Once Upon a Time ....

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Once Upon a Time ....

What magnifies the tragedy in Darfur is knowing that there was a time — long before the janjaweed's killing spree and the resulting starvation began — when Sudan grabbed George W. Bush's attention. This article from The New Yorker (Aug. 4, 2004) reminds us of those circumstances:
Two days before the 2000 Presidential election, George W. Bush met the Reverend Billy Graham for breakfast in Jacksonville, Florida. They were joined by Graham’s son Franklin, the president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief-and-development organization that has worked in Sudan since 1993.

Sudan, the largest nation in Africa, had been mostly mired in civil war since it won independence from Britain .... Some two million people died because of the war, and many of them were Christians. The situation was deeply troubling to American evangelicals, and Franklin Graham had led an effort to raise money for victims.

During the breakfast meeting, Graham told me, he urged Bush to turn his sights to the suffering of Christians in Africa. “We have a crisis in the Sudan,” Graham said. “I have a hospital that’s been bombed. I hope that if you become President you’ll do something about it.” Bush promised Graham that he would.

Sudan had already attracted an unusually formidable constituency in Washington ... Sudan had become a haven for terrorists ... and had repressed religious minorities in the South; in addition, it had failed to crack down on a slave trade that had emerged there.

Backed by Christian and African-American constituencies, many U.S. lawmakers had travelled to Sudan. Senator Bill Frist, a surgeon, made several short trips there, serving as a volunteer doctor at the hospital in southern Sudan that had been bombed shortly before Graham’s meeting with Bush.

... President Clinton’s approach was largely confrontational. In 1996, he withdrew the U.S. Ambassador, citing terrorist threats against American officials ... In 1999, Clinton announced the appointment of a special envoy to Sudan, but then never met with the person who filled the post.

President Bush was more attentive. He rejuvenated a multilateral peace process that had been hosted by Kenya since 1993. On September 6, 2001, he appointed John Danforth, an ordained Episcopal minister and a three-term senator from Missouri, his special envoy for peace in Sudan.

(Bush's original hometown of) Midland is home to several churches with sister congregations in southern Sudan. In November, 2001, Midland hosted the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, an annual evangelical event. Some forty Midland churches participated, and many of them passed out leaflets on Sudan and devoted part of their Sunday services to the civil war and the slave trade there. A half-dozen Sudanese refugees spent the weekend in Midland and shared their stories.

... Midland’s churches raised money for Sudanese schools, and local religious and civic leaders petitioned the White House and wrote letters to the government in Khartoum. The Chief of Mission at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington deemed “the town of George Bush” important enough to respond personally to these letters.
One wonders if the Bush administration might take more forceful action with respect to Darfur if, as in 2000 and 2001, the religious leaders and groups that he counts as his base of support placed a higher profile on the continued suffering in Darfur.

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