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In the sleepy haze of congressional adjournment, when Capitol policemen vastly outnumber civilians in the halls, George Clooney's appearance created quite a stir Tuesday.
With Dateline NBC sending no fewer than three full camera crews to trail the 2-time world's most sexiest man alive, and a phalanx of other camera crews from all the networks, foreign outlets, and probably 20 still photographers (professional, that is -- the number gets exponentially larger if you count the amateurs) poised to catch the actor, the ridiculousness of the scene belied the seriousness of the journey and the cause.
The Capitol Police Chief, Terrance Gainer, who usually greets VIPs, even got in on the act. The normally serious top cop poked his head into the first floor room filled with awaiting reporters, as well as gawking young interns, mostly of the female varietal, and announced with a big grin, "I am not George Clooney!"
But a low-key Clooney, clad in a dark navy suit and red tie, said seriously, "We're not policy makers, we're just megaphones." And the media presence was testament to that.
The actor-turned-activist had just returned from southern Sudan and was in Washington to brief President Obama and Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Indiana, top Republican on the Foreign Relations panel, on what he saw. He had come to use that megaphone to warn of a looming repeat catastrophe along the lines of the 2005 Darfurian genocide, ahead of Sudan's impending election in which southerners will vote, on Jan. 9, on their independence.
"It appears we have about 90 days before we could be facing a real disaster again," Clooney warned, adding, "We're here to try and amplify the fact that in one of the most politicized moments in our history, there are no two sides to this...We're here simply to support anything that can be done diplomatically."
A U.S.-brokered peace deal ended the 21-year civil war in 2005 and brought together the predominantly Muslim north with the mostly-Christian south.
And diplomacy was something stressed by Lugar, one of the nation's most respected diplomats, as well, after the senator met with the 49-year old actor. The unassuming senator told reporters that he does not see a role for the military in any possible crisis, rather, "We're working with carrots and sticks, but we're working with very tough sticks in terms of diplomatic and economic sanctions."
Lugar stressed that the U.S. is taking "a multi-faceted" approach to dealing with the volatile African nation, a situation Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called "a ticking time bomb." The senator said the U.S. is holding out the possibility of assistance to the north, as well.
Recounting a resolute population in the southern part of the country that had experienced unspeakable human rights abuses, Clooney said, "What we found is a people in the process of not backing down. They are going to vote for their independence, and they are willing to die for it. And every single person, from young children in schools to old, old men in chairs, every single one said we're going to fight and die for freedom for the next generation."
Dodging a question about the tumultuous 2010 midterm elections, a near-obsessions in the nation's capital, Clooney deftly spun the issue back to his cause. "The beauty about what we're doing today and the thing that's important about what we're doing today is that this is the one place, the one event where I can come to Washington and it not be political. This is not a right or a left (issue). Both sides of aisle are very strong in defending the defenseless."
The U.S. invests nearly $1 billion annually in the war-torn African nation now, Clooney noted, but he warned, "If we (act) now, it doesn't cost us any money. It doesn't cost us a dime. It doesn't cost us any American lives."
Clooney was accompanied by author and human rights activist John Prendergast, co-founder (with Clooney) of Enough, "the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity." The two have traveled numerous times to Sudan to highlight the atrocities the population has experienced.
The two men, earlier in the day on the website News Blaze, wrote, "We have a brief window of opportunity to do something that has rarely been done: stop a war before it starts. But if the international community is too hesitant or too late in its efforts - as was the case in Darfur - hundreds of thousands could die. The last war between the North and South was ended by a U.S.-led peace process, but not before two and a half million men, women, and children perished.