Does Clooney Help or Hurt?

Does Clooney Help or Hurt?

The Obama Administration has been balancing American interests in The Sudan deftly and with amazing success. “Winds of War”, George Clooney and Ann Curry might have jeopardized these efforts.

“Winds of War”’s principal success is the message that genocide is likely following next month’s referendum for the south to secede from the north. But the horrible conclusion taken from this is the simplistic and incorrect notion that violence can be prevented.

Entertainment comes in many forms but at the core of most entertainment is the reduction of ideas or situations to attract an audience. Well-prepared bait creates happiness or sadness, fear or comfort, other deep emotions like feeling enlightened, so that you’ll come back to the entertainer and buy more, later.

This is not how the history of The Sudan should be spread among the world. It’s just much more complicated than a 1-hour television special.

At the best, in pure reductio infinitum, we can say “at least it’s increased interest.” Clooney seems like a wonderful person. At least Ann Curry thinks so, as much of the special was about Clooney, not The Sudan.

Both Curry and Clooney expend a lot of effort explaining why so much of this story is about Clooney, rather than The Sudan. He is “using his celebrity” to help. I’m not sure he hasn’t. But I’m worried.

The danger of mobilizing the world to an issue like the upcoming Sudanese election by entertainers is that the results will be misunderstood. If trouble occurs, we’ll believe we understand exactly why. In this case: because it was preventable and we didn’t prevent it. That was the single message Clooney and Curry conveyed, again and again.

Preventing violence following the January 11 referendum for the south to secede from the north is virtually impossible in my opinion. But this does not mean that a new country, South Sudan, won’t be established, or that a better peace and situation that now exists won’t occur.

Violence after the referendum can’t be stopped, for the same reasons that terrorism can’t be stopped. In The Sudan as in the subways of London and airports of Seattle, mass destruction waits only for the actions of a single possibly random idiot or ideologue, take your pick.

Throughout “Winds of War” constant comparisons were made to the Rwandan genocide. This is simply straight out wrong. Effective foreign military force was already in Rwanda and could have been quickly and easily augmented, and specific policies in the U.S., France and the UN decided against doing so. It was a single wrong decision.

Sudan 2011 is not Rwanda 1994. The Sudan has genocide going on right now in Darfur. The world has come for better or worse to accept this genocide so long as it stays below a certain threshold.

The UN has (as of October) 9451 military personnel from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and a variety of African countries, spread out over a country that is 100 times bigger than Rwanda, which is basically validating the level of existing genocide.

(Important FootNote: No UN presence is near the town of Abyei where the violence after the January 11 referendum will likely begin. That – I believe – is intentional. Take it from there. If that dried out prairie brush fire can be contained, perhaps the suburbs around San Diego can be saved from the inferno.)

The Rwandan UN Force was heavily European, commanded by a Canadian general over a country that until the genocide began was at peace. He tried – unsuccessfully – to convince a world black-eyed from BlackHawk Down that genocide was imminent and could be prevented. He was right, and the “world” was wrong.

That metric cannot be applied today to The Sudan.

Instead, what I believe the Obama Administration and EU is working towards in southern Sudan is an acceptable threshold of genocide as exists right now in Darfur.

Not an entincing trailer to a film, is it?

Of course it isn’t! It’s a hard pill to swallow. And what’s worse, except through WikiLeaks we can’t admit it. But it may be the only way to incrementally ratchet down Sudan’s century of genocide. Rwanda’s ethnic hatred can be pretty simply explained: two different competing tribes whose animosities were accentuated by a racist colonial era. All we had – and have to do there is keep the genie in the bottle until sanity matures.

Sudan’s 30 or 40 tribes have been massacring one another for two millennia. Fueled by incompetent colonial powers, by enormous resources of oil, and by the visceral global ideological powerhouses of Christianity and Islam. We can’t even get the world to agree there shouldn’t be genocide! Every nation from China to the U.S. wants the oil, wants the religious allegiances and should we begin talking about the continent’s water source known as the Nile?

The Sudan is so important, so fundamental to the peace and stability of all of Africa, that a one-page synopsis or one-hour TV special has the enormous potential of screwing up everything.

The proposed border areas between the north and the new South Sudan will have violence, I just don’t see any other prospect. It will begin in Abyei. This is where so much oil is found. But we’d like to keep the violence in this oil-rich area at levels contained, just as the violence currently in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria seems contained. If this can be managed, then a society in South Sudan can emerge as it’s emerging in Nigeria.

“Winds of War” stokes the fire. If Clooney’s message achieves ultimate success, when the gunfire begins later next month in Abyei, America will send troops to stop it, and will become as deeply mired in conflict there as we are in Afghanistan.

It’s not working in Afghanistan. It won’t work in The Sudan.


Click here for Frank Lagiftt’s excellent NPR report.

Below for as usual an unbiased report from Al Jazeera.