Chickens and carrots in blood-soaked Sudan 2

Michael Gerson, a conservative writer, fulsomely praises the Obama administration and the State Department for what he considers a triumph of US foreign policy, a referendum to be held in southern Sudan on its secession.

The Obama administration … is on the verge of a major diplomatic achievement in Sudan. Barring technical failures that delay the vote, or unexpected violence, South Sudan will approve an independence referendum on Jan. 9. Six months later, a new flag will rise, a new anthem will be played. It is a rare, risky, deeply American enterprise: midwifing the birth of a new nation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been pushing to elevate the issue to the presidential level, demanding, according to one official, “one team, one fight.” In August, President Obama declared that Denis McDonough, then the chief of staff on the National Security Council and now deputy national security adviser, would coordinate a unified government response. The administration’s common approach, dubbed “the road map,” publicly promised the regime in Khartoum a series of carrots — reviewing its status on the state sponsors of terrorism list, beginning the lifting of sanctions and starting discussions on debt relief — in exchange for allowing the south to go quietly. …

Elements of the regime in Khartoum seem prepared for sullen acceptance of southern independence

Every diplomatic achievement is rewarded by new complexities. Between the independence referendum in January and full independence on July 9, 2011, a variety of issues — concerning borders, citizenship, security and the distribution of oil revenues — will need to be resolved. …  South Sudan will require considerable help to avoid the fate of a failed state — particularly to build its capacity to govern and fight corruption. … 

But even partial diplomatic successes are worth celebrating — and this is less partial than most. Assuming the last lap of a long race is completed, southern independence will allow these long-suffering people to govern and defend themselves … And southern sovereignty will permanently limit the ability of Khartoum to do harm in a vast region it has harmed for too long.

The most timely message sent by this achievement concerns the nature of the diplomatic task. It was the intention of recent WikiLeaks disclosures to reveal the names of American diplomats and expose their malign influence in the world. Well, here is a leak of my own. People such as McDonough, Michelle Gavin and Samantha Power [see here and here]  in the White House, along with Johnnie Carson, Scott Gration [see here] and Princeton Lyman at the State Department, are employing American power to noble purpose. I mention their names (none of them secret) because they represent how skilled, effective government officials can shape history, improve the lives of millions and bring honor to the country they serve.

This is not only counting chickens before they’re hatched, but celebrating their surpassing excellence before the eggs are even laid.

True, Gerson touches on possible problems and set-backs, some of them potentially disastrous, but his delight overcomes all doubt.

It would be highly desirable for the Christian and animist south to separate from the Muslim north, but will it really be achieved bloodlessly? We should wait to see. And if the south’s independence is achieved, will it be safe from the terrible persecution by the north that it has suffered from for centuries? Will “southern sovereignty  … permanently limit the ability of Khartoum to do harm in a vast region it has harmed for too long”, as Gerson so confidently asserts?

And the question should be asked, is it just – or sound policy – for Sudan, ruled by the blood-soaked tyrant President Omar Bashir, to be taken off the list of countries that sponsor terrorism when he himself is one of the most monstrous and persistent terrorists, persecutors, and mass murderers in the world?

One might say that it is worth doing, even if unjust, if it is the price that must be paid for the safety of the southern Sudanese. But will Bashir stick to the deal?  The answer is bound up with the question of whether or not the International Criminal Court’s warrant for his arrest, for crimes against humanity and war crimes, will be cancelled. A cancellation is not one of the carrots he’s been offered, and it may not be in the power of the US administration to offer it. But it is what Bashir wants more than anything else.

It’s worth listening to an opinion very different from Gerson’s. Here’s a regional Islamic view, from the current internet issue of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram:

The ICC arrest warrant on Al-Bashir is taking its toll on Sudan on more than one level. It has …  impeded a possible solution of the Darfur crisis, for the Darfur insurgents are in no mood to negotiate with a president who’s been indicted as a war criminal. Even before the warrant was issued, Khartoum was having trouble reaching a deal on Darfur. Now the prospects are indeed dire.

As for the self-determination referendum, slated for 9 January 2011, no happy ending is likely to develop. Incensed by the warrant, Al-Bashir’s government may try to disrupt the referendum. Why? Because if they allowed the south to secede, the international community may be emboldened and press harder for the implementation of ICC rulings, or try to coerce the Sudanese government into resolving the problems in Darfur

The hardliners with Al-Bashir’s party, the National Congress, believe that the secession of the south would be the thin end of the wedge.

Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha, who took part recently in discussions concerning Sudan’s future in New York, says that the ICC warrant on Al-Bashir should be rescinded. He also calls for sanctions to be removed and Sudanese debts to be written off.

The international community has so far declined to make such sweeping concessions, but it has offered smaller gestures. … Sudan was told that it may be removed from the terror list within months. But, for now at least, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the ICC warrant to be cancelled.

There is always the possibility that Sudan may offer concessions on the south in the hope of getting the warrant removed. …

What makes the warrant such a delicate issue is not just that Al-Bashir’s future is at stake. Two other Sudanese have been indicted by the court: Humanitarian Affairs [sic] Minister Ahmed Haroun and Janjaweed leader Ali Abdel-Rahman. … Many other Sudanese officials fear that they would be next. If they allow Al-Bashir to fall, the chances are more heads are going to roll.

Sudanese presidential advisor Ghazi Salaheddin is dismissive of what the international community has so far offered Sudan. …

Sudan is being asked to hold the elections on time without much regard to the referendum’s crucial repercussions or the fact that it may lead to secession and war simultaneously

In return (for helping with the referendum), Sudan was promised “six export licences for American companies working in agriculture and health,” Salaheddin noted. Then, once the country is divided, the president will still have to turn himself in to the ICC. Not exactly the arrangement Sudan was hoping for.

Salaheddin said that such offers debase the referendum, for they turn it from a matter of principle into a business proposition or worse, a bargaining chip in US foreign policy. …

Sudanese writer Tharwat Qassem maintains that the abrogation of the warrant on Al-Bashir is the sole concern for Sudan’s National Congress. Removing Sudan from the terror list doesn’t mean much. And the lifting of sanctions for Khartoum is beside the point. Also, allowing Khartoum to import agricultural equipment and computers, as Washington did recently, is a joke.

The cancellation of the warrant is the “only carrot the National Congress craves,” Qassem said. But the price for revoking the warrant would be high. For starters, Khartoum will have to promise to facilitate the birth of a new state in south Sudan.

Al-Bashir may be willing to do just that, according to Qassem. “The statements in which Al-Bashir says that the loss of the south is not the end of the world is a step in this direction.”

It is true that the loss of the south may not be the end of the world. But it may mean that Al-Bashir would tighten his hold on power indefinitely. This is something that many lobbyists in the West, including human rights groups, don’t want to see happen. …

So nothing is cut and dried, not even the carrots. The referendum may well go ahead in January, and – just as in Afghan and Iraqi elections – there may be a huge and excited turn-out for it; but what then results is not predictable. There’s too much ominous doubt in Khartoum to allow bragging confidence in Washington, D.C., and Gerson’s applause is premature.

[See also this article at PajamasMedia: the iniquitous rulers of Sudan are already reacting by intensifying the jihad.]

  • Hellosnackbar

    How would the division be sffected with respect to the Sudanese oil fields?
    I seem to remember these were along the border of the North /South divide.

    • Jillian Becker

      We’re interested in that question too.

      We think it’s likely to be a very sticky issue indeed.