The UN and AU’s joint special representative to Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, recently opined that Darfur is a “low-intensity conflict.” Lest this comment be construed to mean that the crisis in western Sudan is no longer much of a big deal — which I doubt it will, largely because of the domestic issue that Darfur has become, but also because the term “low-intensity conflict” has a very specific definitional meaning, and is not a value judgment on the severity of a conflict — but it’s worthwhile to point out the obvious: Darfur has been a “low-intensity conflict” for a long time now — four years, some might argue — but that does not diminish the importance of solving the crisis one iota. Rather, as the terrifying example of the Democratic Republic of Congo attests to, a “low-intensity conflict” is just the kind that can be the most consistently deadly, and the easiest for the international media to ignore.
That said, I don’t share Nick Kristof’s worries that the Obama Administration’s policy toward Darfur thus far amounts to “appeasement.” Without relegating Darfur to the backseat of international priorities — and he did appoint Scott Gration as his Special Envoy relatively quickly — it’s important to address the crisis based on an accurate reading of the current situation. This does not mean swallowing Khartoum’s propaganda, or being guilelessly led astray by its prevarications and obstructionism, too feckless to wield sticks. But it does mean that if some sanctions are not contributing to a political solution that will solve the region’s root problems, then, yes, they should be reassessed. And it certainly means that if bombing Sudan would prove counter-productive (and it would), then we should look to other means of ensuring that Sudan does not conduct further bombing raids on its own population.
The fact is, Darfur in 2009 is not the same as Darfur in 2004, and recognizing this is imperative to formulating a sensible policy toward it.