George Clooney and the potential of celebrity power to avert civil war in Sudan
Journalists tend to roll their eyes when a Hollywood star arrives in a refugee camp, calling for action. But when celebrities bring global attention to a distant and confusing conflict, and when they call for sensible diplomatic action, their star power may actually do some good.
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Don Cheadle, star of Hotel Rwanda, a film about the 1994 Rwandan genocide, says he realized he had to do something to stop another apparent genocide then looming in Sudan. So he funded a documentary called “Darfur Now,” and teamed up with Prendergast – a former Clinton administration official – to write a book, “Not on Our Watch."Skip to next paragraph
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"It is urgent that President Bush act ... to confront the Sudanese regime for the atrocities that it is committing and perpetuating to bring this genocide to an end once and for all,” wrote Mr. Cheadle and Prendergast.
It is the use of that word “genocide” that rankles journalists and aid workers the most. The line between a patent disregard for civilian life – a common trait of most war zones – and deliberate mass murder of a particular ethnic group can be razor-thin. And realistically, accusing a sitting president of genocide – with a pending trial in a European capital – is not exactly a great way to persuade that president from loosening his iron grip on power. In fact, with leaders who think they have everything to lose, it can create even more intransigence.
So how does one confront a regime? Economic sanctions? Diplomatic pressure? Military intervention? If we use the war against the Nazi regime as our moral magnetic north, then the first two options seem laughable. But at a time when the world’s greatest superpower – for the moment, the United States – has its military stretched out in Afghanistan and, to a certain extent, still in Iraq, the notion of military intervention is well nigh impossible.
Fortunately, Clooney and Prendergast – who recently visited South Sudan – understand the limits of US power. In their letter to me, and 22,999 others, they call on the Obama administration to “use robust diplomacy – in coordination with all our diplomatic partners – to ensure a successful referendum, and peace in the South and Darfur.”
“A combination of international pressure and robust diplomacy ended the last North/South war in 2005,” they write. “It can work again.”
Everyday aid workers and journalists in the field – who roll their eyes when a Hollywood starlet arrives in a shiny SUV, clad in over-pocketed pants and Chanel sunglasses, on a fact-finding mission – recognize the common sense of this approach. But with the referendum in South Sudan looming, I imagine there will be little time for snickering, and plenty of work for everyone to do, including George Clooney.
For what it's worth, Mr. Clooney, you're huge in Khartoum. If Sudan gives you a visa, go to the restaurant Papa Costa, a lovely downtown courtyard hangout, and you might hear a band of young Arab guitar-pickers playing "Man of Constant Sorrow," the same version you lip-synced in your film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" They saw it on YouTube, of course.