Just last week (2/26/09), Nicholas Kristof, who has written often about the situation in Darfur, was rooting for the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's president, as a step towards "help[ing] end the long slaughter and instability in Sudan":
Next Wednesday, the International Criminal Court is expected to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity in Darfur.
That would be historic–the first time the court has called for the arrest of a sitting head of state. It would be the clearest assertion that in the 21st century, mass murder is no longer a ruler's prerogative.
There has been concern that Mr. Bashir will lash out by expelling aid workers or that Sudan's fragile north/south peace agreement will become unglued if Mr. Bashir is ousted. Those fears are overblown. Time and again, Mr. Bashir has responded to pressure and scrutiny by improving his behavior and increasing his cooperation with the United Nations and Western countries.
Got it: Bashir would never expel aid workers in retaliation for the international community trying to arrest him, even though he keeps saying he will, and a lot of experts think he'll follow through.
Let's check in with Kristof again this week, now that the ICC did what he wanted:
One of Mr. Bashir's first actions after the arrest warrant was to undertake yet another crime against humanity: He expelled major international aid groups, including the International Rescue Committee and the Dutch section of Doctors Without Borders. In effect, he is now preparing to massacre the Darfuri people in still another way, for Darfuris are living in camps and depend on aid workers for food, water and healthcare–even as deadly meningitis has broken out in one of the camps.
"The consequences are going to be dire," notes George Rupp, the president of the International Rescue Committee, on which 1.75 million Sudanese depend for water, sanitation, education and healthcare. "If Sudan persists in this decision, it's difficult to see how the outcome will be anything other than serious suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of people."
So the political move Kristof pushed for is now most likely going to result in serious suffering and death for hundreds of thousands of people the columnist is trying to "save." Yet Kristof doesn't acknowledge his error and continues to dispense advice: Obama should "insist" that Bashir reverse his decision. And what sort of leverage does Obama have for that, now that the ICC card has been played? It would appear to come in Kristof's step two: "Destroy one of Mr. Bashir's military planes with a warning that if he takes his genocide to a new level by depriving Darfuris of food and medical care, he will lose the rest of his air force."
Alex de Waal, who has much more expertise on the Darfur situation than Kristof, thinks the ICC warrant was a pretty bad political decision:
The ICC is a terribly bad instrument of pressure, because (a) the pressure can never be removed and (b) pressure only works if the end point to which the pressure is applied can be accepted by the party being pressured. The ICC indictment meets neither of these criteria.
Independent journalist Julie Flint agrees:
The immediate future for Darfurians is a sharp decline in the remarkable humanitarian work that has reduced mortality rates to near-normal levels in the aftermath of the massacre years of 2003-04. Where's the justice in that?
Unfortunately, astute observers like de Waal and Flint don't have the same media platform as interventionists like Kristof.