I was heartened to see the recent ad campaign in The New York Times by the Sudan Now coalition urging renewed presidential leadership on Sudan at this critical juncture. In the words of NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof, penned months ago, and more true with each passing day: “If President Obama is ever going to find his voice on Sudan, it had better be soon.”
Having first traveled to Sudan in 1989, my interest and involvement in this country has spanned the better part of 20 years. I’ve been there five times, most recently in 2004 when Senator Sam Brownback and I were the first congressional delegation to go to Darfur. Tragically, Darfur is hardly an anomaly. We saw the same scorched earth tactics in the brutal 20-year civil war with the South where more than 2 million perished, most of whom were civilians. Against this backdrop, after two and half years of negotiations and high-level U.S. involvement, the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, was signed, thereby bringing about an end to war.
The CPA guarantees that the South will be given the opportunity to vote for independence in January 2011. The conventional wisdom is that they will waste no time in severing ties with the North. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that President Bashir remains at the helm in Khartoum.
With about four months to go, Bashir’s National Congress Party, or NCP, persists in dragging its feet—undermining and stalling CPA implementation at nearly every turn. Furthermore, the deeply flawed April elections do not bode well for the fate of a free, fair, and timely referendum process. Failure to deliver on the long-awaited promise of a respectable referendum could have grave implications.
I am deeply concerned that Sudan is headed for a resumption of civil war if the U.S. fails to exert the necessary leadership and influence. As a guarantor of the CPA we have a moral obligation to do so. Shortly before Congress adjourned for the summer district work period the bipartisan Sudan Caucus co-chairs, with Representative Michael Capuano as the lead sponsor, introduced a resolution (H.Res. 1588) urging consistent U.S. leadership to ensure the full implementation of the CPA, as well as peace and stability in Sudan during and after the mandated referenda. We continue to gain cosponsors to this timely resolution, but ultimately the administration must embrace this as a foreign policy priority. The stakes could not be higher. The Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community (pdf) predicted that over the next five years, “…a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan” – more so than any other country.
The recent announcement that Ambassador Princeton Lyman has been dispatched to Sudan to mediate negotiations between the North and the South is a welcome development. But alone it is insufficient especially given the persistent news reports that the administration is considering an incentives only approach with Khartoum. These reports, while disturbing, are consistent with the administration’s uneven implementation of the policy it rolled out last fall. For months now President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan has been relying almost exclusively on carrots even in the face of clear backsliding by the NCP. This is a worst case scenario and is guaranteed – if history is to be our guide – to fail.
During the campaign for the presidency, then candidate Obama said, “Washington must respond to the ongoing genocide and the ongoing failure to implement the CPA with consistency and strong consequences.” These words still ring true today.
Will President Obama find his voice on Sudan?
Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R) represents Virginia’s 10th District. He is currently serving his 15th term in office.