By Grant Brooke
For the past several months Samaritan’s Purse’s Franklin Graham has been all over U.S. media outlets – Fox News, MSNBC, the Washington Times, etc. – arguing that the United States should bomb the Nation of Sudan. The Reverend is one of the few international voices calling for war. Unfortunately, the U.S. media has been letting him beat his war drums with little – if any – critical questioning. As to his most recent efforts – an argument that the U.S. should bomb Sudan’s air bases because of the conflict in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains – there are any number of reasons why it is a terrible idea:
1. The SPLM-N rebel group is winning in Nuba. You’d never know from the reporters/celebrities (Nick Kristoff, Ann Curry, Greta Vam George Clooney, etc.) that ex-Samaritan’s Purse employee Ryan Boyette is taking up to the Nuba Mountains. They are returning with reports of a Nuba genocide. Yet, what these accounts don’t say is that many of the women taking refuge in the caves do not want a peaceful resolution right now. Why? Partly because they’re winning, and partly because they don’t trust political deals with Sudan’s ruling NCP.
Boyette means no ill-will, and by all accounts is a great guy working for something he believes in, but many of the stories coming out of his guided trips are quite skewed. I suspect this is chiefly because these large ‘parachute-in’ media figures have a vested interest in covering a genocide over a rebellion. Things get messy, and less Pulitzer-worthy, when you cover a rebellion – however just it is. It is worth noting that a number of journalists with longer backgrounds in Sudan working with Boyette are producing quality work on the region.
2. Since this is a rebellion (and an increasingly successful one) bombing Sudan’s air-fields is not an anti-genocide measure. It is a pro-rebellion measure. The question should then be: Does the U.S. have any interests in overthrowing Khartoum right now? No. On a humanitarian level there is a good chance that leadership even harsher than the al-Bashir regime would take over… and on a political level it would lead to increase destabilization in the region. The other suggestion Graham often advocates – along with many other activists – is a no-fly-zone. But rather it is Iraq, Bonsia/Herzegovina, or Libya we don’t have to look far to see that no-fly-zones beget regime change… regime change that may be only in the interest of a select few at this point.
3. The Nuba Rebels want to march on Khartoum. Bombing the airfields would aid them significantly in that goal. Yet Khartoum (Bashir or most any other potential regime) would never allow the Nuba or any other dark-skinned Sudanese aligned with South Sudan to take power. That ship sailed with secession. Privately, even some Nuba commanders admit this.
4. When it comes to direct aid, no longer can we easily separate humanitarian aid from military aid in Nuba. While a good deal of evidence suggests that rebel groups gain their financial support from other sources than the potential savings populations gain off of humanitarian aid, Khartoum views all forms of aid uniformly. To Khartoum every dollar not spent on food is a dollar spent on arms. Having the leader of one of the largest NGOs – Samaritan’s Purse – active in the region argue for both military and humanitarian aid does little to quell this perception.
5. Franklin Graham has to know quite well that he is supporting a rebel movement, not an anti-genocide campaign. Just last week he met with the rebel leader Abdel Aziz Adam el Hilu [photo above] … who I’m sure explained his resent series of victories to Graham. Abdel Aziz only started his rebellion (and Khartoum only started its attacks) after he lost Carter Center verified elections. Now I’m not sure the Carter Center should have verified the elections. The SPLM-N failed to produce hard evidence of NCP tampering to the Center’s representatives, but that is likely due to their own ineptitude rather than a lack of tampering. However, rebellion was not the answer. While other diplomatic actors are working hard to bring Abdel Aziz and Al-Bashir to the negotiating table, Graham is cheerleading on the conflict.
What is perhaps most disturbing is Graham’s justification for this proposed bombing. He writes: “In the Bible, Jesus gave us an example in Luke Chapter 10 about a man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Leaders passed by and saw that the man desperately needed help. But they continued on their journey, looking the other way. Then a Samaritan came along and had compassion. He bandaged the man’s wounds, put the man on his own animal and took the man to an inn to care for him.” Then – by Graham’s reading – the Samaritan went off and bombed the robber’s house.
Using Christian scriptures to justify acts of war on Muslim nations is reckless and insulting. These articles get reprinted in Khartoum’s press, and just as Graham has sought to portray the al-Bashir regime as irrational jihadist zealots, they seek to portray him and other Christian actors as crusaders. That is, ‘clash of civilization’ narratives can become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Franklin Graham’s Sudan policy is being met with increased befuddlement… in fact, most of SP’s Juba staff has left in the past year due to his increasingly eccentric and egotistical behavior (plus his seven-figure a year salary for running a charity of Samaritans). And yet he continues to be of the few US media voices on the region. Why?
Bottom Line: The mixing humanitarian, military aid, and advocacy has long been a problem in Sudan, with the result that it makes it much harder for actual humanitarian organizations to function. For a decade Graham has been this mixture’s chief advocate. What it means is that while there are legitimate reasons to work to stop the bombing – famine is coming as nobody is planting because everyone is hiding in caves – the way to do so is to treat Khartoum as a rational actor, to not escalate the violence, have pro-SMPL-N advocacy groups remove themselves from the aid field, and actually stymie the coming disaster. Unfortunately, Graham’s solutions only serve to deepen the crisis.