Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

Obama’s Sudan Engagement

Our Sudan policy is a shanda. Activists on both sides of the aisle deplore the unctuous behavior of our special envoy, retired Major General Scott Gration. We have done nothing about its abysmal human-rights record, most recently documented by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics following the fraudulent reelection of Omar Hassan al-Bashir:

The election was widely acknowledged to be a fraud. Mr. Bashir’s principal opponents boycotted the race, and the vote was riddled with what the White House called “serious irregularities.”

Still, the reaction from the Obama administration and other Western governments was muted. Before the election, U.S. special envoy Scott Gration offered a low standard, declaring that the vote would be “as free and fair as possible.” The reasons for that temperance could be read in Mr. Bashir’s victory speech. After claiming his mandate, the strongman promptly promised to “complete the peace process in Darfur,” the western region where his regime waged a campaign of genocide; and also to “go ahead . . . on time” with a planned referendum in January that will determine whether southern Sudan becomes an independent country.

But nothing — not fraud, not documented religious atrocities — will knock the Obami off their predetermined course, the very same “engagement” strategy which has led to equally dismal results with Syria and Iran. The Obami imagine that they can do business with despots, and Bashir is no different:

The quid pro quo that Mr. Bashir is offering is clear: Accept him as a legitimate president and set aside the war crimes indictment, and he will allow southern Sudan to go peacefully and will preserve the fragile peace in Darfur. For the pragmatic Obama administration, which hasn’t hesitated to subordinate human rights principles in other parts of the world, it’s a tempting offer. After all, the alternative to a settlement in southern Sudan is another terrible war, like the one that killed 5 million in the two decades before 2005. And if Mr. Bashir can somehow strike a deal with Darfur’s myriad rebel groups — he has a preliminary pact with one — that could end the region’s humanitarian crisis.

Bashir certainly knows his audience. This sort of bargain with the devil is right up Obama’s alley. But alas, by demonstrating our willingness in Sudan and around the world to avert our eyes and fork over unilateral concessions, there is little incentive for Bashir to change his stripes and to play a constructive role in averting still more mass killings in Darfur.

Our reaction to provocation — be it stolen elections in Iran or Sudan or missile deliveries to Hezbollah — is to double-down on engagement, assure our foes that military force isn’t at play, and rush forth to explain that further engagement isn’t really a sign of weakness. But of course it is. And the world’s despots have pretty much figured out how to play the Obama team. Brutalize your people, crush opposition, and respond with a mix of threats and frothy promises. It seems to be a winning formula with this American administration. And, indeed, the despots are having a field day of late. Maybe it’s time for hope and change.

Our Sudan policy is a shanda. Activists on both sides of the aisle deplore the unctuous behavior of our special envoy, retired Major General Scott Gration. We have done nothing about its abysmal human-rights record, most recently documented by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Washington Post editors join the chorus of critics following the fraudulent reelection of Omar Hassan al-Bashir:

The election was widely acknowledged to be a fraud. Mr. Bashir’s principal opponents boycotted the race, and the vote was riddled with what the White House called “serious irregularities.”

Still, the reaction from the Obama administration and other Western governments was muted. Before the election, U.S. special envoy Scott Gration offered a low standard, declaring that the vote would be “as free and fair as possible.” The reasons for that temperance could be read in Mr. Bashir’s victory speech. After claiming his mandate, the strongman promptly promised to “complete the peace process in Darfur,” the western region where his regime waged a campaign of genocide; and also to “go ahead . . . on time” with a planned referendum in January that will determine whether southern Sudan becomes an independent country.

But nothing — not fraud, not documented religious atrocities — will knock the Obami off their predetermined course, the very same “engagement” strategy which has led to equally dismal results with Syria and Iran. The Obami imagine that they can do business with despots, and Bashir is no different:

The quid pro quo that Mr. Bashir is offering is clear: Accept him as a legitimate president and set aside the war crimes indictment, and he will allow southern Sudan to go peacefully and will preserve the fragile peace in Darfur. For the pragmatic Obama administration, which hasn’t hesitated to subordinate human rights principles in other parts of the world, it’s a tempting offer. After all, the alternative to a settlement in southern Sudan is another terrible war, like the one that killed 5 million in the two decades before 2005. And if Mr. Bashir can somehow strike a deal with Darfur’s myriad rebel groups — he has a preliminary pact with one — that could end the region’s humanitarian crisis.

Bashir certainly knows his audience. This sort of bargain with the devil is right up Obama’s alley. But alas, by demonstrating our willingness in Sudan and around the world to avert our eyes and fork over unilateral concessions, there is little incentive for Bashir to change his stripes and to play a constructive role in averting still more mass killings in Darfur.

Our reaction to provocation — be it stolen elections in Iran or Sudan or missile deliveries to Hezbollah — is to double-down on engagement, assure our foes that military force isn’t at play, and rush forth to explain that further engagement isn’t really a sign of weakness. But of course it is. And the world’s despots have pretty much figured out how to play the Obama team. Brutalize your people, crush opposition, and respond with a mix of threats and frothy promises. It seems to be a winning formula with this American administration. And, indeed, the despots are having a field day of late. Maybe it’s time for hope and change.

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