TWQ: Will Darfur Steal the Olympic Spotlight? - Summer 2008
July 1, 2008
Beginning in 2004, U.S.-based activists organized within the Save Darfur Coalition launched a formidable campaign against what they passionately assert is an unbroken genocide in Darfur instigated by the Sudanese government. In its initial period, the movement mushroomed in strength and concentrated mostly on influencing U.S. policy and approaches. Soon thereafter, it shifted to give priority to influencing China. Both of these efforts have had a constructive impact, but they have also been disturbingly hyperbolic, dismissive of facts, and counterproductive in some important respects.
In the case of the United States, the movement has successfully pressed for U.S. leadership on the African Union (AU)–UN peace operation, approved by the UN Security Council in July 2007, to deploy a 26,000-person force to provide stability and critical humanitarian protection in Darfur. At the same time, however, it has gravely limited the ability of U.S. leadership to seek new compromises on Darfur and made it very difficult for Washington to sustain a dialogue with Khartoum and southern Sudanese leaders to advance the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended 25 years of internal war between Sudan's North and South. These shortfalls stem from the movement's unwavering ideology that Sudan is home to incessant genocide and its determination to challenge Washington's diplomacy whenever it ventures into serious engagement with Khartoum.
In the case of China, the campaign has entered into an unprecedented dialogue with Beijing and contributed positively to changing Chinese policies and approaches, but it continues routinely to undervalue the significance of China's shifts. As of early March 2008, just prior to the Tibet uprisings and related clashes during the Olympic torch's travels in Europe and the United States, Beijing appeared to have concluded that it had done enough to satisfy itself on Darfur and had had enough of placating U.S. nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Confident that its approach to Darfur was defensible and that President George W. Bush and more than 100 other heads of state would attend the Olympic Games opening ceremonies in August, Chinese officials seemed, however nervously, to conclude that China could withstand some measure of inevitable NGO criticism and disruptions on Darfur before and during the Olympics.
Between the late spring of 2008 and the August Olympics, the struggle will continue between the Darfur campaigners and the government of China over who will own the Olympic "coming-out party"—whether Beijing will choose to bend any more to the demands of an aggressive NGO movement and whether the Darfur campaigners will be capable of disrupting the storyline of Beijing's bid for a new international standing. The wildcard, of course, will be Tibet, a far more strategic threat than Darfur to China's sovereignty and stability, and how the burgeoning international controversy surrounding Tibet and the Olympics plays to the advantage or disadvantage of Western Darfur campaigners.