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Gold Stars and Damage Control at the White House

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Gold Stars and Damage Control at the White House

Posted by Laura Heaton and Amanda Hsiao on September 30, 2009

Gold Stars and Damage Control at the White House

Were you distraught about the Special Envoy Gration’s remarks, as published in today’s Washington Post? Voice your concerns to President Obama through this petition created by our friends at GI-NET, (who, by the way, will deliver a large gold star to the Sudanese embassy at 3 p.m. tomorrow – join them there).

If you were troubled by what you read, a survey of the blogosphere today indicates that you are not alone. The White House was especially bothered by the attention. (We don’t remember the last time we saw the word ‘wild’ used so many times by an official spokesman.) Here’s a recap of some of the reactions today…

ABC’s Jake Tapper captured the White House reaction to the Post article. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the story “wildly misrepresents” actual policy that is being developed towards Sudan. According to Vietor the administration does not intend to provide incentives to the Sudanese regime until there are verifiable changes on the ground. He claimed that the Post’s Stephanie McCrummen trivialized Gration’s views and used quotes “cobbled together out of context.”

Interestingly, the administration at no point denied Gration’s comments—only that they were misrepresentative of actual policy.

A post by Bec Hamilton, a human rights lawyer and author, corroborates many of McCrummen’s points. (And Hamilton would know; she was there with Gration too.) A particularly insightful point from Hamilton:

The “cookies” and “gold stars” comments ["We’ve got to think about giving out cookies," said Gration . . . "Kids, countries, they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement"] were bizarre – so bizarre that Gwen [Tompkins of NPR] piped up and basically asked Gration if he realized how it sounded. Gration quipped “It’s your job to work out how to not have it come across like that.”

That is a disconcerting philosophy coming from the man charged with the delicate diplomatic task of implementing peace in Sudan.

Students at Tufts University are also riled up, calling Gration’s appointment as Special Envoy, “the latest and most gratuitous indication of the administration’s negligence toward the civil war-torn country.” Elizabeth Dickinson, writing for Foreign Policy’s Passport, underscored just how frustrated everyone in the Sudan policy community is with Gration— except for the government of Sudan.