Is Chester Crocker, apparent front-runner for the position of Special Envoy for Sudan, in a position to dictate to the White House the terms of his employment? According to a New York Times article of yesterday (May 31; attached below) he feels he is. He is reported to have made it a condition of his appointment as Special Envoy that certain Sudan constituencies and policy points of view must be ruled out of court before he’ll accept the job. It would bode ill for the Bush administration policy on Sudan were such presumptuous preconditions, if actually articulated by Mr. Crocker, accepted.
Eric Reeves [June 1, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
The New York Times’ Jane Perlez reports that Mr. Crocker has demanded, as a condition of his appointment as Special Envoy for Sudan, “assurances that he would be insulated from conservative views at the White House, according associates familiar with his thinking.” This raises any number of questions about precisely which views are “conservative” and thus to be preemptively spurned.
Content with superficial generalizations about Sudan policy and advocacy, Ms. Perlez does not actually answer these questions. Indeed, the tendentious quality of Ms. Perlez’s reporting on Sudan might give one considerable pause in accepting her version at face value (see end-comment on the subject of Ms. Perlez’s journalistic habits). But at the same time, it would be seem unusual for a New York Times report to cite “associates familiar with the thinking” of Mr. Crocker and not have highly reliable access to what is, in fact, Mr. Crocker’s thinking.
So just what is Mr. Crocker’s thinking on Sudan, and what are the “conservative” views from which he reportedly feels he must be “insulated”? And how does his thinking comport with that of Secretary of State Colin Powell? Significantly, Ms. Perlez puts Mr. Crocker and Secretary Powell squarely on the same policy page with her further comment that, “both Mr. Crocker and Secretary Powell have staked out a different position [from “conservative Christian advocates”]: that tilting too heavily toward the Christians [i.e., the southern opposition] would only aggravate the three-decade conflict.”
Obvious mischaracterizations have already begun to creep into Perlez’s account. By referring to the opposition forces in southern Sudan as “Christian rebels,” she makes demographic hash of the realities of the south. It is highly doubtful that half of the population in southern Sudan is Christian; and if the SPLA, the main opposition group, has a greater than average percentage of Christian faith, it is still deeply and tendentiously misleading to characterize the rebel movement as “Christian.” But it does make easier Ms. Perlez’s segue to Mr. Crocker’s alleged concerns about “conservative Christian advocates” for Sudan.
So the stakes in all this have been raised: according to Ms. Perlez, given the congruence of views she indicates, the Secretary of State has decided that “tilting too heavily toward the Christians” would be a policy error. Is there, in fact, such a congruence of views between Secretary Powell and Mr. Crocker? Does Secretary Powell think that there must be an even-handedness in dealing with and assessing the behavior of the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum and the SPLA/M? In answering this question it is important to bear in mind what Secretary Powell has most conspicuously said of Sudan: “there is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the Earth.”
There are of course many causes for this immense tragedy, and both sides bear blame. But is there in Secretary Powell’s views, as reported by Ms. Perlez, an implicit commitment to establishing a moral equivalency between the two sides in the war?
Is there moral equivalency between a regime that is presently engineering yet another massive famine and the SPLA, which has at times been guilty of diverting food from distressed civilian populations? Is there moral equivalency between the Khartoum regime’s relentless campaign of aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets and the SPLA (which of course has no air force)? When Secretary Powell assesses the immense destructiveness in the oil regions that is now at the center of this tragedy, does he find moral equivalency between the SPLA/M and the Khartoum regime that is overwhelmingly responsible, directly and indirectly, for the scorched-earth warfare that serves as “security” for the international oil companies sending all Sudanese oil revenues to this same brutal regime?
But let’s return to the specific conditions of Mr. Crocker’s employment: just what is Mr. Crocker demanding “insulation” from (accepting Ms. Perlez’s rendering of his position)? Further, what would this demand suggest about the views that Mr. Crocker might bring to the position of Special Envoy? And most significantly, what will it say of the Bush administration if they accept Mr. Crocker’s reported demand for such “insulation”?
Is Mr. Crocker demanding “insulation” from constituencies in the White House, and their supporters in civil society, that represent a sober and clear-eyed view of the regime in Khartoum? from those who refuse to indulge in a factitious moral equivalency? Does he wish to be spared the views of constituencies that see the National Islamic Front regime as the relentlessly intransigent party in the peace negotiations? as the regime that must be held fully responsible for its history of aerial assaults on civilian and humanitarian targets? as the regime that bears overwhelming responsibility for famine deaths in 1998 and in the presently unfolding famine? Are constituencies with such views to be peremptorily dismissed to secure the services of Mr. Crocker?
And what would Mr. Crocker substitute for such frank assessments of Khartoum? Would it be some version of his notorious policy of “constructive engagement” with the regime in South Africa during the era of apartheid? Mr. Crocker seems unrepentant about this policy, despite the obvious lesson of history, viz. that the racist regime in Pretoria, with its arrogantly hegemonic ambitions in the region, needed to be confronted in punitive economic terms.
Is Mr. Crocker the archetypal “realpolitiker,” willing to deal with Khartoum on any terms because they are, at least for the moment, the power in the capital city? But is this attitude even “realpolitik”? Indeed, much as one might wish to make a comparison between apartheid-era South Africa (and the political constituencies that developed to oppose its racist policies) and the Khartoum regime ruling in the 18th year of unfathomably destructive civil war (and the regime’s severe critics), there are important differences.
The National Islamic Front is hated by most of the people of Sudan, northern and southern, Moslem and non-Moslem, African and Arab. It would be unlikely to command 5% of the vote in a truly open election. And it is not sustained by the mature and diversified economy that was at once the basis for power in South Africa—and its ultimate vulnerability.
So what will Mr. Crocker do with such “realities”? He hardly has the convenience of ignoring them, were he to take the position of Special Envoy. And just who would be taken “out of the loop” were the White House and Secretary Powell to acquiesce in this extraordinary precondition reported by Ms. Perlez? Who are those in the State Department, the National Security Council, and the White House staff whose views will need to be fenced out? It would be useful to have a full roster. Perhaps Ms. Perlez can do a follow-up piece, and consult more extensively with “associates familiar with Mr. Crocker’s thinking.”
Perhaps the real virtue of Ms. Perlez’s present article is that it makes perfectly clear that Secretary Powell must decide whether to accept the conditions reported to have been laid down by Mr. Crocker. If he does, then policy constraints of a readily identifiable sort will have been ratified by the White House. In any event, if Secretary Powell does decide to appoint Mr. Crocker, he should make perfectly clear just what he understands to be entailed in the “insulation” Ms. Perlez has Mr. Crocker asking for.
One must certainly hope that the “realpolitiker” of Reagan-era policy toward South Africa has in fact learned something about the importance of confronting evil regimes without apology, without fear, without surrendering our highest humanitarian principles and concerns. If it falls to Mr. Crocker to be the American architect of peace negotiations for Sudan and its savagely destructive civil war, one must hope that he brings more than a disdain for the views and constituencies from which he reportedly wishes to be “insulated.” They include, after all, many who have created the political pressures that made the appointment of a Special Envoy for Sudan inevitable.
Above all, one must hope that if Mr. Crocker becomes the Special Envoy, he will bring to the difficult and urgent tasks at hand honesty, passionate moral commitment, and a deeply felt understanding of just how great the suffering of southern Sudanese has been.
END-NOTE: Jane Perlez has taken it upon herself to report for the New York Times on Sudan policy issues. The journalistic evidence, taken as a whole, suggests that this is an exceedingly unwise choice for the Times. Ms. Perlez’s reporting is marred by a tendentiousness that is relentlessly in evidence, and indeed leads her at times to outright disingenuousness. This might give considerable pause in assessing her account of Mr. Crocker’s views and demands.
One example of must suffice for the present.
In yesterday’s piece on the possible appointment of Mr. Crocker as Special Envoy for Sudan, she was not simply reporting on what she had concluded were his views. She was in effect trying indirectly to promulgate her own policy views, views that may or may not be congruent with those of Mr. Crocker. Certainly her story on Mr. Crocker as leading candidate for the position of Special Envoy was a “scoop” on a very tightly held Washington secret, one that has been a matter of quite considerable interest among advocates for Sudan. She could, as a consequence, count on a highly interested readership
So how does Mr. Perlez serve up her “scoop”? At one point she declares that:
“The [civil] war [in Sudan] also attracted attention because a hospital in southern Sudan run by Mr. [Franklin] Graham’s group, Samaritan’s Purse, has been bombed numerous times by the government.”
To explain Sudan’s civil war as having “attracted attention” because of the specific bombing of Samaritan’s Purse hospital (in Lui, southern Sudan) is deeply, culpably misleading to the typical reader of the Times. It distorts badly the real nature and breadth of civil society commitment to peace for Sudan, and the deep revulsion at the military practices of the Khartoum regime. Indeed, this characterization by Ms. Perlez is so seriously misleading about how the widespread and sustained aerial bombardment of civilian and humanitarian targets in southern Sudan has commanded attention—among both faith-based and secular advocacy groups—as to be insusceptible of any explanation other than disingenuousness.
The New York Times
May 31, 2001, Thursday, Late Edition – Final
Section A; Page 12; Column 5; Foreign Desk
“Candidate as Envoy for Sudan Wants a Shield From Politics”
By JANE PERLEZ
Dateline: Washington, May 30
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is considering an experienced diplomat, Chester A. Crocker, as his special envoy to Sudan. But Mr. Crocker wants assurances that he would be insulated from conservative views at the White House, according to associates familiar with his thinking.
Conservative Christian advocates, who form an important part of Mr. Bush’s political base, have taken a special interest in the civil war in Sudan, urging the administration to support Christian rebels in the south against the Islamic government. At the forefront of this effort is William Franklin Graham, who delivered the prayer at Mr. Bush’s Inauguration.
But both Mr. Crocker and Secretary Powell have staked out a different position: that tilting too heavily toward the Christians would only aggravate the three-decade conflict.
During his visit to Africa last week, the secretary announced that the United States would deal with “all parties” to bring about a cease-fire in Sudan. In Nairobi, for example, he avoided meeting John Garang, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the person whom the Christians’ advocates see as a major standard bearer. In a signal of evenhandedness, the secretary also urged the Sudan government to stop bombing supplies donated to the South by international relief groups, declaring such attacks “reprehensible.”
Mr. Crocker, a seasoned Africa hand who teaches at Georgetown
University, said today that he had no comment on whether he would take the appointment until he spoke personally to the secretary.
But he has made clear to associates that while he believes the time is
ripe for solving the Sudan conflict, the administration must be unified and clear in how it wants to go about it. He has stressed, those who know his position say, that providing the southerners with even nonlethal assistance like vehicles and radios is not conducive to peace talks.
The administration is in the process of providing $3 million of such
equipment to a southern rebel group, as a first step in what Christian advocates and some Republican senators hope will be a larger military commitment.
Mr. Crocker was assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Reagan administration. He made a name for himself running complicated negotiations over several years that resulted in the departure of Cuban troops from Angola and South African troops from Namibia. He also played a major role in the Reagan administration’s support of Jonas Savimbi, the leader of the opposition to the Communist government in Angola.
Because of his background in Africa and his Republican credentials, Mr. Crocker was a natural for Secretary Powell to turn to, even though the secretary has pledged that he would not mimic the Clinton administration’s habit of sending special envoys to trouble spots.
Secretary Powell tried to head off having to appoint a special envoy to Sudan by asking Andrew Natsios, the administrator of the Agency for International Development, to deal especially with relief issues there, like food and medicine.
But supporters of the southerners, who include lawmakers from the
Congressional Black Caucus as well, have insisted that a diplomatic envoy be appointed in order to elevate the importance of the Sudan issue. The coalition of blacks and conservative Christians is also interested in punishing the northern leadership.
The conflict has become a lightning rod for Christian advocates and for black lawmakers because of what they call the Sudan government’s policy of allowing Christian black Sudanese to be abducted and sent into slavery in the Islamic north. Some church groups have financed “redemption” missions, in which visiting Americans pay money to “free” abductees.
The war also attracted attention because a hospital in southern Sudan run by Mr. Graham’s group, Samaritan’s Purse, has been bombed numerous times by the government.
But foreign companies are finding more oil reserves in Sudan, and
diplomats argue that this wealth can used as a bargaining tool to end the war. So far, only the north has benefited from the oil, but the richest finds are believed to be in the south, which could induce the two sides to come to the bargaining table.