Ending genocide and massive human rights abuses in Sudan and
preventing it from becoming a hotbed of terrorism are key U.S.
policy objectives in Africa.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama criticized
the Bush Administration's policy for inaction and promised to
confront Khartoum. Since entering office, however, his
Administration has primarily engaged in a lengthy policy
reassessment and occasional feuding among policymakers. It now
appears that President Obama has settled on a strategy that
attempts to spruce up Bush Administration policies toward Sudan
with soft talk and modest incentives. It is doubtful that these
conciliatory gestures will ultimately alter the behavior of Sudan's
thuggish leaders in Khartoum or the Janjaweed militias
perpetrating terrible crimes in Darfur.
The Obama Sudan Policy
On October 19, 2009, the State Department finally unveiled its
comprehensive policy for relations with Sudan. Like other changes
in foreign policy strategy emanating from the Obama White House,
the revised Sudan policy promises "frank dialogue" with those with
"whom we disagree." It proposes unspecified "incentives and
disincentives" aimed at ending genocide in Sudan's Darfur region
and renewed attention to the North-South peace accord. The policy
states that it will prevent Sudan from again becoming a haven for
international terrorists. Predictably, the Administration aims to
pursue these policies multilaterally with the help of other nations
and often through the United Nations.
Considering all of the attention given to Sudan before and after
the November elections, the Obama Administration's policy
announcement is anticlimactic. It is largely a continuation of Bush
Administration policy--which Obama criticized as
inadequate--leavened with increased willingness to negotiate with
Khartoum and a welcome realization of the need to focus on the
crisis in the relationship between Northern and Southern Sudan.
Whether the strategy can improve the situation in Darfur remains a
Why Sudan Is Important?
A nation of 40 million, Sudan dominates the headwaters of the
Nile and geographically is the largest country in Africa. Its
territory is approximately equal to the size of the U.S. east of
Mississippi River. Yet decades of internal conflicts and
misgovernment have resulted in the loss of as many as 2.5 million
lives with millions of others displaced. Today millions of Sudanese
depend on the continued generous support of the international
community for survival. Ungoverned spaces, factional and tribal
rivalries, the collapse of government institutions, and hostile
actors create promising preconditions for Islamist terror. The U.S.
has long believed that critical humanitarian, political, and
strategic interests are at stake in Sudan. Consequently, the U.S.
spends more than $2 billion annually for multilateral peacekeeping
and other assistance efforts aimed at peace in Sudan.
Upholding the Comprehensive Peace
One of the most important achievements of the Bush
Administration in Sudan was its support for a negotiated end to the
20 year-old Sudanese civil war. In January 2005, both sides signed
the breakthrough comprehensive peace accord (CPA). The accord
created a power-sharing mechanism and called for national elections
in 2010 and a referendum on the South's independence in 2011. The
Obama Administration's not-so-new policy promises to place a
renewed focus on achieving compliance with the CPA, resolving
conflicts, and holding successful elections. While the CPA opens
the door to autonomy and possible division of Sudan into two
independent states, many experts doubt the South's ability to
govern itself capably or even hold credible elections--let alone
Khartoum's readiness to fully abide by peace accords, allow free
and fair elections, or accede to the independence of South
Ending Genocide in Darfur
The Darfur crisis began in 2003, when various rebel groups
challenged the oppressive authority of the Khartoum government in
the Texas-size western region. The Janjaweed militia,
supported by the Sudanese military, committed widespread acts of
violence against rebel groups and unarmed civilian populations that
resulted in an estimated 300,000 deaths and the displacement of
more than 2 million people.
Few conflicts have troubled the conscience of the 21st century
international community like the slaughter in Darfur. The conflict
is emblematic of man's capacity for inhumanity and led the African
Union to create the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) in 2004.
When it proved unable to curtail the violence, AMIS was replaced a
hybrid United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID)
in January 2007, which has proved marginally more effective than
AMIS, although it has not quelled the ongoing conflict. In March
2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for
Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and is preparing its indictment.
The Obama Administration says the scale of violence in Darfur
has diminished.It promises to base its policy in Darfur on
"verifiable changes in conditions on the ground." Yet, ominously,
the announcement of the new Sudan policy occurred as UNAMID
officials warned of the potential for increased conflict. The new
policy says nothing substantive about bringing combatants and the
moral authors of massive crimes against humanity to justice.
Contentious Players, Perennial
Prior to his election, President Obama demanded tough sanctions
against Sudan and an immediate end to genocide in Sudan. As a
scholar at the Brookings Institution, Susan Rice urged the Bush
Administration to take tough action to save Darfur, including
imposition of a "no-fly" zone and possible use of U.S. military
force.Since January, the President and Ambassador
Rice have retreated from these positions, claiming improvements on
the ground in Darfur.
Formulating a new policy has been marked by sparring between
Rice and the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force Major
General Scott Gration. In June, Rice and Gration differed over
assessments of events in Darfur. Ambassador Rice spoke of ongoing
genocide, while Gration declared the situation there constituted
the "remnants of genocide."Gration attracted attention when he
commented: "We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids,
countries--they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes,
agreements, talk, engagement." Yet what Gration and the
Administration propose to offer remains unclear, assigned to a
classified portion of the new study.
- Realistic Darfur verification. Because the new policy
promises verifiable changes and measures to end genocide in Darfur,
the Administration must work with the U.S. Congress and
non-governmental organizations to establish acceptable measures of
- Robust support for the CPA. Fulfilling the promise to
hold national elections and a sovereignty referendum that are free
and fair will require substantial involvement and assistance from
the U.S. and other countries. Given the absence of democratic
traditions and modern institutions, especially in South Sudan,
elections will be difficult at best. Delays may occur for
legitimate technical reasons or as the result of sabotage by
- Adequate contingency planning. While the new policy
promises solutions for "the whole of Sudan," it also risks falling
short of its goals. The Administration needs to begin a planning
process for responses to an escalation in violence in Darfur or a
breakdown in the CPA process.
The Perils of a Soft Approach
The Obama Administration promises to end genocide in Darfur,
preserve the North-South peace accord, and deny Sudan to
terrorists. No one questions these objectives.
Yet the Administration believes, contrary to historical
experience, that diplomacy, kind words, and a rich diet of
incentives will cause parties that are not democrats and not
America's friends to work with the U.S. A soft U.S. approach that
curries favor with the present regime in Khartoum will permit those
wedded to absolute power and unafraid of committing genocide to
continue perpetuating tyranny and terror over the people of Sudan
Ray Walser, Ph.D., is Senior Policy Analyst in
the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a
division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for
International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.