U.S. and Sudan: On the Virtue of Clarity
The U.S. Sudan strategy is now published. After seven months of often public acrimony, the Administration has adopted its policy.
One of the major benefits of Monday’s step was that, for the first time for several years, the Sudanese parties have a clear idea of the U.S. position, including clarity who speaks for the government (the Special Envoy). During the last few years, progress in Sudanese political affairs has been hampered by incessant second-guessing about Washington’s position. The Sudan government was reluctant to make concessions, fearful that these would be gobbled up by a hungry America which would then merely demand more. Khartoum’s political opponents were encouraged to hold out for a better deal that might be around the corner, should the U.S. take a harder line. With a clear American position, those days should now be past.
Doubtless there are quibbles about the details of the policy. I have mine. On Monday I debated on Al Jazeera with Jerry Fowler of the Save Darfur Coalition. He has his misgivings too. But any criticisms are trivial compared with the value of the U.S. having a common position.
Of course there is no U.S. “blueprint” for Sudan–that is for the Sudanese, not the Americans. Of course many of the details remain confidential–it would be counterproductive to put the specifications of “smart sanctions” or fallback negotiating positions into the public realm.
I hope that there can now be a truce among those in the U.S. who care about Sudan. Any further attempts to undermine the Special Envoy will only have one outcome: it will damage the efforts to achieve a political settlement that can benefit the Sudanese people.
The next year is the most crucial year in Sudan’s history. If the Special Envoy is hobbled by sniping then the best chances for political progress will be lost. Worse, if he were forced out, the most likely outcome would be six months of paralysis while a replacement were found (if anyone could be persuaded to take on this uniquely thankless job, with modest hope of reward and a likelihood of being subjected to campaigns of personal abuse).
Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been enthused by the cause of Darfur. The campaign was launched during the firestorm of 2004, born of outrage. Today it is possible to go to Darfur and hold open and frank discussions with Darfurians, and ask them what they want. Thabo Mbeki and the African Union Panel on Darfur have spent months doing precisely that. America’s Darfur activists should follow suit: they will find a lot of ideas and proposal for practical actions.