After more than six months in the making, President Obama’s cabinet officials will meet today to review the U.S. policy on Sudan. As we have known all along, the most interesting things to come out of a policy reviews are usually absent from the public documents and pronouncements. But in this closed door meeting, some of the senior-most officials in the U.S. government will have to do a gut check on a few key issues:
1.) Is the United States comfortable with the creation of an independent South Sudan as soon as 2011? Given the central role of the U.S. in negotiating the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that created the independence referendum, other members of the international community will look closely at the administration’s body language on the issue of if, when and how the world should recognize self-determination for the South.
2.) Should the international community support the 2010 national elections? Everyone involved knows these elections will likely be a train wreck, yet international support for them seems to plod forward as if on auto-pilot. As we have noted in the past, there is very little chance these elections will be free and fair and a very high risk that the voting will disenfranchise Darfuris. The administration will have a lot of hard explaining to do if it spends tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to bankroll an election that simply rubber stamps the rule of a wanted war criminal in President Bashir while making the situation worse for Darfuris.
3.) How much provocation is too much provocation? While no one has produced a smoking gun demonstrating the ruling National Congress Party’s direct hand in recent violence in South Sudan, this is how the ruling party has always done business, and there are more and more reports of new and more high powered weaponry showing up in local militia clashes. What is the threshold the administration will set for saying enough is enough? What actions will it take if U.S. intelligence demonstrates that the NCP is pushing weapons toward the South and trying to derail the independence referendum through proxy violence?
4.) Will justice be served? The administration has taken a very muted public approach when talking about the outstanding International Criminal Court warrant for President Bashir. Is the administration, (one that is chock full of individuals who have traditionally been strong human rights defenders), wiling to see justice deferred, or even denied, because of an eagerness to keep Sudan from growing into a potentially messier problem before it gets better?
Hopefully, the administration appreciates the gravity of today’s decisions.
Photo: President Obama flanked by Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates at a Cabinet meeting. Secretaries Clinton and Gates will be key participants in today’s Sudan policy review meeting. (AP/Charles Dharapak)