I just returned from a lecture by Smith College Professor and Darfur expert Eric Reeves, who also maintains a very useful website that has everything you'd ever need to know on the issue. He was absolutely spell-binding, and hit on virtually every important aspect of the conflict I could think of. Unfortunately, the upshot was a prevailing skepticism that anything will be done to stop the killing that is now a matter of routine there.
One of the areas Prof. Reeves addressed was the possibility of using the African Union troops to defuse the crisis. Brian Ulrich specifically mentioned the African Union specifically and "regional actors" in general as the preferred mechanism for stopping genocide. Unfortunately, Prof. Reeves seemed quite assured that the AU could not solve the problem. For one, they are not experienced enough--this is the AU's first major deployment and so far it has been an ignoble failure. To be fair, they have only 2000 troops with a limited mandate patrolling an area the size of France. However, that just emphasizes the second problem: The AU is still not politically stable enough to coordinate an effective response. Reeves gave the example of Nigeria, a key player in the Union. Nigeria's problem is that they are currently facing unrest in their predominantly Muslim north, and the Arab League has made it very clear that if they wish to avoid further trouble they should lay off on Khartoum. The result is that President Obasanjo has basically sold out Darfur to maintain domestic stability. And even if we could get past all of that, there still remains the problem of logistics. The AU simply does not have the equipment to facilitate the massive amounts of humanitarian aid that needs to be forwarded to the region. Reeves believes that even if the AU managed to make a full deployment to Darfur, it still is not adequately equipped to alleviate the crisis.
The UN is no better. The big problem on the UN's end of things is China. China is Sudan's largest foreign investor, and sees it as key to satisfying its future oil needs. China also has a veto on the Security Council, which it has threatened to use if the UN so much as threatens sanctions, much less the military response that clearly is necessary here. Basically, China wants to use Africa as a jumping off point for its hegemonic ambitions, so they are willing to overlook such trivialities like their allies engaging in mass murder of their own citizens (incidentally, I originally linked to that article in the context of a long post on why the GOP is philosophically hampered in fighting the war on terror). Even beyond China though, the UN has an abysmal record on genocide in the past. From Cambodia to Rwanda to Bosnia to Congo, the UN has never once shown even the slightest inclination to reacting toward genocide, even when it's occurring right in front of their own eyes (and Kofi Annan is the worst of this lot). The UN promises security, but it has given only betrayal. This is the context in which the UN refuses to even call the events in Darfur genocide because it might just compel them to act.
So what can we do? Reeves cites UN Peacekeeping Gen. Romeo Dallaire as estimating the total amount of ground troops necessary in Darfur as around 45,000--not too bad, and certainly within the capacity of NATO and the other EU nations who presumably could use this opportunity to demonstrate the vitality of the world beyond the US. But the real sticking point isn't ground troops, it's in logistical support and intelligence so that we can make strategic choices and deliver desperately needed humanitarian assistance. This is where US aid would shine, since this is something we excel at and it is a facet of our military sphere this isn't being taxed to the breaking point by Iraq. We can do this. The only question is, will we?
Professor Reeves opened his comments by describing President Bush's reaction to Bill Clinton's strategic ambivalence regarding the Rwandan Genocide. Bush is reported to have written in the margins of the paper, "not on my watch." Well, genocide is happening on your watch, Mr. President. The AU can't act, the UN won't, and the EU is waiting for a sign. It's time for you to take the lead.