When the Bush administration dials 911, John Danforth often picks up the call. Team Bush is rushing Danforth back into service as the administration's new point man at the United Nations.
Danforth was until recently in semiretirement back at his St. Louis, Missouri, home. He successfully served as a special envoy to Sudan to push southern rebels and the government of Sudan into historic peace accords. Those peace talks ended years of internal warfare that claimed an estimated 2 million lives.
Within days taking the oath of office as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Danforth stepped back into the foreign-policy breach and pressed both the government of Sudan and the U.N. Security Council to stop the crisis in the Darfur region of western Sudan.
Human-rights activists are branding as "genocide" and "ethnic-cleansing" the killing and displacement of black Muslim villagers in Darfur. The government armed northern Arab militias (known as Janjaweed) to suppress rebels in Darfur, an arid region the size of California. "The Sudanese government created a monster and they're having trouble putting it back in the cage," a UNICEF official told Newsweek magazine recently. As many as 10,000 villagers have been killed.
Danforth, during an exclusive interview with Christianity Today, said, "To our great credit, the United States has taken the lead in showing concern for the people of Darfur." Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recently visited camps along the Chad-Sudan border. Arab militias have driven out more than 1 million people. Although much fighting has stopped, many villagers are fearful of returning and are starving in border camps. Sudan officials have limited the access of aid groups, compounding the death toll. The camps are not killing fields, but death zones, where infants, elderly, and injured perish quickly without adequate shelter, food, water, or medical care. The death toll may reach 300,000 before the crisis is resolved.
Danforth, a former U.S. senator who was on the short list of Bush's vice presidential prospects in 2000, told CT that the Darfur problem has the potential to unravel the peace accords that are being implemented in southern Sudan this year.
He said, "The hope for Sudan was that there could be a peace agreement. Sudan, as an integrated country, would then take its place in the world community as a respected participant to make itself into a country which is moving forward and has a future.
"It's not possible for the world and the United States to have [a] welcoming approach to the government of Sudan if it's complicit in the oppression of these poor people [in Darfur]."
Danforth and the Bush administration have drafted a Security Council resolution to require Sudan to disarm the militias, allow villagers to return to their homes, and give full access to aid groups, monitors, and peace-keeping forces from the African Union. Danforth told CT, "It's not the resolution that's in question. It's the action that we expect from the government of Sudan. That's the issue.
"The issue is what the government is going to do: Is it going to keep its promises or not going to keep its promises? The terms of the resolution are in my mind simply a tool to hold the government of Sudan to its promises." It is not clear when the Security Council will vote.
Danforth said his relationship to President Bush is close. "When I did the Sudan work for President Bush, it was an enormous advantage to be able to speak for the President. He was personally very interested in Sudan. When I was part of that process, I could represent to both sides: This is the voice of the President. These are the views of the President. That is a very positive thing to be able to do and I think that I bring that to this job.
"I do not come out of the State Department and I do not come out of the Foreign Service. I'm not a career diplomat. I'm just a person who has known the President and his family for quite some time and I think I know how he thinks. I can represent that."
Danforth is an ordained Episcopal priest known among Washington insiders as "Saint Jack." His bipartisan credentials made his confirmation process a breeze. CT asked Danforth to reflect on the role of religion in foreign policy and whether the Christian mandate of "love your neighbor" should be extended globally.
He said, "I can remember in 1979 when I went to Cambodia and the border of Thailand. There was this horrendous situation there. I can remember one group of [American] children. They sent me a check for $26 and some odd cents, saying that they were concerned about the children of Cambodia and wanted to help. Well, the children who sent that money were at the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. They had their own problems. But they saw the children of Cambodia as their neighbors."
Danforth said the conflicts of the 21st century are going to be different from a generation ago. "We've gotten beyond conflicts between nations and we've gotten beyond basically the arrangement of the world in which the United Nations operated in the past. Many of the conflicts now are not between nations, they are between belief systems.
"It could be that all 191 of the members of the United Nations would agree on something. Yet if you had virtually any number of people who believe that it was their religious calling to strap bombs to their bodies and blow up innocent civilians, we would have a chaotic world situation.
"If you believe that the role of religion is to monopolize all truth and therefore conduct jihad or crusade depending on how you see yourself against the rest of the world, then we have got serious problems. On the other hand, the meaning of the word religion, the root, comes from the word ligament. To hold things together. If you believe that the role of religion is to hold things together, to hold diverse interests together, and different kinds of people together, and do so with a degree of tolerance and a degree of humility about your own limitations, that's an entirely different understanding of religion. It depends on how you see your faith."
Danforth said that religion has a vital place in shaping foreign policy. "The art of politics is to try to glue things together, not split things apart; to me that is a profoundly religious concept. As Isaiah says, 'My ways are not your ways, says the Lord.' It's a religious concept that none of us does have a monopoly on truth and we are seeing through a glass darkly."
Danforth is supportive of a new international caucus for democracy in which democratic nations would speak with one voice to promote freedom and self-determination. "There are democratic values shared by various countries and we should do better at articulating the values for which we stand: democracy, freedom, the rights of minorities."
Timothy C. Morgan is deputy managing editor for Christianity Today.
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The Washington Post recently profiled Danforth, who officiated at Ronald Reagan's funeral.
Next week, the United Nations Security Council will continue debating a sanctions resolution against Sudan's Darfur militia.
Other recent Christianity Today articles on Sudan include:
Ethnic Cleansing, Genocide, and Plain Old Murder | What Tony Campolo and the State Department mean in recent comments about Palestine and Sudan. (June 23, 2004)
Freedom for Sudanese Faith | With new peace accord signed, Christians prepare to meet needs (July 12, 2004)
Ambassador: Sudan Accords Only One Step in Peace Process | Continued effort to implement and monitor Sudan's peace agreement will be necessary to ensure safety for its population, Michael Ranneberger says. (June 04, 2004)
Hope, Caution Follow Signing of Sudanese Peace Agreement | After 21 years of civil war, Sudan may finally be on the verge of peace. But don't stop praying. (June 04, 2004)
Submitting to Islamor Dying | Ceasefires and peace talks bow to greater powers in Sudan (Oct. 8, 2003)