A 180 on Sudan
August 10, 2009 -
If those sporting “Save Darfur” t-shirts are a bit agitated these days, it's probably because the Obama Administration looks to be letting them down -- big time. Little noticed, Administration officials are headed towards making a big about-face: "changing" Sudan policy.
You see, when the Obama Administration came to office, many top jobs (V.P., Secretary of State, UN Ambassador, etc.) were filled by persons who had taken very aggressive stands against the genocide unfolding in Darfur, Sudan. During the campaign, Senator Obama blasted the possibility of normalizing relations with Sudan as "reckless and cynical." As the campaign narrative went, Republicans weren’t serious about addressing this crisis, while Democrats would make it a top-tier priority. Indeed, in December, the Washington Post ran a front-page story, "Sudan’s Leaders Brace for U.S. Shift: Obama Team Seen as Tough on Darfur."
Fast-forward six months. As the Administration's Sudan "strategy review" was outlined on the Hill before the August recess, it became clear that it is favoring “incentives” over "sticks." Sudan's wanted-for-war crimes government should be brought into the "political process," it contends. One witness before the Africa Subcommittee got a chuckle when he called this not a strategy of engaging, but of intimately embracing, Khartoum. The genocidal Sudanese government even said that it "value[d]" the comments of President Obama's point-man on Sudan.
While Khartoum's Islamist government has welcomed this change, those who've spent years committed to Sudan are appalled. John Prendergast, who I've traveled and worked with in Darfur, testified recently that, "In the absence of...pressures, and if incentives are all that are put forward, then failure is guaranteed." Members of Congress from both parties are galled too.
Admirably, Sudan activists (no doubt, many Obama voters) are calling out the President and his Administration. One video posted on a popular Darfur website mixes past aggressive statements from Obama, Biden, Clinton and others with The Who's rock classic, We Won't Get Fooled Again. Good montage, but the famed line Meet the new boss, same as the old boss is off-the-mark. The old boss (Bush Administration) was tougher. It didn't drop the sticks.
According to the Los Angeles Times ("U.S. reshaping Darfur policy") advocacy groups are planning a media drive to push the Administration to maintain pressure on Khartoum. Luckily for its Darfur victims, the Sudan debate is just getting started.