Friday, July 23, 2010

Gration Lets the Poker Face Slip on Sudan

Obama probably isn't happy Scott Gration said this:

After the ICC's most recent decision, Obama said he was "fully supportive" of the court.

But the president's point man on Sudan, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, said last week that the new charges will have a damaging effect on his ability to work with Bashir's government. Speaking at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he expressed dissatisfaction with the ICC's latest move.

The decision "will make my mission more difficult and challenging, especially if we realize that resolving the crisis in Darfur and [the] south, issues of oil, and combating terrorism at 100 percent, we need Bashir," Gration was quoted as saying by Radio Sawa, an Arabic-language radio station run by the U.S. government.

"Also [regarding] the issues of citizenship and referendum, the north holds a lot of influence, so this is really tough. How will I carry out my duties in this environment?" he reportedly asked. [emphasis mine]
The problem with the above statement is not that Gration is wrong (Yes, I know Obama said he's cool with the ICC arrest warrant, but what else is he going to say? I bet Gration's sentiment is exactly Obama's). As I understand it, Bashir holds all the levers as far as who runs the government, who has any voice in dealing with the militias tormenting the South. The janjaweed militia who did such damage in the South have strong links to Bashir's government, after all. It doesn't seem that, with Bashir as head of government in Sudan, there will be any peace without his say-so.

Activists may not like it, but I'm just not sure that this is an issue that the US has any legs with which to stand on in terms of leverage. John Prendergast of the Enough Project took on the leverage question in a recent op-ed. It seems to him that the US operates "on the premise that confidence-building measures and incentives are the best way to impact Khartoum's behavior, but there has been no agreement on which incentives to offer." In contrast, he offers -

Enough's Alternative View: U.S. efforts to build unilateral and multilateral leverage points may be the greatest potential contribution to peace in Sudan the United States can make. Leverage can be built through intensive and high-level diplomacy and the building of a package of multilateral carrots and sticks that are robust enough to get the attention of the parties. Enough is outlining what some of these pressures and incentives could be in a forthcoming publication from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. As soon as the United States begins to build that package, and signals to the parties its commitment to seeing real change in Sudan, it will gain greater influence on the outcome of the efforts to support peace in both Darfur and the South.
What strikes me about this is that, from Enough's characterization of the Obama administration's position, both the US and the Enough Project basically agree that the there's no leverage on Sudan. If the US has had relations with the country before and had had some sort of rapport with the country before, then perhaps things would be different. That doesn't seem to be the case, however, and that is why I think the US doesn't know what incentives to offer. Making things especially difficult is the fact that if the US decides to shun Sudan, there are other powers in the world (China and Brazil come to mind, as we saw in the case of Iran) who are willing to do business with the country in the event of an American attack of conscience. I'll be looking forward to that Woodrow Wilson paper Prendergast mentioned they're coming out with soon, but basically, Prendergast's answer to the "we have no leverage" argument right now is "Go build some, then!" which is simply not enough of an answer.

This basic agreement on leverage is why I think that what really enrages the activists among us is not that Obama cannot see what is wrong with the picture; it's that he is owning up to the futility of the effort instead of resorting to bluster or UN-like kumbaya platitudes. Some people would attribute this to soft bigotry in the form of low expectations in Africa. Others will say that he truly does not care. I have no idea which it is, and really, neither does anyone who isn't an infallible mind-reader. I will say this, though: There's no guarantee that the referendum will be followed by years of peace, and if you still can't come up with a reason why Sudan should care what your position is by now, then I doubt you should even be at the table at all. Gration knows the US has no leverage and is acting like it. Such statements don't make folks happy and people aren't used to the US not putting a brave face on in a card game however bad their hand. Still, I'm not sure Gration is wrong on this one.

No comments:

Post a Comment