Marking one week since Sudan Special Envoy Gration’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sudan scholar Eric Reeves wrote an excellent op-ed for the Boston Globe that summed up well the sentiments of many Sudan watchers who fear that the direction of the Obama administration’s Sudan policy is misguided. In particular, Reeves describes strong concern about the administration’s apparent reliance on incentives to negotiate with Khartoum, rather than a clear set of consequences for Khartoum’s continued intransigence. Reeves, like other activists and experts, thinks that the starting point for negotiations with Khartoum should be to prepare for a continuation of Khartoum’s pattern of stalling and reneging, rather than approach Bashir and his allies with the expectation of a sea change in behavior. Reeves suggests that perhaps the Sudan special envoy doesn’t fully understand the calculus that drives Khartoum’s actions.
“[L]ike many [diplomats] before him, [Gration] is convinced that the National Islamic Front is controlled by men who can be reasoned with, cajoled, rewarded, made to do ‘the right thing.’’ He ignores the basic truth about these men: during their 20 years in power they have never abided by any agreement with any Sudanese party.”
Reeves is particularly frustrated by the “excessively optimistic” tone Gration takes when discussing resolution of Darfur conflict and the emphasis the special envoy places on the return of displaced people, a point that others have also recently picked up on. Reeves writes:
The notorious Janjaweed have not been disarmed and pose a constant threat. Even in the camps themselves, security is tenuous; women still face rape, men are tortured and murdered, and looting is commonplace. In the past, it has been Khartoum that has pushed for returns under these conditions; now, perversely, it is the US special envoy.
Expect to hear Reeves’ arguments and noticeable frustration echoed and amplified by Sudan watchers as the Obama administration finalizes its strategy for engaging Sudan. With all that is on the line in Sudan today – including the integrity of the country, on which the southern Sudanese will vote in 2011 and the well-being of the 2.7 million Darfuris who cannot return home – the Obama administration can’t afford to get this strategy wrong.