Michael Gerson

After four years of brutal raids, ethnic cleansing and systematic rape in Darfur, Sudan -- and nearly three years after the Bush administration declared this a genocide-- the U.N. Security Council has finally approved a credible peacekeeping force. For 2 million displaced people in the camps, this is a wisp of hope on the horizon. For the 200,000 dead, it comes too late.

The most disturbing part of the latest U.N. negotiations was the continued leverage exercised by the regime in Khartoum, which has a long history of mass killing. In the polished manners of the United Nations, blood on your hands is not a disqualification for a seat at the diplomatic table. With the expected help of China, and the disappointing support of France and Britain, the Sudanese envoy weakened the mandate of the peacekeeping force -- no weapons are to be seized from the militias -- and removed the threat of sanctions if Khartoum fails to cooperate. The regime protested that its "sovereignty" over the people of Darfur must be respected -- which is really the sovereignty of lions over the herds they hunt.

But even this diluted resolution is useful. It authorizes what will be the largest peacekeeping operation in the world -- upward of 25,000 soldiers and police under joint United Nations and African Union control. It sets specific dates for the transition to that force. And it mandates the protection of both aid workers and civilians.

Khartoum's grudging acceptance of U.N. peacekeepers is the result of global pressure. For all its tactical confusions, President Nicolas Sarkozy's France is tougher on the regime than was Jacques Chirac's France. China can no longer be too obvious in its support of Khartoum or it would risk a boycott of its Olympics next year. And a new round of American sanctions on Sudan has begun to bite, pressuring international banks to stop accepting Khartoum's billions in oil money. The Sudanese, one U.S. official told me, "are feeling financial pressures across the board, really flailing on the financial side."

Is this momentum real? There are two benchmarks that will help answer this question, one way or the other.

In October, the United Nations must have its headquarters -- its command and control structure -- operational in Darfur and take over the financing of African troops already on the ground.

By December at the latest, the United Nations will need to have in place what is called the "heavy-support package" -- hospitals, attack helicopters, 2,000 new African troops and 3,000 police. It will also need to know which countries will contribute the rest of the troops to the peacekeeping force.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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