tragedy requires all actors to stay in character. That ensures that the crisis proceeds on course for an appropriate length of time and in an appropriate manner. Breaches of role are punished. No better evidence of this than the behavior of the French government to the audacious military actions of the Darfur rebels. "France condemned an attack on the Sudanese capital by rebels from Darfur and called for faster deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Sudan's huge Western region, the foreign ministry said on Sunday." France Condemns Darfur Rebel Attack on Khartoum, supra. France, of course, has its finger in a number of pots. It supports the displaced populations of Darfur against the Sudanese Arab oligarchs, but does not necessarily support secession (that is a privilege apparently reserved for European states playing out the end of racialist state creation with its origins in the 19th century).

France is the former colonial master of Chad, with which it has maintained an intimate relationship with its governing elites. Sudan understood this, and played its cards well. "Sudan broke off diplomatic relations with Chad after the attack, which it said was supported by Chadian President Idriss Deby -- an ally of France, which has troops in Chad who have helped Deby defeat Chadian rebels he said were backed by Sudan." France Condemns Darfur Rebel Attack on Khartoum, supra. The only solution, then, is to maintain the status quo; there are important interests to protect in addition to those of the displaced people whose violent subordination sparked the "crisis." "France is also involved in the region through the European Union's force near Chad's border with Darfur, which is meant to protect refugees and aid workers. France has a big component of the force." France Condemns Darfur Rebel Attack on Khartoum, supra.

Moreover, France's support for the rebels would displease the Chinese. China has significant financial ties with the Sudanese Arab elite, and they are wary of encouraging any political action abroad that may exacerbate their own problems of precedent for Tibet, Taiwan and its Uighar regions. And indeed, the Chinese stayed well in character. "By infiltrating into the Sudanese capital Khartoum and launching attacks, a major rebel movement in the western Sudanese region of Darfur could get nothing but grievous losses and unanimous condemnation by the international society, local analysts affirmed on Sunday." Politically Suicide Attacks by Darfur Rebels in Sudan, China News, May 12, 2008. And at the moment the Chinese are particularly sensitive to the linking of its role in the Sudan with the Olympic spectacle it has long planned. That interference can have political consequences nations like France would rather avoid. China Says Linking Olympics With Darfur Against Olympic Spirit, China News, Feb. 14, 2008 ("China said Thursday it exerts positive efforts to resolve Darfur issue, and that linking the issue to the Olympic Games will not help and is against the Olympic Spirit that separates sports from politics.").

And thus conflict is managed in the Sudan. “Postmodern politics are managerial strategies, its wars, police actions. . . . As for the legitimacy of the system, it consists in its ability to self-construct” (Lyotard, Jean-François. 1997. “The Wall, The Gulf, the System.” In Postmodern Fables. Trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 200).

The rebel attack can be treated as a publicity stunt by an element of the Darfur rebels by the Sudanese Arab elites. "Sadig al-Madi al-Mahdi, a presidential adviser and the chairman of the Umma Party-Collective leadership, told Xinhua that this attack was "a desperate attempt aimed at snapping the public opinion." Politically Suicide Attacks by Darfur Rebels in Sudan, China News, May 12, 2008. And it was belittled. "But this was a politically suicide attack by the JEM which will lose the support of the Darfur people," the Sudanese well-known political analyst said. " Politically Suicide Attacks by Darfur Rebels in Sudan, China News, May 12, 2008. On the other hand, the Chinese and the Sudanese Arab oligarchs can continue to be berated in the Western press. See, e.g., Eric Reeves, An Up Close View of Brutality in Darfur, Christian Science Monitor, May 12, 2008; The Real Roots of Darfur, The Atlantic; Oil for China, Guns for Darfur, Business Week, March 2008. All the while, global business and political communities continue to deal with them. Oil for China, Guns for Darfur, Business Week, March 14, 2008. The pictures of suffering evoke great sentiment, filling the coffers of non governmental organizations, extending their business and operations, and providing a tremendous amount of fodder for "event" coverage in the news media of all stripes. All this is necessary and laudable, but made necessary and laudable by the continuation of conflict, managed that way by states. Consider the work of the Darfur Consortium. And international military forces are called in--not to resolve the conflict--but to manage its borders. France, unlike the Darfur rebels, understands its role in this drama. It p`lays that role well. And the others will fall in line.
"'France calls for an acceleration in the deployment of UNAMID, a resumption of political dialogue and the application of accords contributing to the easing of tensions in the region.' UNAMID is the joint U.N.-AU force in Darfur. Only about 9,000 of the envisaged 26,000 UNAMID peacekeepers have been deployed in Darfur, a region roughly the size of France. Western governments have blamed Khartoum for the slow pace of deployment, saying it has dragged its feet in approving the force's composition and set up unnecessary obstacles."
France Condemns Darfur Rebel Attack on Khartoum, supra. I do not condemn the system. To some extent systems of conflict containment and exhaustion reduce the scope of severity of violence, at least sometimes and to some extent. And that is a step forward from completely unregulated systems of violence. I merely regret the subterfuge necessary to keep it from falling apart. That subterfuge creates a tension with principles of transparency in democratic countries. But paradox of this sort is the essence of law and political relations in the West. See Larry Catá Backer, Legal and Photographic Fictions, Law at the End of the Day, August 20, 2006.

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