Compassion offensive

June 01, 2007

Fresh from his fight over Iraq war spending, President Bush has been busy this week at the more constructive task of burnishing his humanitarian credentials.

He's stepping up pressure on Sudan to halt the genocide in Darfur; proposing to double funding for global AIDS programs to $30 billion over five years, and installing at the World Bank a skilled negotiator knowledgeable in these and many related issues.

And yet Mr. Bush's positive initiatives remain crippled by the global ill will engendered by America's pre-emptive attack on Iraq.

To achieve the sort of progress for mankind that would help balance the ledger, the president will have to take bold steps to reassert the nation's leadership as a global partner rather than a unilateral bully.

Facing down Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, in particular, requires a unified international community - including China and Russia - that will put its financial interests aside in order to impose economic sanctions too severe for Khartoum to ignore.

The economic sanctions Mr. Bush imposed this week when he cut U.S. financial ties with 31 Sudanese government-owned businesses won't likely pinch much. Missing from the list, for example, was the Gum Arabic Co., which exports sticky tree resin used in hundreds of American products, including makeup and soft drinks. Indeed, Sudan's ambassador to Washington, John Ukec Lueth Ukec, mocked the move at a Washington press conference flanked by Coca-Cola products, which he warned would be in short supply without gum arabic.

Likely far more important to Sudan, though, are the Chinese oil purchases that heavily finance the Khartoum government. Chinese leaders have been willing to join the U.S. in ordering U.N. peacekeepers to Darfur, but they have not been willing to use their economic clout through oil to persuade Mr. al-Bashir to allow the peacekeepers into his country.

Mia Farrow, one of many celebrities involved in drawing world attention to the horrible brutality of tribal villagers in Darfur at the hands of government-sponsored, horse-mounted militia, argues that it may be time to turn up the heat on China by threatening to boycott next year's Summer Olympics in Beijing.

That's going too far. But directing public pressure at China precisely at a time when it is preening to look its best in the eyes of the world does make sense. Mr. Bush is believed to have included Darfur in his compassion offensive in part because of the scores of rallies, protests and advertisements calling upon him to end Darfur's suffering.

A positive appeal to the Chinese might well have a similar effect.

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