Monday, December 8, 2008

What Will Obama Do about Darfur?

The Washington Post has an interesting article here about Sudanese leaders' wary reactions to Obama's victory. One Sudanese official is quoted as saying, "I know Obama's appointees. And I know their policy towards Sudan. Everybody here knows it. The policy is very aggressive and very harsh."

Intriguingly, that official is Ghazi Suleiman, a human rights lawyer and member of the Southern People's Liberation Movement, whose group waged a 20-year war with the Sudanese government before signing a comprehensive peace deal in 2005. The article goes on to suggest that a reflexively hard line towards the Sudanese government may backfire.

Many of Obama's key appointees--including vice president elect Joseph Biden and secretary of state Clinton--have indicated they would use force against the Sudanese government over its genocidal policies in Darfur. Clinton has proposed NATO enforce a no-fly zone in Darfur, while new UN ambassador Susan Rice has vowed to "go down in flames" rather than allow a genocide to occur again on her watch.

But much of the article suggests that the situation in Sudan is too complicated--both morally and politically--for a categorical, hardline approach to work. While the government-sponsored Janjaweed caused most of the displacement and suffering during the first two years of the conflict in 2004-2005, the sides to the conflict are more fluid now, "with fighting among various Arab tribes and rebel factions displacing more people this year than government bombings." A no-fly zone, said one UN official who has no love of the Bashir government, is just posturing "that's not going to work."

Other officials interviewed for the article suggest that undermining Bashir could have negative repercussions for the US. Stirring up the Arab militants who support Bashir's government could turn them into a dangerous force.

But an unidentified Obama campaign adviser said that accountability should also be part of any long-term political settlement in Sudan; the leaders who orchestrated the campaign in Darfur must face their misdeeds, he said, even if that comes several years late.

"If we accept the notion that the brutality we've witnessed from this regime over the past two decades is acceptable to bring about temporary stability, then shouldn't we have done the same for the Nazis in Germany?" said the adviser.

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