from The New Republic (on-line), October 27, 2005
America’s Sudan strategy has changed—for the worse
by Eric Reeves
Early in his first term, after reading a memo outlining American acquiescence during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, President Bush jotted in the margin, “Not on my watch.” Bush seemed to be making a promise to himself that, should he ever need to, he would act to prevent genocide in Africa. But now genocide is taking place in Africa on Bush’s watch, and the president has done little to stop it. Worse, in the last six months the administration’s stance towards the genocidal Sudanese government seems to have shifted towards one of appeasement–at a time when the situation in Darfur grows more dire by the day.
This change in attitude towards Khartoum first became apparent in April, when the CIA flew Major General Saleh Gosh to Washington, D.C., in order to provide intelligence on international terrorism. Gosh was Osama bin Laden’s chief minder during his five years in Khartoum, from 1991 to 1996; he now heads the Sudanese government’s ruthlessly efficient intelligence and security service, and has been referred by a U.N. Commission of Inquiry to the International Criminal Court to be investigated for crimes against humanity. The security service he directs is responsible for tens of thousands of extra-judicial executions, killings, and disappearances, as well as numerous instances of torture, illegal imprisonment, and other violations of international law. Most importantly, all evidence suggests that Gosh himself is one of the prime architects of Darfur’s genocide.
Another sign of appeasement came in July, when the Washington firm C/R International, whose managing director is former State Department official Robert Cabelly, agreed on a contract with the Sudanese government. Because trade and economic sanctions put in place in 1997 by President Clinton remain in effect, the contract required an explicit waiver from the State Department, which it granted.
Why would Foggy Bottom do such a thing? Was C/R International contracting to build hospitals or schools in war-ravaged southern Sudan? Was the firm building infrastructure to help accommodate the many hundreds of thousands of returning southerners, who had been displaced by Khartoum’s ruthless war? Unfortunately, no. Instead, the contract calls for the firm to “assist the Client in meeting its objectives, specifically regarding public relations, government relations and strategic counsel as they would relate to implementing the North-South peace agreement, cooperating in the war on terrorism, and addressing other issues, subject to the terms and conditions of this Agreement.”
In short, the same vicious cabal in Khartoum that was explicitly declared by former Secretary of State Colin Powell to be responsible for genocide in Darfur has now been allowed to secure the services of a former State Department employee to provide it with p.r. counsel. For a fee of $530,000 per year, the firm’s role will essentially be to put a happy face on a genocidal regime.
The message from Washington to Khartoum could not be clearer: that the Bush administration’s resolve to end the genocide remains weak. This is hardly a partisan assessment. Congressman Frank Wolf, a conservative Republican from Virginia, has declared in a statement entered into the Congressional Record:
“[M]ake no mistake, Sudan is hiring this firm to help counteract the ongoing worldwide campaign against the government’s policy in the Darfur region of the country. This American company is taking money to wage a lobbying war against the hundreds of organizations and more than 130 million Americans who have voiced their concern about the situation in Sudan.”
Wolf also provided a grim reminder of Cabelly’s track record:
“While shocking to some, it may not be all that surprising for anyone familiar with Mr. Cabelly’s history. After working at the State Department for more than a decade where he developed hundreds of contacts in Africa, Mr. Cabelly went on to found C/R International. This international consulting firm received $6 million from Angola from 1996 to 2002 in order to successfully defeat a series of bills for an international oil embargo, according to a Harper’s magazine article from March 2004. ‘While [Mr. Cabelly’s firm] served Angola, the government’s troops beat and raped civilians, and killed suspected rebel sympathizers,’ wrote Harper’s magazine.”
Perhaps, then, Cabelly’s actions aren’t surprising; after all, he’s probably just looking out for his own bottom line. But the State Department’s decision to enable Cabelly’s work sends a conciliatory signal to Sudan’s rulers–and that can only encourage their worst impulses.
Unfortunately, there’s more. Since issuing a waiver to Cabelly’s firm, the State Department has upgraded Sudan’s status on the issue of slavery and human trafficking–from tier three (the least favorable rating, assigned to governments that fail to meet international standards in responding to human trafficking) to tier two (a category comprising countries, including Switzerland, that have demonstrated a commitment to addressing their problems). As recently as June of this year, John Miller, the senior adviser on human trafficking in the State Department, highlighted Sudan’s well-deserved standing as a tier-three country. Slaves from the country’s south continue to be held in the north, and the Darfur region has seen rampant abductions as well. Despite all this, Sudan is now regarded by the State Department as no more problematic than Switzerland on this issue.
Accompanying these moves has been a State Department effort to put a perversely rosy spin on the current situation in Darfur. According to Michael Ranneberger, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs:
“Even now what you’re seeing is not these systematic Janjaweed attacks against villages. You know, somebody said, ‘It’s because all the villages were burned.’ Well, it’s not. You fly over Darfur, almost all the–you see thousands of villages, fully populated, farming going on, and everything else. So it’s because of the presence of these African Union forces.”
In fact, both Kofi Annan and his special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Juan Mendez (who traveled widely in Darfur last month), have recently called attention to the vast destruction of Darfur’s African tribal villages as a primary reason for the diminished number of attacks–there are simply fewer targets of opportunity for the Janjaweed. The overwhelming consensus among exiled Darfuris with whom I have spoken is that between 80 and 90 percent of Darfur’s African tribal villages have been destroyed.
The Bush administration’s slide towards appeasement comes at a particularly inopportune time for Darfur, because, Ranneberger’s wishful thinking notwithstanding, the genocide is currently accelerating as security in western Sudan deteriorates. In late September, the Janjaweed, Khartoum’s murderous Arab militia proxy force, attacked an undefended camp for displaced persons in West Darfur, killing dozens, displacing approximately 5,000 already displaced persons, and destroying perhaps a quarter of the camp’s flimsy shelters. In a series of attacks in North Darfur, according to African Union reports, Khartoum’s helicopter gunships and ground forces are again coordinating with the Janjaweed in their attacks on civilians.
Meanwhile, all roads out of the capital of West Darfur, el-Geneina, are now impassable, leaving hundreds of thousands of people beyond humanitarian reach. In South Darfur, the largest of the three Darfur states, the United Nations has said that two-thirds of all humanitarian operations have been suspended because of insecurity. More than two and a half million people from African tribal groups have fled their homes and are too terrified to return; they remain confined to some 200 camps and crude gathering points, or are refugees in Chad. For its part, the A.U. monitoring force can’t begin to chronicle, let alone halt, abuse of civilians or protect humanitarian personnel.
The NIF’s behavior in Darfur is deplorable, of course; but its recent moves in southern Sudan should raise concerns as well. And here again, Khartoum’s increasingly bold actions have met with little resistance from the State Department. When the north-south peace accord was signed earlier this year, it was touted as a diplomatic triumph. Thanks to Khartoum’s actions, however, it is growing weaker by the day.
For one thing, the NIF has peremptorily dismissed the key findings of the Abyei Boundary Commission, an international panel assembled to arbitrate the competing claims over this important enclave in northern Bahr el-Ghazal Province. Abyei was one of the most fiercely contested issues in the closing round of peace negotiations, and the Abyei Boundary Commission was the agreed-upon means of overcoming the dispute. Khartoum’s refusal to accept the commission’s findings is a serious threat to the peace agreement.
Moreover, the NIF now refuses to allow for even the creation of a boundary commission to demarcate the oil region–an even more critical geographic issue, since the embryonic government of South Sudan (still part of the larger Sudanese polity) is entitled to half of all revenues from oil produced in southern Sudan. Such a commission was also prescribed by the peace agreement. The NIF also refuses to permit the creation of an assessment and evaluation commission, which was explicitly contemplated in the north-south accord and was intended to monitor compliance with terms of the agreement. Meanwhile, there is no evidence that the NIF is drawing down its regular military forces in the south, most importantly from Juba, soon to be the capital of South Sudan.
In yet more bad faith, the NIF refuses to stop supporting the destabilizing southern militias in Upper Nile Province (the oil region); and there is strong circumstantial evidence that the NIF still supplies remnants of the maniacal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) operating in northern Uganda and some provinces of southern Sudan (the LRA has long been a proxy force in Khartoum’s military struggle with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army). The LRA has for many years terrorized millions of people in the region–looting, raping, and abducting civilians, especially children–with extraordinary brutality. Notably, arrest warrants have now been issued for LRA leaders by the International Criminal Court, which is also investigating many senior members of the NIF for their crimes in Darfur.
Despite all this, the State Department refuses to hold the NIF accountable for its failure to comply with the terms and benchmarks of the peace agreement–to which the United States was a signatory. If the State Department won’t pressure Khartoum on these matters, it’s hard to see how a meaningful peace can take hold in southern Sudan, a land that has known only war for most of the last half century.
What does all this have to do with Darfur? Plenty, actually. The Bush administration placed a lot of stock in the north-south peace accord, and it may be reluctant to push Khartoum on Darfur for fear of endangering the agreement. But this strategy of appeasement misunderstands the psychology of the NIF’s leaders. Their track record suggests that the more weakness they sense from the international community, the more emboldened they become–in both Darfur and southern Sudan. Hence, it is probably no coincidence that the Bush administration’s recent conciliatory gestures towards Khartoum have yielded such counterproductive results.
To America’s credit, it has made substantial contributions of aid to humanitarian efforts in Sudan; and there is no question that the U.S. has been the most generous donor nation, even as other wealthy countries such as France, Japan, and the oil-producing Arab countries have been disgracefully stingy. But charity alone will not produce peace in Sudan; force (diplomatic and perhaps military too) will be needed as well. As long as our appeasement of Khartoum continues, the genocide will go on. “Not on my watch”? Not even close.
[Eric Reeves is a professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College and has written extensively on Sudan.]