So far, theatrical protests of the Beijing Olympics by Hollywood stars and sign-waving demonstrators have failed to stop the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region or restore Tibetan independence.
The sensationalist media love the fracas, since harassing Olympic torchbearers creates great video.
"Publicity politics" leveraging shame and moral outrage and calling for action can produce responsive change in those rare places where freedom is constitutionally or institutionally enshrined -- in other words, in democratic nations that practice open, responsive politics.
China is a curious, evolving dictatorship. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and a major importer of Sudanese oil, China can put diplomatic pressure on Sudan's Islamist government in Khartoum. The protests have embarrassed Beijing just enough to rhetorically nudge Sudan -- though in terms of getting on-the-ground results like stopping the genocide, the nudges have had little effect.
When it comes to fighting Sudan's multi-front war of which Darfur is currently the most genocidal theater, no nation exerts a decisive influence on Khartoum's Islamists. Why? Because Khartoum is waging a dictatorship's war on its own people, a war for the survival of Sudan's corrupt regime on the regime's preferred terms.
Despite Chinese criticism, the government-backed Muslim "janjaweed militias" continue to attack black African farmers and Sudanese aircraft continue to bomb rebel positions (sometimes) and the farmers' villages (frequently).
China did back the Security Council's creation of UNAMID, the U.N.-African Union "hybrid" peacekeeping and peace enforcement mission in Darfur that finally set up its headquarters in December 2007.
UNAMID's deployment, however, has become a sad joke. It will take a year before the mission is fully manned. UNAMID is short of helicopters. Transport helicopters give UNAMID the ability to quickly move observers and light infantry forces to threatened areas. Several nations (including Britain and Ethiopia) have promised to help provide helicopters, but until the force has them the Sudanese government will wage war on the non-Arab tribes with little interference.
Motivated people who really want to have an effect on the ground in Darfur should call for reform of the entire United Nations. Huge job? Yes. One that challenges the "politically correct" and "transnational" (usually anti-American) elites who always demand "international action" and look to the United Nations as a great "force for good"? Yes again. But reform needs to happen if effective peacekeeping is to occur.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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