“The Bush Administration: In Search of a Sudan Policy”
The Bush administration continues to reveal an alarmingly disorganized response to Sudan’s catastrophic civil war. Neither Special Envoy John Danforth nor the State Department seems to be working effectively, either in responding to ongoing events or in working with one another. US officials had no comment last week when the European Union decided to resume aid to the brutal Khartoum regime of the National Islamic Front. And a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article (Feb 3, 2002) quotes Danforth as declaring that he has long “wanted an analysis of the oil situation” in Sudan, even as he went on to state, dismayingly, that he has “been asking [the State Department] for [an analysis of oil development in Sudan] since September. We’ve gotten nothing.” This is no way to fashion a Sudan policy.
Eric Reeves [February 4, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
To date, the Bush administration has talked a good game on Sudan, but has yet to give real evidence that it is committed to ending the most destructive war in the world today. In appointing former Senator John Danforth as special envoy for Sudan, President Bush declared in a formal Rose Garden ceremony that “for nearly two decades, the government of Sudan has waged a brutal and shameful war against its own people. The government has targeted civilians for violence and terror. It permits and encourages slavery” (September 6, 2002).
These realities continue, but there is no public evidence that a peace process for ending them is any closer to being shaped by either Special Envoy Danforth or the Bush administration State Department. Certainly neither Danforth nor his main aide, Robert Oakley, has begun to sketch out a peace process that will invigorate the moribund East African process known as IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development). Even the US demand that Khartoum end its bombing of civilian and humanitarian targets in the south has recently met with a pointed rejection by the regime—and there has been no American response other than to declare the fact of this obdurate refusal.
Earlier in the year, Secretary of State Colin Powell said of Sudan that “there is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth.” But again, the tragedy continues and threatens to grow more desperate, especially in the oil regions where so much civilian death, destruction, and displacement have been concentrated. Despite the central role of irresponsible oil development in Sudan’s civil war, Senator Danforth has just declared publicly:
“‘We wanted an analysis of the oil situation” from the State Department, he said at the end of his second trip, last month. “We’ve been asking for it since September. We’ve gotten nothing.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 3, 2002)
Whether this is an appalling case of “turf battling” between the State Department and a Presidential Special Envoy or bureaucratic ineptitude is hardly the issue. The net result is precisely the same: US policy-making is not being informed by the highly consequential realities defining oil development in southern Sudan. This is true even though these realities have been repeatedly, fully, and authoritatively documented by some of the world finest human rights and humanitarian organizations, by the UN Special Rapporteurs for Sudan, by the Canadian government, and by numerous news reporters. The US special envoy for Sudan has evidently been left largely clueless about what is happening in Upper Nile Province and other areas ravaged by oil development (none of which Danforth visited).
It is impossible to believe that the Europeans will take seriously a US policy in such disarray, and perhaps for this reason the EU announced last week that it was resuming development aid to the very Khartoum regime excoriated by President Bush in such strong terms last September. The Bush administration, which may or may not have known of this impending development, had no official comment (Inter Press Service, Jan 31, 2002)—providing yet more evidence that it has no strategic vision of how to bring peace to Sudan.
This hardly excuses the appallingly callous behavior of the Europeans. They have decided that it is appropriate that a regime which routinely and deliberately bombs civilian and humanitarian targets in southern Sudan will receive EU funds. A regime that has undertaken to purchase massive amounts of new military hardware and production capacity with oil revenues will receive EU funds to support its brutally repressive and destructive policies, including additional scorched-earth warfare in the southern oil regions.
The hypocrisy here is rank. Last week Agence France-Presse, in reporting on the resumption of EU “development aid” to Khartoum, quoted Xavier Marchal as saying that, “the EU ‘was engaged in political dialogue with Sudan aimed at addressing issues that have divided us in the past. These issues are now related to human rights, to democracy and the rule of law, and to the peace process’ aimed at ending Sudan’s 18-year-old civil war” (AFP, Jan 29, 2002). But these issues remain as salient in understanding Sudan’s catastrophe as they ever were; there has been no improved behavior on the part of the Khartoum regime, on any count. Indeed, the opposite is true according to many observers, including the present UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Sudan.
What has changed is the European perception that a commercially rewarding “political dialogue,” one that gives access to Sudan’s southern oil fields and Khartoum’s petrodollars, is not to be overly constrained by concerns about bringing a just peace to Sudan. Denmark offers an especially revealing example of European hypocrisy. The UN’s Integrated Regional Information Network reports that, “the Danish government is to stop development assistance to Eritrea because of its ‘assaults on democratic principles and human rights'” (IRIN, Nairobi, Feb 1, 2002). Eritrea may be a long way from becoming a model democracy, but if the criteria for development aid include refraining from “assaults on democratic principles and human rights,” aid should be withheld from Khartoum long before the government in Asmara is punished. But of course Eritrea has no oil.
The Bush administration can’t have it both ways: can’t declare that it is committed to a serious effort to halt Sudan’s terrible war—“perhaps the greatest tragedy on the face of the earth”—and then offer no coherent policy for bringing peace. Indeed, by sending signals of confusion and a lack of policy coordination to the Europeans, the US only encourages our putative allies to abandon all restraint in cashing in on Sudan’s oil and petrodollars.
The US must coordinate the efforts of the State Department and the special envoy, beginning with a sober assessment of the consequences of present oil development for the peace process. The US must make clear to the Europeans—and to important regional actors like Egypt and
Kenya—that we are serious about our commitment to the peace process. And the US must articulate, forcefully and coherently, just how that peace process will build on the IGAD process and its Declaration of Principles— most importantly, the right of southern self-determination.
Most usefully, the US Congress should pass, and the President should sign, the House version of the Sudan Peace Act, which with capital market sanctions against oil companies operating in Sudan would give real leverage to US and other negotiators trying to bring Khartoum to engage meaningfully in the peace process.
The Bush administration has been in office over a year now; it can no longer plead ignorance on key matters in Sudan’s war or a need for time to get up to policy speed. It must act with determination, clear-sightedness, and justice—and must do so now.