On Sudan, Kristof and Bolton Switch Sides


Globetrotting peacenik Nicholas "For the Cost of Just 246 Soldiers Posted for One Year, America Could Pay for a Higher Education Plan for all Afghanistan" Kristof seems like an unlikely person to go on the record cheerleading for the idea of blackmailing foreign governments with the threat of U.S. military force—especially when even the bomb-friendliest neocons aren't advocating going that far. But here he is, in yesterday's New York Times, writing that it is time for the U.S. to play the hardest of hardball with one of the world's most reckless human rights abusers. While Kristof had harsh words on U.S. escalation in Afghanistan, he doesn't seem to have a problem with it in the Sudan, where the habitual genocidaires in Khartoum may be prepping for a scorched-earth campaign against separatists in the country's south. His suggestion:

Why shouldn't we privately make it clear to [Sudanese President] Bashir that if he initiates genocide, his oil pipeline will be destroyed and he will not be exporting any oil?

By contrast, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, a man with much less respect for the U.N. and much more enthusiasm for bombing things than Kristof, recently stopped short of advocating the unilateral use of U.S. military force in the Sudan in a Sunday Washington Times column. Way short.

In theory, the Obama administration is confronting Khartoum with "carrots" and "sticks," promising as carrots aid and legitimacy if Khartoum allows a free and fair referendum and respects the results. The carrot list is long and generous, but the list of sticks is hard to find. Incredibly, Gen. Gration revealed his idea of sticks when he said recently "We have a policy that gives the North a pathway to better bilateral relations [with Washington]. If they don't take it, that's already a stick." In other words, if Khartoum doesn't do what Washington wants, it won't get what it has happily lived without for decades. No wonder Khartoum isn't listening.

Of course, Bolton doesn't explicitly say he's against the idea of U.S. military force in the Sudan. But while neocon-types (including Bolton) are more than happy to talk about bombing Iran, the hardliners' positions on Sudan have been markedly different. They pushed for a NATO response force and continue to discuss "humanitarian intervention" in a generic way. In 2005, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback (R) and then-Sen. Barack Obama argued for an increased U.S. role in advocating and organizing an international peacekeeping force in the Sudan, without recommending the actual use of U.S. military force. And back when Bolton was U.N. ambassador, he pressed for a U.N. force under the nominal influence of NATO and U.S. military planners. None of them spoke with such Kristof-like specificity about blowing shit up.

This role reversal, with Kristof taking a refreshingly extreme position on U.S. military intervention in the Sudan, is a reflection of Kristof and Bolton's different views on the goals of U.S. policy in the Sudan. Kristof believes we should be motivated by humanitarian and human rights concerns. Bolton is more concerned with the projection of U.S. power. From that perspective, this editorial page Bizarro World becomes much less surprising: After all, we might not need to bomb the Sudan to let them know the U.S. is not to be messed with. But preventing another genocide is a different, tougher goal to achieve.