Poking Holes in Obama's Sudan Strategy

Why the president's carrot and stick approach to the genocide is unlikely to succeed

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When President Obama unveiled a new "carrot and stick" strategy for dealing with Sudan's murderous regime this week, he walked a thin line. There have been notes of cautious praise from aid groups, who applaud the administration's focus on ending the six-year war between Sudan's government in Khartoum and the Western rebels in Darfur. But there is also concern.  Human rights groups and conservative editorial boards warn that engagement with Khartoum is futile unless the president backs up tough talk with real action. Commentators across the board criticize the administration's failure to make the genocide a top priority.

  • Khartoum Isn't Trustworthy  After years of broken promises from Khartoum, The New York Times is skeptical that engagement will work. But they say the president may not have any other option.
We have difficulty accepting the idea of any outreach to President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for directing the genocide in Darfur. Washington officials insist that they will not work directly with Mr. Bashir but will try to negotiate with other Sudanese officials. We are skeptical that any of Mr. Bashir’s henchmen can be trusted to keep their word. But complete isolation wasn’t working, not least because other countries — most notably China, which buys oil from Sudan — were never willing to cut their ties.

At The Daily Beast this week, Eliza Griswold had to agree. "It is hard to believe that Bashir really cares what America thinks," she wrote. "After the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest in March on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, he took to the streets of Khartoum, singing and dancing."
  • Sudan Is Helping Fight the War on Terror  The Christian Science Monitor says Omar Bashir's cooperation in the war on terror may be preventing Obama from taking a hard line against the regime. "Bashir has also been helpful to the US in fighting international terrorists. No wonder, then, that Obama's policy statement didn't specify the types of pressure that he might use, such as preventing a write-down of Sudan's burdensome foreign debt. And he made clear that any incentives won't be given until after progress is made on certain issues."
  • There's the Carrot. Where, Exactly, Are the Sticks?  At RealClearWorld, J. Stephen Morrison and Jennifer Cooke are concerned that there will be no consequences for Khartoum if it continues its brutal campaign. 
It remains difficult to predict what the United States will deliver if Sudan meets U.S. demands: Removal from the terror list? Lifting of sanctions? Normalization of relations? Nor is it evident what harsh measures will follow if Sudan is obstinate. These formulations-the heart of the matter and the root of U.S. credibility moving forward-remain obscure.
  • The West Won't Commit the Resources  At The Guardian, John Norris says Obama's plan could work, but requires resources Western countries don't look likely to offer. "The White House policy review places a lot of emphasis on a peace deal in Darfur. However, there have been few signs Washington or European capitals are willing to tackle the tough choices required to improve security on the ground, and officials have often been overly eager to portray a recent lull in fighting in Darfur as a sign that the fundamentals are improving."
  • Obama Is All Talk  The Wall Street Journal says the president is showing the same lack of fortitude on Sudan that he does in every other area of his presidency. They aren't holding their breath for real action on Sudan. "It's hard to avoid the conclusion that for many activists and columnists, as for Senator Obama, Darfur was less a moral cause than a partisan club. Anyone can put a 'Save Darfur' sticker on his bumper. For the sake of the people of Darfur, we hope that's not all they're going to get from President Obama."
  • We Hope Obama Isn't All Talk  John Prendergast, co-founder of Enough, an anti-genocide group, says the president's plan could work. But like The Wall Street Journal, Prendergast says it must be followed with real action.
The U.S. should immediately focus on building a coalition of countries that support this new plan and are willing to utilize multilateral incentives and pressures when needed. If the president and other cabinet officials fail to follow up on Monday's announcement with the necessary action—bilateral meetings with key countries and aggressive diplomacy at the U.N. to rally support for this approach—Sudan will continue to burn.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.