Early in his first term, then-President George W. Bush ordered his administration to initiate a full review of U.S. policy regarding Sudan. The review was launched against a backdrop of a decades old civil war between the ruling Sudanese regime in Khartoum and the rebellious Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in South Sudan. The goal of the policy was relatively simple: end the deadly war while maintaining U.S. national and economic security interests. The result of that policy review was a strategy that included the appointment of Sen. John Danforth as President Bush’s first Special Envoy to Sudan, the furthering of U.S. – Sudanese counterterrorism intelligence cooperation, and ultimately the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which ended the war. While it’s clear that the U.S. effort was a contributing – and not independently causal – factor in ending the conflict, and while it’s undeniable that the CPA and the peace it created are still tenuous, it is also clear that significant progress was made towards peace as a result of a coherent and sufficiently executed U.S. policy plan.
Fast forward to today and we find ourselves at a similar point – with a new U.S. Administration and a seemingly intractable Sudanese conflict, this time in Darfur. President Barack Obama is well aware of the complexity of Sudanese politics and the volatility attached to efforts aimed at achieving political change there. He is also well aware – thanks to millions of his concerned constituents – of the need to do something about the effects of genocide in Darfur, the unraveling peace in South Sudan, and the potential for the anarchic dissolution of Africa’s geographically largest nation.
So it was no surprise that upon his inauguration President Obama green-lit another full review of U.S. policy regarding Sudan. The goals of this review are a bit more complex than the last, which is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing insofar as it is incredibly important that U.S. policy be comprehensive and adopt an all-Sudan approach; a curse insofar as that approach is necessarily complex and must avoid competing strategies which would make progress on one issue while setting back another. In just about every way, the task of creating a coherent and comprehensive U.S. policy towards Sudan is tougher than it was eight years ago. It is therefore not surprising that the current review process has now stretched to nearly 6 months. That said, the fact that the already lengthy timeline of this review is understandable doesn’t make a never-ending review process acceptable. It is now time for the Obama Administration to finalize its comprehensive, coherent policy towards Sudan and to announce it to the world.
In fact, the rollout of the plan could prove nearly as important as the plan itself, as it will go a long way towards answering the most important question it begs – will President Obama and his administration do what it takes to turn their long-awaited plan from words on paper to reality on the ground? It is the answer to this question of prioritization and presidential effort that will likely be the biggest controllable factor in determining the plan’s ultimate success or failure. Regardless of its details, any plan the Obama Administration unveils will require U.S. resources (which necessitates presidential leadership here in Washington, D.C.), and a full multilateral approach (which demands presidential leadership abroad). The details of the plan do matter, and we will certainly have a lot to say on the subject, but they only matter if President Obama truly makes the plan a priority and sees it through to completion. That effort must begin with President Obama finalizing his plan and personally unveiling it to the world. And doing it soon.
The author is the senior director of policy and government relations at the Save Darfur Coalition. This post originally appeared on SDC’s blog.