July 9th: South Sudan Day

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flag-south_sudan.gifJust about every week I get an invite from a DC-based foreign diplomatic mission to attend a "national day." 

I love these gatherings and am somewhat heartened to see Members of Congress and Senators out on the circuit not just lining up future consulting contracts but sending the signal that the global community matters, that having a passport is something of which to be proud, and that a key part of American leadership is listening to what the rest of the world is saying.

I look forward to getting an invitation from the future Republic of South Sudan Ambassador to the US to join him or her on South Sudan's "national day" - which will be July 9th, or today - when this new state came on to the international stage.

This morning, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice helped punctuate South Sudan's birth with an impressive statement of support.  Former Secretary of State Colin Powell - who signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on behalf of the US - is with her at the new statehood ceremonies along with Congressman Donald Payne and Ambassador Princeton Lyman, who doggedly worked this Sudanese civil war towards a partly constructive track.

Rice committed America to standing with South Sudan as it works through a mountain of challenges that will test the solvency of its creation - but importantly, she left "responsibility" with the South Sudanese.  That's exactly right. 

America has to get out of the business of being on the line for how another nation behaves and operates - responsibility for results lie with leaders and governments and institutions they create with the support of citizens.

Rice also went beyond the thin, usually vapid characterization of 'democracy' as the act of voting, which Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass has correctly dismissed as just "ballotocracy."

Rice stated today:

All of this will demand leadership and accountability. For democracy and development rest on the foundation of good governance. Peace and prosperity rest on the foundation of strong institutions devoted to the public interest. Law and justice rest on the foundation of a political system free of corruption and fraud. And education and public health rest on the foundation of a government dedicated to the well-being of all rather than the interests of a few

. . .Over the course of a week in January, millions of men and women lined up peacefully and joyfully to cast their ballots, from dusty village lanes to the main streets of Juba. You reminded us again of two mighty truths: few forces on Earth are more powerful than a citizenry tempered by struggle and united in sacrifice. And every problem created by human folly can be met by human wisdom and mended by human resolve.

It is important for diplomats like Susan Rice and Colin Powell to remind Americans and others around the world that institutions define democracy, not just the vote - and these institutions require a lot of investment and time to evolve. 

The US is paralyzed politically on sensible global financial aid that birthing a new country will require - but there is a lot of capacity building and governance best practices that can be shared.  But that costs money too.

As Rice indicates in her speech, the success of South Sudan is not guaranteed; there will be lots of tests - but at least so far, the diplomats - rather than the military - have scored a big win in one of the world's rawest spots.

The US Congress needs to step back and reconsider its frequent, irresponsible disdain for diplomacy, international institutions, and yes - even global aid dollars. 

Bono, whose work I admire, shared in a private reception before his Baltimore U2 concert two weeks ago, that American aid to the world is small -- but nonetheless leverages phenomenally important complementary resources, partnerships and enduring connections.
 
I don't believe in aid for aid's sake - and I believe in national interest-driven action plans that achieve results.  But I think that what has been hatched in South Sudan is in our collective global and national interests - and that it's important to note when diplomats, who are so often accused of dithering, actually accomplish something 'big.'

At least for the moment -- this day of July 9th -- launching South Sudan is big.


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Steve Clemons is Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and editor of Atlantic Live. He writes frequently about politics and foreign affairs. More

Clemons is a senior fellow and the founder of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a centrist think tank in Washington, D.C., where he previously served as executive vice president. He writes and speaks frequently about the D.C. political scene, foreign policy, and national security issues, as well as domestic and global economic-policy challenges.

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