Sudan Advocates Like The New Policy...If It's Implemented Right

Sudan advocacy groups that have been critical of the Obama administration praised its newly announced policy on Sudan this morning, but they say they'll wait for its implementation--and for a newly invigorated push from the administration--before passing judgment.

"The Obama administration's new policy on Sudan that they've just issued today is worthy of considerably support, and the U.S., at the highest levels, needs to go and build an international coalition around this policy," John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project (which is part of the Center for American Progress), told reporters on a conference call this morning.

"U.S. policy objectives look very sensible on paper, but they'll go up in smoke as Sudan burns again if we don't pursue this policy to the letter," Prendergast said.

Sudan activists in the U.S. have criticized the administration for not moving swiftly and forcefully enough with a comprehensive plan to approach the situation in Sudan. A referendum on independence in southern Sudan is scheduled for 2011--an event that is expected to provoke violence and could very well see southern Sudan secede.

Most recently, they've been miffed by some comments made by President Obama's Special Envoy to Sudan, Maj. Gen Scott Gration (ret.), who suggested offering Sudan more incentives.

"We've got to think about giving out cookies," Gration said. "Kids, countries--they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."

Gration has negotiated an agreement between two Sudanese political parties, but has suggested he's not that interested in dealing with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who remains wanted internationally for war crimes.

U.S. groups have alleged that the administration has pursued a policy of appeasement. Those suspicions continue after the announcement of the new policy, though it's being viewed as a step in the right direction.

The new policy involves engagement with Khartoum, but also more pressure on the Sudanese government along with a renewal of sanction.

"If the Government of Sudan acts to improve the situation on the ground and to advance peace, there will be incentives; if it does not, then there will be increased pressure imposed by the United States and the international community," President Obama said in an official statement.

Sudan advocates, generally, want three things: pressure on Sudan, personal involvement at the highest levels of U.S. government, and international cooperation in applying that pressure. That means President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton personally working to secure commitments from U.S. allies--and competitors--in imposing sanctions and pressure.

They've also waited a long time for a comprehensive policy to be announced. An ad campaign earlier this year voiced some of those frustrations and accused Obama, Biden, and Clinton of failing to live up to their campaign rhetoric on Sudan and failing to prioritize Sudan once they took office.

The advocates on the conference call today echoed that sentiment: Prendergast said the new policy "doesn't go as far as their campaign statements, but at least it rights the course."

Outlining the key differences in the new policy, Prendergast said it 1) "moves away from the policy of appeasement we've feared the special envoy was pursuing," 2) makes clear that accountability for genocide and atrocities are necessary for reconciliation and peace, and that it 3) "appears to be more honest about the overwhelming likelihood that southern Sudan will opt for independence, and that the U.S. needs to figure out how to support a soft and a peacful landing for the new state."

But until they see the administration commit to implementing this policy, applying that pressure, and securing international cooperation, they aren't jumping to congratulate the president and his team.

"I think this is a paper, a good paper, but we've had good statements and good papers before, so I'm not getting too excited," Sam Bell, executive director of the Genocide Intervention Network, said on the call. "For this to become a successful strategy, we need the time and energy of the principals in the next days, weeks, months. Is the president raising this with world leaders?"

It's a step in the right direction policy-wise, but Sudan advocates hope that today's announcement will signify added attention given to Sudan at the highest levels of the U.S. government.

"There were great expectations" for the new administration, Bell said. "To date we haven't been satisfied with the policy, and hopefully this announcement today is the beginning of a new effort."

"I think we come to this morning with reason to believe that there's hopefulness, but at the same time, based upon even the most recent history, we have to continue to push and to advocate for engagement from the highest reaches," Randy Newcomb, President and CEO of Humanity United, said on the call.

The next step: Sudan advocates will look for Obama to discuss the matter with Chinese President Hu Jintao when he travels to China in November for his third bilateral meeting with the Chinese leader.