In yesterday’s hard-hitting, five-hour, tri-panel House subcommittee hearing on Sudan, members of the House, and even one guest Senator, took full advantage of the opportunity to publicly dissect the Obama administration’s Sudan policy that was unveiled in October. In its aftermath, one message resonated across the media: the administration needs to do more.
The Washington Post highlighted the damaging testimony of former U.N. expert Enrico Carisch which accused the Obama administration of being more lax than the previous administration in enforcing sanctions in Darfur. According to Carisch, the U.S. has not done enough to press for more robust sanctions in the region, including the expansion of the arms embargo to all of Sudan. He testified that the Security Council has dismissed nearly 100 recommendations aimed at strengthening sanctions in Darfur.
"In contrast to that leadership of 2004 and 2005, the United States appears to have now joined the group of influential states who sit by quietly and do nothing to ensure that sanctions work to protect Darfurians. Increasingly it looks like poorly understood and under-enforced U.N. sanctions are being sold out in favor of mediation whose success is far from ensured.”
At CNN, the focus was on a tense exchange between Senator Sam Brownback and Special Envoy Scott Gration in which the Special Envoy had to be firmly pressed to acknowledge the administration’s stated policy of negotiating with a regime that is committing genocide. Watch the exchange yourself, here.
Brownback, in a statement released after the hearing, pulled no punches on the history of the regime in Khartoum and the administration’s policy to offer incentives for good behavior:
“I strongly oppose any policy that gives incentives and rewards to the genocidal regime headed by Sudanese President Bashir, an indicted war criminal. Under the Bashir regime, the Khartoum government has committed two genocides; Sudan has become a haven for Al Qaeda; and the regime provides support for Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army, a terrorist group operating in Central Africa.”
The Sudan Tribune focused on the Special Envoy’s assertion that a confidential annex, allegedly the core of the administration’s policy, does not exist. Here’s what the Secretary of State herself said when the policy was rolled out:
"We have a menu of incentives and disincentives, political and economic, that we will be looking to, to either further progress or to create a clear message that the progress we expect is not occurring. But we want to be somewhat careful in putting those out. They are part, in fact, of a classified annex to our strategy that we’re announcing the outline of today."
The Obama administration has an understandable desire not to disclose publicly the details of the incentives and pressures it has agreed upon to influence key actors in Sudan, but the Special Envoy seemed genuinely confused when Representative Chris Smith asked for a classified briefing to provide more clarity. This seeming policy confusion is perhaps the reason we have seen no verifiable changes in the administration’s attitude toward Khartoum or, more importantly, the regime’s behavior on the ground in Sudan.
All in all, the hearing served as a sharp reminder of the urgent situation on the ground in Sudan. With a disastrous looking national election around the corner and negotiations over the bill on southern Sudan’s self-determination referendum deadlocked, the Obama administration needs to act now to forge a broad multilateral consensus on how to avoid the full-scale war that looks more and more likely with each passing day.