Monday, December 10, 2007

Where's Darfur at the Democratic debates?

For all their prior rhetoric on "saving" Darfur, the frontrunners for the Democratic presidential nomination have made surprisingly little noise about the conflict in recent months.

This much is clear from the most recent party "debates" - more accurately, heavily managed public relations exercises replete with obfuscation and evasiveness - as Darfur has merited no substantive mention from the participants in the latest outings:
  • The September 26 debate in New Hampshire included no reference to Darfur (aside from a brief mention by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson concerning his diplomatic experience), though Tim Russert did find time to ask the candidates for their "favorite Bible verse."

  • On October 30 in Philadelphia, Darfur again received no mention, perhaps preempted by Brian William's question to Barack Obama about how he would be dressing up for Halloween.

  • In the most recent debate - November 15 in Las Vegas - Darfur again went unmentioned by the candidates.
The omission would not be glaring, if not for two issues.

First, it would be understandable if Darfur were receiving less attention if the candidates were instead focused on other foreign policy issues of concern - such as the almost universally ignored crisis in the Congo, or concrete ways to end the war in Iraq and attempt to atone for the massive destruction the U.S. continues to wreak in the country (clearly, not forthcoming).

Second, Darfur has been a lightning rod issue for liberal activists and Democratic voters - in fact, claimed to be the "largest such activism" since the war on Vietnam - and the conflict is widely reported in the West as the "world's worst humanitarian disaster."

So what gives?

One can imagine several possible explanations - for example, that the frontrunner candidates take the votes of Darfur activists for granted, or that since they largely agree on how to address the crisis (implementing a no-fly zone, pushing for a UN deployment, and pressuring China), they have little to discuss. Both theories have some merit.

But it is important to not lose sight of another key piece of the equation.

For all their heated rhetoric, mainstream Democrats are highly unlikely to make any substantive changes to Washington's fruitful intelligence-sharing relationship with key elements of the Khartoum government as part of the "War on Terror."

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