Obama’s Tragic Words in New York
On the day of the much anticipated September 24th conference on Sudan at the UN Headquarters in New York City the Sudan Tribune printed an essay titled: “Imperfect peace in Sudan.” It carried the by-line of James Smith was a reprint from the Aegis Blog posted the day before.
Near the end of the essay, the author wrote: “The good news is that President Obama will attend the Sudan meeting in New York this Friday, a signal that the U.S. understands time is running out for Sudan.”
This “good news” was hailed after the author predicted disaster by reminding his readers: “Diplomats should not lose sight of the thread running through all the crises in Sudan; a pattern in which the ruling National Congress Party governs by committing atrocities against its own civilians, behaviour encouraged by impunity for past crimes. Violence in or between the North and South could well spark rebellious marginalized groups to pursue violence themselves to achieve a degree of political and economic equality, not least in Darfur, East Sudan and South Kordofan. This latter state borders the South and is already a place of high tension, with hotly disputed borders and a rich oil field.”
The predictions of violence after the January 9, 2011 Referendum in Southern Sudan are many and chilling. And these predictions may prove true. But it seems that many writers in the Western press relish the opportunity to make these predictions. And after making these predictions, the responsibility for averting them is dropped into the lap of President Obama.
The Administration’s own Secretary of State has characterized the current situation in Sudan as a “ticking time bomb,” casting a pall of urgency as well as pending disaster over the political future of that country.
These drumbeats of doom seem to be coming from those most interested in regime change in Sudan. Like snipers in the bushes, many Westerners with an interest in a divided and weakened Sudan are taking a page out of the playbook for the Iraq invasion, with the hopes that history will repeat itself.
The recipe for a run-up to war for regime change calls first for some very visible suffering at the hands of an unpopular government. To this is added that government’s misstep time and again; because they are seemingly tone deaf to the chorus of boos – coming not only from the Western media and a segment of its own country, but also from a fair minded global community without an ax to grind. This mixture is heated to a boil with a Western interest in available natural resources such as oil. For Sudan, the ingredients are in place, and as Secretary Clinton predicts, it is now only a matter of time, as the pot continues to be stirred to the rhythm of the drums of doom.
In addition to the advocacy groups such as Aegis and media outlets such as the Sudan Tribune, individuals without portfolio, but with clear agendas are joining in the drumbeat.
One such individual is Eric Reeves; a professor of Language and Literature at Smith College in Massachusetts. The Boston Globe published an essay by Professor Reeves on September 5th that follows the recipe for regime change to the letter. He tells us of the very real human suffering:
“More than 2 million people died, and 5 million were driven from their homes, in a north-south war that dragged on from 1983 to 2003. The linchpin of the peace agreement is a referendum, scheduled for this coming January, in which the people of southern Sudan will have the option of secession. But the brutal regime that prolonged that war with the south “” the same regime that has waged a genocidal campaign against the people of Darfur “” remains in power in the capital, Khartoum. This regime appears increasingly determined to abrogate the peace deal.”
And then he points out the missteps of the Government of Sudan while reminding us of the natural resource at stake in this situation:
“The regime in Khartoum is calculating “” right now “” the costs of delaying, aborting, or militarily preempting the referendum it agreed to in 2005. The motive is clear: Sudan exports approximately 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day, but the vast majority of oil reserves lie in the south.”
It goes without saying that there is a very real and troubling threat to peace growing with the approach of the January 2011 referendum; and it is true that the current administration of the Government of Sudan must be held liable for the failure of the CPA to have laid a better foundation for a peaceful referendum and aftermath. But people like Professor Reeves who cast the stones of invectives and derogations as he does makes matters worse. Calling President Omar al-Bashir’s administration “thugs” (as Reeves does in his essay) has no benefit and does not lead to any meaningful dialogue. Reeves even declares that U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration’s is “disingenuous” in his statements as he tries to mediate a peaceful progress seems to be meant to only incite rather than to inform.
It is interesting that while Professor Reeves predicts civil war as a consequence of the Referendum, he pronounces that the “referendum is the only thing that can forestall renewed war.” And it is therein that the political agenda of the United States is condensed into its essence. Reeves position [which is that of many foreign policy decision makers within the United States] is that the Referendum should proceed and let the American military might deal with the aftermath.
This professor of Language and Literature even suggests that the United States be prepared to protect Southern Sudan’s oil with a naval blockade using “non-lethal force” to prevent a Northern Sudan from exporting that oil to countries like China.
It is unfortunate that people in Southern Sudan are being led to believe that the United States will step in and support them if conflict arises. It is very possible that the people of Southern Sudan will be emboldened to engage in violent conflict with the expectation of American assistance. But the previous actions of the Government of the United States do not warrant a reasonable belief that it has the best interest of Southern Sudanese at heart. Such a misplaced belief would be similar to the faded beliefs of the various leaders of Darfuri rebel groups who believed that the United States was prepared to step in at any moment and come to their aid.
From the perspective of the White House, given the calls for the Obama Administration to take action, there are three choices. Washington can do nothing, it can do a little, or it can do a lot. It would be a political impossibility for the U.S. to do absolutely nothing. Having taken the position – contrary to the UN, the EU and the AU – that genocide exists, or has existed in Darfur and using this accusation as the basis for a call for regime change in Sudan, America’s political stock would plunge more drastically than did its economy at the end of 2008.
The White House would also be loath to do a lot in Sudan. The cost, in dollars, of putting enough boots on the ground in Sudan to support the nascent country of Southern Sudan would aggravate the economic discomfort being felt by a majority of Americans at home. The cost of such an action – in political currency within the global community, and particularly within the sphere of Islamic interests – could bankrupt what pockets of goodwill the United States has on deposit around the world.
Because of this, President Obama’s team will be forced into doing “a little” while claiming to have done “a lot.” His words spoken at the UN on the 24th were “shiny” but hollow. And this was apparent on the faces of his audience as it was upon his own. The big stick which he waved about at the UN was as visible and as musical as an air guitar. But he knows this. He is not a stupid man. And he knows that the men and women sitting before him at the UN were not stupid. So, to whom was President Obama speaking on the 24th? He was speaking to Americans – those Americans who have been whipped up by the drumbeats of the likes of Eric Reeves and others of his ilk. He was also speaking to those Americans who have bought into the demonization of Islam and of Muslims. And he was speaking to those Americans would have Sudan’s oil in order to keep their SUVs on the highways.
President Obama’s words were tragic because they could have been better. His words were tragic because they signaled a missed opportunity. His words could have been more truthful. He did not have to stand before the world and make such an obvious and empty buff – a bluff that was meaningless and did nothing to further the purpose of the meeting called by Ban Ki-Moon. President Obama’s words were a tragedy because they may mislead Southern Sudanese into thinking that they can engage in a violent conflict with the North – with America at their back.
Time is passing quickly and it is true that hope for an agreed upon settlement between North and South Sudan is fading fast. The only responsible thing that can be done by the international community at this late date is try to work to have the most transparent, free and fair referendum possible and to work as best we can be done to help the various parties settle any remaining differences once the referendum is completed. This cannot be done by falsely alluding to military intervention – directly or indirectly. It is not for the international community to say which way Southern Sudan should go; but it can help to see that whatever happens – happens peacefully. To imply that there will be assistance in the resolution of problems through violent conflict is not productive.
The United States has a great deal that it can bring to the table in Sudan between now and January 2011 – things that can help to ensure a peaceful future in Sudan; North and South. These things are not saber-rattling with empty scabbards, but assistance through the sharing of technology, the sharing of wealth and the sharing of plans for a safe and dignified future for all mankind. Sudan is willing to listen, Africa is willing to listen and the world is willing to listen – if we in the US put aside our threats and bullying and sit down at the table of the global community – not at a seat of privilege, and not at a seat of entitlement, but at a seat of common humanity among all the world.
I read your entry twice to get the gist of what you are trying to summon as evidence for the claim that Obama uttered some tragic words at the summit. I watched the whole speech, and there was nothing said by him there to suggest even an implicit promise of US military engagement in Sudan or support for the Southern side in any return to conflict.
The US and other signatories to the CPA credibly sense that the whole enterprise could collapse because of differences between the two parties on substantial points of contention. The Abyei issue, and the post-referendum allocation of the oil proceeds from Southern wells are high on the list of these items.
It was therefore important that the international community impress upon the government in Khartoum the importance of honoring its obligations under the CPA even as these issues are negotiated.
Contrary to your thesis, the Obama administration is actually offering the government in Khartoum significant incentives in the form of a graduated regime of steps, such as restoration of diplomatic ties, lifting of sanctions and debt restructuring, and removal from the terrorism list. In return, the government is being asked to allow the referenda in Abyei and Southern Sudan to proceed on time, faithfully negotiate the post referendum arrangements with the SPLM, and resolve the conflict in Darfur once and for all.
There is nothing there that could delude the South into thinking that uncle Sam is raring to come to its rescue if it resorts to war with Khartoum. in fact, the proper reading of the situation is to see the government in Khartoum as the potential aggressor if its unreasonable demands on oil, Abyei, the borders and so forth are not acceded to by the Southerners.
There was no “bluff” in what the US President said, because he even clearly asserted over and over again that the success of this effort to consolidate peace in Sudan lies primarily with Sudanese. It was more of an exhortation than a threat, and the few sticks he was able to muster in the face of the regime’s representative were the same incumbent sanctions and the likes that have been there since the Clinton and George Bush Administrations.
Oscar: well said!
Yep, it’s indeed high time to cast bombast about Sudan to the history books, especially at this critical moment; Mbeki has shown the way forward in this respect.
It’s now up to the others in the international community â€“ in particular the USA, UK, France, and the rest of the EU – to follow Mbeki’s lead (undoubtedly the only person on the world stage who enjoys unfettered trust from both the NCP and SPLM).
However, ultimately it will be their OWN political choice to do so (disavow moral posturing and hectoring, maximizing efforts at neutrality – both in words and in deeds, avoid issuing grand diktats, de-domesticating Sudan as a politically easy and cost-free whipping boy, and casting the separation of the south as an unavoidable, and in many quarters a desirable, fait a complis – but without paying too much notice in the first place as to whether the environment exists in the south for people to exercise political pluralism both during the run up to and actual holding of the referendum).
The consequence of those in the international community choosing an alternative route to the commonsensical Mbeki modus operandi during this delicate phase is simple:
playing themselves out of Sudan for the foreseeable future.
The speech by President Obama at the UN was heralded by all sides as marking a breakthrough, or a major attempt to invigorate the Sudanese peace process. If it was intended to unveil a new policy, or a new element of policy, with significant incentives for the NCP, it has come rather late in the day. At present, the NCP is overwhelmingly preoccupied with internal dynamics and international leverage has diminished considerably (and will continue to do so over the coming months). If the event (organized by the UN, not the US) were intended to invigorate the peace process, it may have managed to pass a message that there is no alternative to the current CPA track, but the sheer amount of time involved in preparing for the high-level meeting, and the associated level of political distraction and second-guessing, at a time when time is very limited, should be counted on the debit side.
No one can deny the fact that the US has some interest in the situation in the Sudan,but again one can not deny that President Obama,addressed the meeting on Sudan,with the public opinion,the activist groups,and the midterm Novermber Elections in mind.
There was no new policy as such,as for the incentives,these are the same promises of the Bush Administration prior to the Naivasha Agreement,the CPA,thus nothing new.
What was peculiar in the message is that it was addressed to one party only,the NCP,and Oscar is right,this could be misinterpreted by the SPLM.
Even though,neither the NCP nor the SPLM,represent the Sudan,they are both responsible for this referandum,and are equally expected to make it smooth,fair,transparent and free,however news from the South clearly show otherwise.
In his speech,President Obama,was simply telling not only the NCP,but the people of the Sudan and indeed the world that none can survive without the blessings of the United States,therefore do what we tell you to do,and you survive,or else.Well thank God that oxygen and water(even if not clean)are so far free.And in one way or the other this is the message about America’s might that we hear from Professor Reeves(naval blockade) or from Nicholas Kristoff(bombing the piplelines and the port at Port Sudan),now is’nt thiis tragic.
The United States could have done better and could still do better if it listens to people like Thabo Mbeki and Meles Zenawi and Obosanjo.
One Sudanese commented on Aljazeera saying”If the SPLM wants to separate from the NCP,we all want that,but to separate from the Sudan,I disagree,because the NCP is not the Sudan”.
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