Sudan Envoy On Ad Campaign: If Anybody Wants To Help, Come On Down

A coalition of Sudan advocacy groups have waged an ad campaign for a week and a half now, suggesting President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have forgotten their campaign promises of urgent action on Sudan, Darfur's refugees, and conflict between political parties and armed groups in Sudan.

During a discussion with bloggers hosted by the State Department Friday, I asked retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, President Obama's special envoy to Sudan, what he thinks of the campaign. His message: we're doing a lot, and both Obama and Clinton are fully engaged. And if anyone wants to help, that help is welcome.

Sudan tower ad.jpgHere's what he said:
Our response is this: if anybody wants to come and help us, come on down, because there's so much work to do that we can't afford to be squabbling or bickering or whoever or whatever, so I think things that the campaigns are doing to highlight the sense of urgency, I mean if they can help me say that there's a hundred forty eight and three forty six, and if their campaigns show that we need to get busy, this is critical, I think that's a very positive effect.

I think it's probably not as useful when you start saying that we're not doing anything, because if they were watching me and seeing how many trips I've made around the world and there, and what we're accomplishing, and certainly the president is totally behind me and is very interested. He looks at Darfur, he looks at Southern Sudan, he's engaged in the policy review. Secretary Clinton has just been outstanding. You know, when I'm in Doha I get a call, and it's Secretary Clinton to tell me that she's gotten some information from another country she wants to pass on to me that might be useful as we continue the discussions.

I write reports that go up through the chain in the State Department. People know what's going on, and certainly, as we've been working through the policy review, the other principals and Cabinet secretaries have been fully engaged, so to say that the Obama administration is not engaged in Sudan is probably not real accurate, because this is a seriously engaged group of people, and so I would say, come on down and I'll be happy to show you what we're doing, because we're doing a heck of a lot.

Now, can we do more? Yeah. Would I like to have a hundred people on my staff? Yeah there's more obviously we can do, and it's the same with everything, it's a matter of priorities, but I'll tell you that Sudan is a high priority.

Gration also said the State Department has been in close contact with the White House as it develops its Sudan strategy. When asked about the frequency of communication with the White House, Gration said:

It's weekly, and as we've been working through the strategy, it's been daily. When iIm here in Washington, iIm doing it face to face. Just so you know, in the last two days I've had meetings with [National Security Adviser] Gen. [James] Jones, with [CIA Director Leon] Panetta, with Deputy Secretary [of State James] Steinberg, with senior White House staff and officials, both in the White House proper, the West Wing and in the National Security Council...Treasury...but the bottom line is there's a lot of folks we're dealing with in on one on ones, and then when I travel I put out updates, and they go around to the senior staff about every two days, because that's how fast things are moving.

Since he took on his role in the State Department after working as an adviser to Obama during the 2008 campaign, Gration has been busy. He recently traveled to Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, where he helped secure an agreement between the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement and the National Congress Party, and another between four Darfuri armed movements.

Ad adviser to the Enough Campaign, part of the coalition that launched the ads, accompanied Gration on the Ethiopian leg of the trip.

Gration said the U.S. must approach Sudan with Sudanese self-sufficiency in mind--that imposing American solutions won't work, and that Sudan must be left with a sustainable economic and security situation when after international efforts. He said:

It'd be wonderful to be able to go in and say, here's a billion dollars, let's build an agro-production facility to make Southern Sudan into the bread basket of the world. Yeah, it's probably technically possible, but would this be a foreign run and operated company? Yeah. Is that good for Sudan? No. What we need to do is be able to do is to bring Sudan along and not force things on them--not to bring our solutions on, but what our approach is is to create an environment where they themselves are part of the process, where when we are done it's durable, lasting and sustainable without our help and without our money.

That's ideal, but that's what we're trying to do, and that's why we're trying to take these steps in a methodical way so it's not about America, it's not about me, it's not about what we are trying to do, it's about what Sudan needs to do so that they can be economically viable, so that they can be governed responsibly, so that there can be a lasting and durable security umbrella over the country, and so there can be stability that includes human rights and all those things that we cherish in our country. If they want them in their country, they ought to have the ability to get them there, and that's life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and everything else I was gonna give my life for for the last 32 years when I was in the military. So I hope we can get it for them, but it's a tall challenge.

The ad campaign was launched in late August by Humanity United, the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, Stop Genocide Now, and Investors against Genocide. Ads can be seen online at WashingtonPost.com, among other publications.