Send a gunboat -- or a cruise missile
If you explore Khartoum, it's hard not to be reminded that Sudan has more than once been at the sharp end of Western fire-power. On one of our first days in the town we went walking along the banks of the Nile (nicely colonially paved, Embankment-style, and tree-lined). The guide book tipped us off that if we went into the Blue Nile Sailing Club, we would find The Melik, one of Kitchener's gunboats, sent originally in 1898 to claim Khartoum back for the British, and now beached -- and used as club house and Coca-Cola store.
Sure enough there she was -- even if now more of a den for the children than a club-house. It was fun clambering over the old thing, though she cant have been much fun when she was in active service. She was part of the new military technology which Kitchener used to slaughter the Sudanese forces at the Battle of Omdurman, leaving maybe as many as 20,000 of the enemy dead to just 48 English casualties.
Even Churchill (who was present) was occasional queasy, though he concluded that, all in all, it was the "most signal triumph ever gained by the arms of science over barbarians".
Not so domesticated is the site where Clinton's cruise missiles landed in 1998 -- on what, you remember, he claimed was a factory on the outskirts of Khartoum making chemical weapons for Bin Laden.
That, at least, was what Clinton claimed "intelligence reports" told him (sounds familiar?). Though the only evidence was one soil sample that the CIA had got hold of, and never made available for independent testing. It now seems almost certain that the Sudanese version -- that the place was a veterinary and medical pharmaceutical factory -- was completely correct. And there was nothing to connect it with Bin Laden either. The factory was owned by a man named Saleh Idris -- and though the US at first froze all his assets in the States, they quietly unfroze them again not long after (which is about as far as they got to an admission of a 'mistake').
The Sudanese have left the site just as it was after the missiles struck. There is a custodian-cum-squatter there, who for a few Sudanese pounds will let you wander round and take pictures: an eery bit of disaster tourism.
The Sudanese may have a sad record of tearing each other apart, but they also have a sad record of being torn apart by the outside world. And it might not be over.
I'm back in the UK now. But what did I read in the Guardian just after we got back? That President Obama was thinking that he might have to 'intervene' in -- guess where? -- Sudan.
Have they not learned that cruise missiles dont solve humanitarian disasters? They just make more of them.