The Nation’s Dreyfuss on the Bashir Situation

I admire Robert Dreyfuss, but he gets the ICC-Bashir situation exactly backward in a post meant to criticize the Bush administration’s go along, get along approach to the International Criminal Court’s action in Sudan.

It’s the first indictment of a sitting head of state since the ICC was founded in 2002. But Bashir will resist the charges, and no one is going to charge into Sudan to arrest him. Meanwhile, UN diplomats and peacekeepers worry that Sudan will react forcefully, making the situation in Darfur in southwestern Sudan worse. The African Union issued a statement over the weekend warning against “the misuse of indictments against African leaders” — perhaps thinking, too, of Zimbabwe. Both Russia and China (which has close economic ties to Sudan and its oil) were against the indictments, too.Australia is already reconsidering its planned deployment of peacekeepers to Sudan, fearing greater violence. The Arab League is having an emergency meeting over the crisis.

There are two points to make here. First, of course no one is going to march on Khartoum to arrest Bashir. Similarly, there were no prospects of NATO forces marching on Belgrade to arrest Milosevic after his indictment or UN troops to march on Freetown to arrest Charles Taylor. Yet, in both cases, international indictments served to turn those heads of state into international pariahs and organic opposition groups gave them the boot. Bashir is a sufficiently unpopular ruler in Sudan that this kind of action is not without the realm of possibility, particularly as we approach the 2009 national elections.

Second, the ICC action will likely make things more difficult for aid workers and peacekeepers in the short term. But the harassment of peacekeepers was already making troop contributing countries wary of sending peacekeepers to Sudan. Aid workers were already being routinely denied access to refugee camps. The is no “peace process” of which to speak that the ICC action could be undermining.

The ICC action deserves our support because it is the only prospect of justice for Darfur’s victims. But perhaps more importantly, if the international community plays its cards right, the threat of indictment–and enticement of suspending an indictment–can be leveraged to force Sudan’s compliance with a future peace accord. The point is, supporting the ICC’s action on Sudan is not only the right thing to do, but has the potential to break an untenable political status quo.