Commentary Magazine


Topic: National Election Commission

We Could Use Some Rooftop Shouting

John Norris of the Center for American Progress is irate with Obama. Yes, yes, all that “shouting about democracy from the rooftops à la George W. Bush was not effective,” he insists. But still. He’s plainly disgusted with the latest example of Obama’s indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, specifically his handling of the fraudulent elections in Sudan. He explains that they were a joke from the start given the regime’s refusal to implement an agreement calling for free and fair elections. He continues:

For veteran Sudan watchers, none of this comes as much of a shock. Analysts looking for democratic upsides have had to console themselves with the few examples in which opposition groups have gained a toehold of political space to publicly question the regime. What is more surprising, however, has been the muddled and squeamish posture of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration toward Sudan’s election — one that underscores a larger, ongoing struggle to place democracy promotion effectively within the context of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.

His disdain for the president’s envoy is apparent:

Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, no stranger to gaffes, triggered his most recent bout of eye-rolling in both Sudan and Washington when he emerged from a meeting with the National Election Commission 11 days ago and declared that the commission’s members had given him “confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible.” The comments were unfortunate enough by themselves, but their timing also conspired against them; Gration spoke just as increasing numbers of opposition parties and candidates were either boycotting the election completely or pulling out of the presidential contest — as did the largest party in South Sudan — because the election was transparently neither free nor fair.

Why the rose-colored glasses from the special envoy? Gration is clearly eager to view this election as a necessary benchmark, a box to check, on the road to the broader issue of independence for South Sudan, which will be determined in a January 2011 referendum. Any suggestion that Sudan’s election was flawed could provoke Bashir to try to disrupt the January referendum, Gration fears, and indeed, Bashir has made threats to this effect. Still, the imperatives of his short-term diplomacy seemed to be at odds with the long-term goal of transforming Sudan into a freer and more democratic place.

Well, Norris and others on the Left are learning the hard way: the administration would simply rather not be in the business of rocking the boats of despots. He cheerily suggests, “One hopes that this administration has learned from its initial stumbles. Obama will have an important opportunity to get it right when he offers his first public comments on Sudan’s election in the days to come.” But the administration rarely thinks it has stumbled — after all, the Gray Lady tells the Obami what a swell job they are doing.

But the people of the “Muslim World,” as opposed to the thugs who rule much of the region, don’t seem to rate the president’s attention or concern. They are annoyances, distractions from the business of making deals or trying to make deals or, well, it’s not always clear what the Obami are up to. As America’s moral standing deteriorates and more people fall under the thumb of the thugocracies, which Obama is unwilling to confront, one longs for the rooftop shouting. At least the world knew which side America was on.

John Norris of the Center for American Progress is irate with Obama. Yes, yes, all that “shouting about democracy from the rooftops à la George W. Bush was not effective,” he insists. But still. He’s plainly disgusted with the latest example of Obama’s indifference to human rights and democracy promotion, specifically his handling of the fraudulent elections in Sudan. He explains that they were a joke from the start given the regime’s refusal to implement an agreement calling for free and fair elections. He continues:

For veteran Sudan watchers, none of this comes as much of a shock. Analysts looking for democratic upsides have had to console themselves with the few examples in which opposition groups have gained a toehold of political space to publicly question the regime. What is more surprising, however, has been the muddled and squeamish posture of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration toward Sudan’s election — one that underscores a larger, ongoing struggle to place democracy promotion effectively within the context of U.S. foreign policy more broadly.

His disdain for the president’s envoy is apparent:

Obama’s special envoy for Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, no stranger to gaffes, triggered his most recent bout of eye-rolling in both Sudan and Washington when he emerged from a meeting with the National Election Commission 11 days ago and declared that the commission’s members had given him “confidence that the elections will start on time and they would be as free and as fair as possible.” The comments were unfortunate enough by themselves, but their timing also conspired against them; Gration spoke just as increasing numbers of opposition parties and candidates were either boycotting the election completely or pulling out of the presidential contest — as did the largest party in South Sudan — because the election was transparently neither free nor fair.

Why the rose-colored glasses from the special envoy? Gration is clearly eager to view this election as a necessary benchmark, a box to check, on the road to the broader issue of independence for South Sudan, which will be determined in a January 2011 referendum. Any suggestion that Sudan’s election was flawed could provoke Bashir to try to disrupt the January referendum, Gration fears, and indeed, Bashir has made threats to this effect. Still, the imperatives of his short-term diplomacy seemed to be at odds with the long-term goal of transforming Sudan into a freer and more democratic place.

Well, Norris and others on the Left are learning the hard way: the administration would simply rather not be in the business of rocking the boats of despots. He cheerily suggests, “One hopes that this administration has learned from its initial stumbles. Obama will have an important opportunity to get it right when he offers his first public comments on Sudan’s election in the days to come.” But the administration rarely thinks it has stumbled — after all, the Gray Lady tells the Obami what a swell job they are doing.

But the people of the “Muslim World,” as opposed to the thugs who rule much of the region, don’t seem to rate the president’s attention or concern. They are annoyances, distractions from the business of making deals or trying to make deals or, well, it’s not always clear what the Obami are up to. As America’s moral standing deteriorates and more people fall under the thumb of the thugocracies, which Obama is unwilling to confront, one longs for the rooftop shouting. At least the world knew which side America was on.

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