By Peter Feaver
analysis of Team Obama's Sudan policy is kind. Perhaps too kind. From my
vantage point, today's Sudan rollout has all the feel of a group being hoisted
with their own petard, in this case the bombast of their campaign rhetoric. And
precisely because it was all so foreseeable,
perhaps this counts as a teachable moment.
The two protagonists, U.N. ambassador Susan Rice and Sudan czar Scott Gration, had key roles during the 2008 presidential campaign. In particular, their job was to peddle the meme that Barack Obama could be trusted on national security because he was going to be even tougher than George W. Bush or John McCain when push came to shove. Gration, a retired Air Force general, was trotted out to participate in one of the more remarkable attacks on Senator McCain -- a series of retired military people floating the notion that McCain was temperamentally unsuited to be commander in chief, a not-so-subtle effort to play off of the notion that McCain's time as a PoW may have left him unhinged. Gration put it this way: "I have tremendous respect for John McCain, but I would not follow him."
Ambassador Rice, for her part, was especially barbed on the issue of Sudan: "The Bush administration has spent years not only talking at very senior levels with one of the world's worst tyrants, who is responsible for genocide, but also reportedly offered the regime major concessions in exchange for minor steps and rolled out the red carpet for some of its most reprehensible officials." She didn't mention "gold stars and cookies," but she might as well have.
The notion that President Obama was going to be more hawkish on Darfur than President Bush should have been easy to dismiss from the outset. For years, President Bush was the single person in his administration most passionately committed to the Sudan issue (first the North-South civil war and then the Darfur genocide). If memory serves, he would raise it in his bilaterals with other world leaders even when his staff had not included it in the briefing materials. He regularly pressed the staff to come up with viable ways to move the Darfur issue along. Yet we were unable to make as much progress as the president wanted for several reasons: (1) our nonmilitary coercive diplomacy toolkit was already heavily utilized on Sudan; (2) our military coercive diplomacy toolkit was fully extended in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere; and (3) the global balance of resolve heavily favored those backing the Khartoum regime (what we called Khartoum's "heat shield") and not our weakly committed allies.
The Obama campaign made it sound like the problem was with President Bush. With today's roll-out, the Obama administration is conceding that the problems actually lay elsewhere and they have proven just as insurmountable for President Obama as they were for President Bush. Perhaps it is time for a different kind of apology tour.
By Will Inboden
Seven months ago, when President Obama announced the appointment of
retired Maj. Gen. Scott Gration as special envoy on Sudan, I offered some
cautious words of praise and a few constructive suggestions.
As the White House prepares for Monday’s roll-out of the administration’s new Darfur strategy, it is a good time to make a
mid-course assessment. It is not positive.
According to weekend news reports prompted by administration officials previewing the strategy, in a head-snapping departure from Obama's own campaign promises, the new approach will be a combination of "pressure and incentives" that privileges positive engagement. But no new measures of "pressure" are mentioned, and the administration's own descriptions place all of the emphasis on incentives and dialogue: "to get to the best-case scenario -- which is to change the behavior of the Khartoum government -- we are going to have to work with a government responsible for so many atrocities."
But what if that government doesn't want to work with you? And what if it continues to refuse to change its behavior? Recent events and policy trends do not lend a favorable interpretation to the administration's line. Consider:
By Peter Feaver
One of the many perils of blogging is that it encourages you to make your hunches in public, which allows for easy assessment later. I tell my students that political scientists are much better at predicting the past (call it retrodiction) than we are at predicting the future. A squib in today’s Washington Post brought that to mind.
A while back, I predicted on the now defunct Planet War discussion group (another story about another peril of blogging) that President Obama’s team, which had been so derisively hawkish on Darfur, would come into government and maintain hawkish rhetoric but not ramp up hawkish policy with military operations. I say “derisively hawkish” because one of the biggest Darfur hawks, Susan Rice, had repeatedly bashed the Bush administration for not doing enough on Africa. I always found that criticism a bit odd, since President Bush did more for Africa than any previous president, easily eclipsing the last best president for Africa, Bill Clinton. Still, she had a point on Darfur since there was a pronounced gap between Bush’ hawkish rhetoric on Darfur and the less-hawkish policies and actions the administration pursued; it was an improvement over what Clinton did on Rwanda, but it was far less than what Bush wanted.
Well, today a Washington Post story shows that I was wrong to predict a “hawkish rhetoric, dovish action” Darfur policy from the Obama team. Instead, it appears that what we might end up getting is a “dovish rhetoric, dovish action” Darfur policy. Obama’s Darfur czar, Scott Gration, has claimed that the Khartoum regime is no longer perpetrating “coordinated” mass murder. Having declared mission accomplished insofar as stopping the Darfur genocide goes, he further calls for a basket of carrots to get the Khartoum regime to cooperate even more.
To be fair to my prediction, Susan Rice did accuse Khartoum of genocide two days ago. And, in the full spirit of self-criticism, team Obama has supported the ICC indictments against the Darfur genocide leaders, a step the Bush administration resisted for some time. So perhaps the most precise coding right now would be “confused rhetoric, confused action,” since there is contradictory hawkishness and dovishness on both the rhetoric and action side.
I am sympathetic to Obama’s Darfur problem. I believe that he and some of his advisors, like Bush and some of his advisors, sincerely want to step up pressure on Darfur. But Obama's plate is full (as his predecessor’s was), and he is discovering (as we discovered) that if the United States does not lead by example on a global issue, then very little will get done on it. International institutions and foreign allies will talk a good game, and are absolutely vital for building broader legitimacy for whatever action is ultimately taken, but they will not act decisively on their own. Without lead-from-the-front U.S. action, few global problems receive sustained attention or decisive efforts from outsiders.
Given all that, I am willing to make public one more hunch: that when all is said and done, the doves will win the internal debate over Obama’s Darfur policy. I may be wrong on that hunch -- I have been wrong many times before -- and if so, we will soon know it.
The Obama administration's appointment of Major General (ret.) Scott Gration as Special Envoy for Sudan is a positive and serious step, and deserving of support. Gration has stature, experience, a unique background as a Swahili-speaking son of missionaries to Africa, and perhaps most importantly, a close relationship with the president who appointed him.
He takes his post at a grave moment. The news from Sudan in recent years has been so unremittingly negative that it is easy to become inured to the situation. But even by its own grim standards and suffering, Sudan is in perilous straits, most immediately from the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, but also as the fragile North-South Peace Agreement threatens to unravel, opening up the dire possibility of renewed civil war or even state collapse. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is a genocidal despot, but he is also crafty enough to have kept internal rivals at bay and outmanoeuvred years of international efforts to induce him to change his behaviour.
Herewith a few questions for the Obama administration as they announce General Gration's appointment:
1. Don't confuse an appointment with action. Appointing a special envoy is a welcome move in beginning to pressure the Bashir regime in Khartoum. But this appointment by itself does not change a single fact on the ground or save a single life in Sudan. The real test will be what kind of concrete action, if any, follows.
2. Give Gration the access, authority, and resources he needs. Despite their media appeal, the besetting weakness of special envoys is that they have little if any statutory authority or resources at their disposal. An array of bureaus, offices, and senior officials at the State Department, Defense Department, Treasury Department, USAID, and NSC already work on -- and feud over -- Sudan policy. If Gration will have even a chance of succeeding, President Obama will need to ensure that he has direct access to the Oval Office, authority to chair Deputies Committee Meetings of every agency involved in Sudan policy, authority to set policy at that level, authority to speak for the president in negotiations with other governments, and the budgetary resources to carry out his mandate. Even if this list is promised to Gration, Obama will also need to police his own cabinet when agencies inevitably resist their diminished authority or seek to undermine Sudan policy decisions they don't like.
3. Don't let your rhetoric outpace your actions. The Bush administration should not be faulted for not speaking out enough on Sudan. Nor should the Bush administration be faulted for not doing anything on Sudan, as the United States under President Bush arguably showed more commitment on Sudan than almost any other nation. But the Bush administration can be faulted for not doing enough on Sudan, particularly on Darfur. Moreover, our stern words often raised expectations of serious action, and when such action did not follow it diminished our credibility. Khartoum's viciousness and Darfur's suffering are so appalling that people of conscience understandably want to speak out in the strongest terms. Before indulging in further denunciations, the Obama administration needs to ensure it is willing and able to follow through.
4. Bring the Pentagon on board. Any serious new policy needs to involve the Defense Department, especially if tougher measures such as a no-fly zone or blockade of Port Sudan (let alone the possible introduction of U.S. ground forces) are going to be credibly threatened or even implemented. But for several years the Pentagon resisted directives to even create planning scenarios for these types of operations. Gration's background and intimate knowledge of the Pentagon will equip him to bring the Defense Department to the policy table, even if military measures are not eventually used.
5. Be willing to upset China. The two most notable headlines from the Obama administration's China policy thus far consist of pleas to Beijing to finance more U.S. debt and obsequious promises not to press China too much on human rights. This is not an encouraging trajectory. While Beijing is not as much of a shameless heat shield for Khartoum as in recent years (likely from a combination of embarrassment over last year's "Genocide Olympics" campaign and plummeting oil prices), China still wields considerable influence over Sudan. Any road to increased pressure on Khartoum runs through Beijing, and the Obama administration will need to expend significant political capital to get any meaningful assistance from China.
6. Put the blame where it belongs. Though the recent move by the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Bashir is debatable as a tactical move -- especially in light of Bashir's subsequent expulsion of humanitarian aid groups -- it has also elicited excessive criticism of the ICC for putting more lives at risk. The moral responsibility for the expulsion of aid groups and genocide against Darfur civilians lies squarely with the Bashir regime. More complaints and debates about the ICC run the risk of diverting international outrage away from where it belongs -- against Khartoum.
7. Keep Africa involved. One of the few bright spots in this otherwise grim recent history of Sudan policy has been the commitment shown by some African nations and the African Union to Darfur. First under AMIS and now under UNAMID, African countries such as Rwanda, Nigeria, and South Africa have committed peacekeeping troops -- 17 of whom have died -- to troubled areas in Sudan. Moreover, African leadership in UNAMID puts the lie to Bashir's pathetic demagoguery and cries of "neo-colonialism" anytime the West threatens to intervene. African nations do not have the resources or the capacity to carry out the mission on their own, but their very involvement speaks volumes about the willingness of many in Africa to take responsibility for their continent (in sad contrast to the neglect many African leaders display towards Zimbabwe).
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.