If it's possible to degenerate from genocide, Darfur will probably do so in 2007. The four-year war that has caused the world's worst humanitarian crisis has spread and atomized. What was once a war zone the size of France has become an area the size of Western Europe. What was once seen as a conflict of two sides the Sudanese government and Arab militias vs. southern Sudanese rebels has revealed itself to be more complicated, with splinters and factions in almost every group and several mini-wars rather than one main one. The 7,000 African Union peacekeepers in Darfur are overwhelmed. The threat of pullout hangs over the aid program in southern Sudan and Chad after persistent attacks on its workers. Last year the journal Science estimated the number killed since 2003 at more than 200,000.
If news of another humanitarian crisis in Africa sounds grimly familiar, that's partly because the international response has also conformed to type: divided and ineffectual. China, which has large oil concessions in Sudan, continues to sell the government weapons and block sanctions at the U.N. The U.S. and human-rights groups call the conflict an Arab-on-African genocide; others insist the intricacies of the conflict require a more complex response. Last August the U.N. resolved to deploy a more robust peacekeeping force of 22,500 soldiers but "invited" Sudan to consent. Sudan refuses, and the U.N. has shied away from forcing its way in. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Mia Farrow try to keep the issue on the world agenda, but declining coverage suggests their dust-covered efforts are beginning to feel repetitive. Darfur is a test of man's humanity to man. So far, we're wanting.