Shadow Government

Regarding hoisting and petards and Sudan

By Peter Feaver

Will's measured 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.

Shadow Government

Obama’s “Goldilocks strategy” on Sudan

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:

  • Gration's first few months on the job have included losing the confidence of important stakeholders in Sudan such as displaced Darfurians and rebel groups, antagonizing key members of Congress and Darfur activists, and even (in a "life imitates the Onion" moment) offering "cookies" and "gold stars" to an indicted war criminal and perpetrator of genocide (and Sudanese president), Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The collective effect has been to erode Gration's credibility as an honest broker, and to unilaterally diminish the administration's leverage with the Bashir regime.
  • The Obama administration self-consciously frames its Sudan policy in the context of its overall approach of unconditionally engaging with pariah states. "Unconditionally" is the operative word, since while it can well be useful and effective at times to negotiate with bad guys, in places from Burma to Iran to Sudan the administration is on a troubling course of offering outstretched hands full of carrots, yet no new sticks. This reflects a false dichotomy posited between sanctions and diplomacy, when in fact the imposition and tightening of sanctions can help strengthen the hand of diplomacy.
  • It ignores history. For a White House that prides itself on its ostensible intellectual sophistication, the Obama administration seems rather obtuse about the lessons of history, even the recent past. Such as remembering that Bashir, besides presiding over the serial murder of his own people, is also a serial violator of negotiated agreements. Or that it was only under the pain of sanctions (and a poignant awareness of American military might in the wake of 9/11) that Khartoum came to the negotiating table with then-Special Envoy John Danforth to eventually end the North-South war and forge the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in early 2005. Or that the Bush administration's efforts in its latter years to end the Darfur genocide included a series of positive inducements offered to Bashir by numerous presidential envoys -- such as upgraded diplomatic relations, removal from the terrorism sponsor list, cessation of sanctions, etc. -- that ultimately did not avail in changing Bashir's behavior.
  • It ignores China. As Sudan's largest investor and most consistent "heat shield" against meaningful international pressure, any robust solution to Khartoum's depredations runs through Beijing. Yet the Obama administration's posture toward China appears to be a one-dimensional "China-as-our-central-banker" strategy run out of the Treasury Department, and there are no signs of significant efforts to enlist China in pressing Sudan.
  • It ignores international law. For an administration supposedly committed to a new multilateral posture and cooperation with international institutions, the Obama White House is displaying a stunning -- dare we say, "unilateral" -- disregard for international law and the international community. Bashir, after all, has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. Yet the Obama administration directly undermines the ICC through go-it-alone efforts to engage Bashir and cooperate with him as a purportedly legitimate partner in peace efforts.
  • It could be worse. In what seems to be an emerging "Goldilocks approach" of defaulting to the via media policy option, Obama appears to have rejected the most conciliatory posture by continuing with some of the current sanctions and not handing Bashir all of the inducements he would like up front (such as eschewing the term "genocide," or allowing Khartoum to register a Washington lobbyist, or removing it from the terrorism list, or extending full diplomatic relations). Whether this approach represents a coherent strategy or just a split-the-difference compromise between Gration and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice (said to favor a harder line) remains to be seen.
All of the above is not meant to diminish the very real complexities in Sudan, the manifest faults on many sides, or the failures of past efforts. But campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, the prospects for real progress in ending the suffering and bringing justice to Sudan are not promising under the new strategy.