Eric Reeves [January 15, 2001]
Northampton, MA 01063
Marking the last International Human Rights day of his eight years in office, President Clinton finally found his voice on Sudan. Noting the “atrocities” of the Government of Sudan (including engineered famine, savage aerial attacks on civilian targets, and the encouragement of a vicious trade in human slaves), Clinton declared piously that “America must continue to press for an end to these egregious practices and make clear that the Sudanese government cannot join the community of nations until fundamental changes are made on these fronts.” Fine words, but words only.
President-elect Bush will take office having promised a bipartisan and cooperative spirit in Washington. The bitter post-election struggle and its aftermath suggest that this will be an exceedingly difficult task. But the ongoing civil war in Sudan offers Bush a way of reaching out not only to both parties, but to the wide range of organizations and individuals working to bring Sudan’s immensely destructive civil war to the fore in American foreign policy.
Sudan advocacy over the last couple of years has come to represent a remarkable cross-section of constituencies in the American body politic: Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, faith-based political actions groups and secular groups, professionals and working class advocates, blacks and whites, Christians and Jews. If ever there were a foreign policy goal that could unite Americans in a productive way, ending Sudan’s ghastly civil war is it.
So if Bush really is looking for a cause that will not only serve the highest humanitarian ambitions of American foreign policy but also unite a great number of politically active Americans, he could hardly do better than Sudan. A cause that has received no significant attention from Bill Clinton, Samuel Berger, or Madelaine Albright, Sudan’s agony nonetheless stands out as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today. The victim of Africa’s most destructive civil war (over 2 million have died, as many as 5 million have been uprooted), Sudan is also the victim of rapacious oil development that has been unambiguously implicated in sustaining, indeed exacerbating civil conflict.
What can Bush do besides echoing Clinton’s belated words, words entailing no commitments? There are two critically important actions. He can first declare that American capital markets will no longer offer a presence to those oil companies that are complicit in the ongoing destruction of Sudan. Because US economic sanctions against Sudan prevent an American presence in Sudan, the companies in question are both foreign nationals: Talisman Energy of Canada and PetroChina (a virtually wholly owned subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corp.). Talisman has a 25% stake in Sudan’s Greater Nile oil project; China National Petroleum Corp. has a 40% stake.
The House of Representatives clearly thought such capital market sanctions were appropriate, passing on October 24, 2000 the Sudan Peace Act, which made explicit provision for such a sanctions regime. The effect would be to de-list Talisman Energy and PetroChina from the New York Stock Exchange.
The House commitment to such sanctions picks up on the original language of the Senate version of the Sudan Peace Act. Authored by Senator Bill Frist (R-TN), the bill as introduced had the same provision for capital market sanctions. The final version of the Sudan Peace Act (which must be re-introduced in the new Congressional session) should certainly continue to include such a sanctions provision.
Secondly, Bush should make clear that the US will not be deterred from assisting in the delivery of emergency food and medical aid wherever it is needed in southern Sudan. Presently, the people of the south generally receive aid only on terms stipulated by the Khartoum regime, a regime which has been guilty of engineering food shortages as a weapon of war. The US should make clear that it will not tolerate the deliberate denial of food to starving people, or medical treatment to those in dire need.
There are many difficulties in making good on such a commitment, including determining beforehand what the US response will be if Khartoum persists in denying aid to this highly distressed population. But the UN World Food Program has very recently declared that more than 3.2 million Sudanese are facing serious food and water shortages; most are in the south. This is an immense humanitarian crisis that cannot be held hostage to the dictates of a brutal and callous regime. Working with nongovernmental organizations already on the ground, augmenting their logistical capabilities, the US must insure that Sudan’s catastrophe does overwhelm additional scores of thousands of human beings.
Certainly we must seek to work with our European allies in this cause, and no doubt there will be some difficulties in securing agreement about how to respond to the crisis, and coordinate with the ongoing efforts of Operation Lifeline Sudan (a UN-sponsored consortium of aid organizations presently operating on Khartoum’s terms).
But whatever the difficulties in responding to the humanitarian crisis, responding to the oil companies most responsible for exacerbating conflict and crisis in Sudan should be swift and unilateral. Capital market sanctions could be imposed the first day of a Bush presidency, using his authority under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). The executive order should then be superceded by bipartisan legislative actions. This would certainly send a bracing message to our European allies about our resolve, both to respond to the immediate crisis in Sudan and to end the complicity of oil development in sustaining the crisis.
It is not enough to talk about a spirit of cooperation and political bipartisanship. There must be credible, substantial goals in both our domestic and foreign policy that reflect our larger national character. On the occasion of this change in administrations, Sudan and its oil-driven destruction provide the perfect opportunity for Bush to lead a united American response in a cause of unrivalled moral urgency.