Monday, September 11, 2006

The Twisted Triangle: America, China, and Sudan

Beyond the unfolding humanitarian disaster, the Darfur crisis may well represent the final collapse of a ten year effort by Sudan’s Islamic dictatorship to engage with the United States—and the end of a five year effort by the Bush administration to spin its tangled relationship with Sudan’s ruler, Omar al-Bashir, into geopolitical gold.

China’s rise to pre-eminence in Sudanese affairs is probably the symptom of this failure, rather than its cause.

America's difficulties in executing its Sudan policy have now put the world in the awkward position of demanding that China condemn Khartoum--while at the same time ignoring the fact that the world has been condoning American accommodation of the regime ever since the Bush administration took office.

For some observers, what has been mystifying about the Darfur crisis has not been China’s oil-inspired, opportunistic support for the Khartoum regime.

It has been George Bush’s unusual policy of engagement and forbearance--it has even been characterized as appeasement--in his handling of Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir, even as Bashir takes foreign policy stands that would exile a European democracy, let alone an genocidal, radical Islamicist dictatorship from Washington’s good graces.

This has created the impression that Khartoum could disregard multilateral condemnation at the UN because it relied on its unique unilateral relationship with the United States.

Consider this:

Al-Bashir supported Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. He backed the Taliban. He harbored Osama bin Laden. Sudan is still listed as one of the seven state sponsors of terrorism in the world. Recently, al-Bashir supported Hezbollah against the U.S.-backed Israeli attack.

Nevertheless, under President Bush the U.S. has refrained from excoriating, isolating, and destabilizing this dictator.

In fact, our famously thin-skinned and vindictive president has swallowed insults from al-Bashir, and endured outrages that would have condemned any other national leader to the Bush administration’s diplomatic doghouse.

Last month, President Bush sent envoy Jendayi Frazer with a personal appeal to al Bashir—complete with the publicized offer of a high profile meeting between al-Bashir and Bush during the upcoming UN session, the precious face time that every prestige-hungry Third World strongman is supposed to crave--in return for Sudan’s acquiescence to a UN takeover of the African Union peacekeeping venture in Darfur.

When Frazer arrived, her car was TP’d with anti-American slogans at the airport, she was kept waiting for three days while Bashir attended to more pressing business, and, when he finally received her, he promised that the president’s letter would be studied—by the functionaries in his foreign ministry.

The stock excuse has been that Sudan’s assistance in the war on terror justifies toleration of its unsavory behavior. But that dog doesn’t hunt anymore.

As Marcia Katz reported in her May 2006 article in The New Republic:

The Sudanese government once possessed valuable terrorism intelligence--because, for a number of years, a number of terrorist outfits operated out of Khartoum. And, after September 11, when it feared it might become a target in the war on terrorism, Khartoum began sharing that information. The Los Angeles Times reported in April 2005, for instance, that Sudanese intelligence have detained Al Qaeda suspects for interrogation by American agents, turned over passports and other evidence recovered in raids on suspected terrorists' homes, and expelled extremists from the country. The State Department's most recent report on global terrorism declares that "Sudan's overall cooperation and information sharing improved markedly and produced significant progress in combating terrorist activity." Yet a senior government official says Sudan's intelligence is no longer that valuable: "No, not anymore. The motherlode? We got that in 2003. We didn't get it lately."

The Sudan situation is, at its foundation, a story of George W. Bush’s high hopes and unrealistic expectations. It is also the story of his weakness for the astounding master stroke that, because of impatience and shortsightedness, consistently eludes him.

And the roots of the story lie not in Darfur or China. They lie in another Sudanese civil war fought not so long ago—the long-ignored and quickly forgotten civil war waged between the Arab Muslim north and the African south for over 20 years.

The history and circumstances of the north-south conflict are reviewed in great detail on Human Rights Watch’s Sudan page.

Sudan is another example of shoddy nationbuilding by European imperialism. It has an Arab Muslim north, black African animist-Christian south, and a non-Arab Muslim east (the Darfur region). The Arab Muslims control the national administration out of Khartoum, but kept busy subjugating rebellions by the other ethnic groups, who rightly believe that their regions are getting jobbed out of their fair share by Khartoum.

The struggle with between north and south has a much longer and bloodier history than the Darfur conflict. In its most recent iteration, from 1986 until 2005, it killed approximately 2 million people.

The Clinton administration’s Sudan policy was hostile and reactive.

It closed the US embassy in Khartoum in 1996, compelled bin Laden’s deportation from Sudan in the same year, and then bombed Sudan’s al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in retaliation for bin Laden’s attack on our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

An article in the November 2004 Sudan Tribune provides an interesting recap of Clinton’s regime-change activities against Sudan that appear quite Bushian in their implacability:

In fact, Washington opted for the policy of containment and isolation against Sudan and at the same time increased its support to the Sudanese armed resistance seeking to oust Bahsir’s regime.

Washington also backed a three-way attack against Sudan in 1997 by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda.

Until the end of his second mandate in 2000, Clinton not only remained adamantly opposed to any kind of rapprochement with Sudan, but spared no effort to further isolate the African-Arab country at both regional and international levels.

Most importantly, perhaps, for the future history and for the attitude of the Bush administration, Clinton’s national security team spurned al-Bashir’s repeated initiatives, as arranged and reported by U.S. Muslim businessman Mansoor Ijaz, to promote constructive engagement and rapprochement between Sudan and the U.S. by delivering up the head of Osama bin Laden.

Then President Bush, the avowed anti-Clinton, reversed the policies of the previous administration in favor of something that, paradoxically, looks very much like Clintonian engagement (from the Sudan Tribune article quoted above):

Khartoum was relieved with the arrival of a new Republican administration to the White House led by President George W. Bush in 2001.

Only a few weeks later, the Center of Political and Strategic Studies in Washington recommended a change in U.S. policy towards Sudan based on interaction rather than containment and isolation.

Indeed, the Bush administration looked at Sudan with a different eye.

Yes, there was oil there.

Sudan is another one of those countries described as being second only to Saudi Arabia in oil reserves. But the oil was off limits to U.S. companies until the “state sponsor of terrorism” label could be lifted—something that was eagerly yearned for not only by the U.S. oil companies but also the Sudanese government.

And there was also Christianity: the leader of the southern rebels, John Garang was a Christian, some of his soldiers were Christian although many were animist; and his opponents in Khartoum were undeniably and militantly Muslim.

Sudan therefore became an issue of considerable interest to a very important element of George Bush’s political base—evangelical Christians.

Samantha Power’s excellent report on Sudan and Darfur in the October 30, 2004 New Yorker, Dying in Darfur, provides this amusing vignette, illustrating the agitation that the north south civil war inspired in evangelicals in George Bush’s home town of Midland, Texas.:

In 2002, Fikes and other activists invited thirteen Sudanese exiles to visit Midland during its annual Christian-music festival, and paired them with local youths to construct two portable “Sudanese villages.” The first had seven wooden huts with grass roofs, a large thatch-roofed church, and a market, modelled on that of a typical southern Sudanese town. The second consisted of six huts that had been burned or partly demolished. Fikes had ordered some plastic skeletons from a Halloween Web site and set them aflame (“with the town fire marshal on hand!”), so that they could be displayed as charred corpses. The American evangelical community’s intense interest in Sudan put [America’s Sudan peace envoy John] Danforth and the rest of the U.S. government team under considerable pressure.

Al-Bashir’s continued eagerness to engage with the United States in 2003 is made clear from this Sudanese government press release:

On Monday 8th December, 2003 the President of the United States of America George W. Bush called President Omer Bashir of the Republic of the Sudan.

President Bush commended the willingness of the two parties of the conflict to make peace in Sudan. He congratulated President Bashir on the progress made thus far in the Sudan peace process and indicated that he was watching the peace process closely. He confirmed to President Bashir that he would remain involved till the Sudanese achieved peace in their country. He said he called to encourage both parties to walk the last lap toward peace. He confirmed to President Bashir that the peace would pave the road for good relation between the Sudan and the United States of America and he would be glad at that time to receive him at the White House President.

On his part, President Bashir thanked his American counterpart for his personal involvement in Sudan peace process. He said "without that deep involvement, we would have not accomplished what we have accomplished today."

…Two hours later, President Bashir received at his office Reverend Franklin Graham, President of the Samaritan’s Purse. President Bashir confirmed to Reverend Graham that peace would enhance the scope of religious freedom and co-existence among Sudanese. He said "Sudanese are tolerant by nature". Reverend Graham reiterated his commitment to work for peace and reconciliation in Sudan. He promised to become a friend and a frequent visitor to Sudan.

Franklin Graham, by the way, is Billy’s son and the President’s go-to guy for issues of Christian conscience affecting Sudan.

Christian considerations aside, John Garang offered the prospect of becoming a loyal American client in Africa, an alternative and possible successor to the fundamentally distasteful if temporarily useful al-Bashir.

Garang had attended Infantry Officer Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Ga., and then continued to graduate studies at Iowa State University from 1976 to 1981. He and his wife spoke English fluently. It would be easy to imagine southern Sudan as an African version of Kurdistan: a pro-American ethnic enclave relying on the U.S. for security and a useful thorn in the side of an unsavory, potentially hostile Arab Muslim regime controlling the capital. With U.S. support, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to imagine Garang taking over the whole country.

The Bush administration had incentive, leverage, and assets. And it had grand plans for Sudan. It was determined to broker a peace agreement, restore Sudan to the family of nations, and put U.S. at the center of Sudan’s oil industry.

Success in Sudan would provide President Bush with a high profile success in the eyes of blacks and Muslims, two groups with whom he was not very popular; get America into the Sudan oil patch; and establish a U.S. ally in Africa on the fringe of the Muslim world.

Not a bad day’s work, and the fact that President Bush would be able to compare and contrast his own soft power diplomatic achievements in Africa with the dismal failure of Bill Clinton with respect to the Rwandan genocide and letting bin Laden slip through his fingers was no doubt a delicious lagniappe.

The first objective was achieved, by accommodating the Sudanese regime, instead of confronting it.

Khartoum’s participation was bartered for by promises of a ticket out of pariah status, an alliance with the World’s Only SuperpowerTM, a deluge of petro investment dollars, and the promise of that old standby of US Third World diplomacy: hundreds of millions of dollars in construction aid:

In December 2003, had reported on President Bush’s personal phone calls to al-Bashir and Garang to promote the pact and concluded:

President Bush is believed to be willing to announce that Sudan can be taken off the 'terrorist list' if a settlement is reached. The administration is also reportedly ready to commit millions in new reconstruction funds following a settlement.

With U.S. participation, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was brokered between north and south in January 2005. The south received autonomy with a promise of an independence referendum in the future; a share of oil revenues; an allocation of cabinet posts; and John Garang as Vice President.

Anticipation of the juicy deal coming down the pipe had evoked this remarkable headline in the Sudan Tribune on the occasion of the 2004 U.S. presidential election:

Sudan prayed for Bush victory.

Israel’s Debkafile is perhaps not the most accurate reporter of news. But it is a faithful chronicler of grandiose neo-con fantasies and this report from 2004 catches some of the giddy enthusiasm of the Bush White House over the new Sudan policy:

For the first time ever, American diplomacy will have succeeded in converting a country dominated by radical Muslims – in Sudan’s case since the 17th century - into a secular democracy – in a period, moreover, when fundamentalist Islam is at its most militant and only a few years after Khartoum played host to Osama bin Laden’s headquarters.

Bush also has a special occasion in mind with an eye on the African American vote where his support is relatively weak. He will step forward as the first US president to plunge deep and head-on into problems endemic to the African continent. The Sudan peace will show the way to accommodations of other conflicts. He has allocated liberal sums for the fight against AIDS and steps for raising the standard of living of hundreds of millions of Africans. On the agenda too is a highly evocative ritual at the White House at which Sudan’s president will solemnly forswear his country’s dark past as recruiter of slaves for America and the Arab caravans carrying African slaves around the world.

If the US president has his way, the White House lawn will be fully booked this year with ceremonies centering on the Sudanese reconciliation, which he rates more highly than the Israel-Palestinian handshake hosted by Bill Clinton eleven years ago.

“It has to be a ceremony even more impressive than the 1993 White House signing of declarations of principles by Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat,” said a senior US official preparing the event. “It will be an ‘African Camp David’, but one that will not fail.”

Bush’s advisers are preparing to stage a truly gala reception for the two Sudanese leaders, the first of a series showcasing the presidency’s breakthroughs in Africa in full sight of the American electorate and culminating in a splashy signing ceremony in March or April.

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has set up a committee with heads of the African American community. Working out of an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, they are assess the next moves on Sudan and their impact on voting patterns in November.

As Danforth’s mission draws to a successful conclusion, the president’s senior political adviser Karl Rove is taking charge of strategy on Sudan and its exploitation as campaign fodder.

Let’s highlight a truly wonderful passage:

On the agenda too is a highly evocative ritual at the White House at which Sudan’s president will solemnly forswear his country’s dark past as recruiter of slaves for America and the Arab caravans carrying African slaves around the world.

Sudan would not only be reclaimed for the Christian God and Big Oil.

It would also help exorcise the guilt of the GOP’s white southern base for its slaveholding past, and place the onus firmly on the backs of those troublesome but ultimately contrite Muslim Arabs.

Now, that’s a peace deal for the ages!

None of that stuff ever happened, of course.

President Bush’s plans for a colorful African triumph on the White House lawn were derailed by the helicopter-crash death of John Garang in 2005 that must be reflexively described as “suspicious”, even though the aircraft was lent him by his Ugandan allies; and by shameless reneging on the details of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement by the Khartoum regime.

President Bush tried to keep the dream alive. He kept the State Department on the case and intervened personally to advance the peace process; met with Garang’s successor, Salva Kiir Mayardit; Garang’s widow Rebecca was one of three non-U.S. citizens honored by a place in Laura Bush’s box at the 2006 State of the Union address; and aid flowed to the south, in the form of a $40 million Dyncorp contract to house and train the south’s army as part of the buying-off process.

However, there were limits to the energy and commitment America was willing to bring to bear on the situation. When faced with a severe challenge and difficult choices, its largely unilateral diplomacy proved incapable of preventing the Sudan situation from unraveling.

The biggest dark cloud of trouble that doomed the Bush’s carnival of diplomatic, religious, and racial reconciliation was in Sudan’s northwest: Darfur proved his undoing.

There was serious unrest in Darfur before the CPA. Unfortunately, the Bush administration tried to wish away the problem with a combination of optimism and obstinate neglect.

Again, quoting Marcia Katz:

American policymakers [decided] in early 2004 that they would try to finish the North-South deal before turning to Darfur--even if it meant ignoring a genocide. Their rationalization went like this: The North-South agreement was grounded in core principles about sharing power and wealth that Darfuris could then use as the foundation for a peace agreement of their own. The North-South agreement would also dilute the extremist regime in Khartoum by integrating Southerners into the national government and creating a new order more sympathetic to Darfuri concerns. Lastly, the agreement called for democratic elections in 2009, which would give President Omar Al Bashir and his National Congress Party an incentive to promote peace and prosperity in the whole country.

This approach served the administration's political interests, but it was a fatal miscalculation--"a way to interpret the status quo positively," as Gayle Smith, an Africa specialist at the Center for American Progress and onetime director of African affairs at the National Security Council (NSC), puts it. For one thing, the agreement was very specific about the division of power and resources between the North and South. To subsequently incorporate other parties and regions would require difficult renegotiation.

Rebel agitation in the northwest intensified—perhaps partially in response to the perception that the CPA was indeed a ready-made template for Darfuri empowerment.

However, Khartoum apparently decided it was not going to give away its territory and oil revenue chunk by chunk, and committed itself to the destruction of the Darfur rebels as a credible political and military force.

The tool Khartoum adopted was the notorious Janjaweed.

Khartoum could not rely on its army, which had a sizable Darfurese component (and after all, John Garang had risen to a privileged position in the Sudanese army, commanding forces charged with suppressing the southern insurrection, before he switched sides and became the rebels’ charismatic and highly effective leader).

So Sudan outsourced the dirty work to irregular Arab militias, which engaged in attacks extensive enough to become universally recognized as ethnic cleansing and behavior brutal enough to be termed genocide by many observers.

The African Union—envisioned as a Third World cadet NATO—took on Darfur as its first project, in the process revealing itself as underfunded and inexperienced (in generous official parlance) and inept, corrupt, and totally out of its depth (the scathing unofficial view) in trying to secure the Darfur region.

In June of this year, Robert Zoellick of the U.S. State Department and Hilary Benn of the U.K. inserted themselves in African Union negotiations for two days and tried to solve Darfur with an agreement that can be described charitably as half-assed.

It was signed with only one of the rebel groups, Minni Minawi’s Sudanese Liberation Army, which took its (presumably generous) payday and disintegrated in a vortex of banditry; it made no provisions for restraining or disarming the Janjaweed; and indeed made virtually no demands on Khartoum while leaving the burden for security on the hapless AU force.

A negotiator for one of the rebel groups provides some insight into the Darfur Peace Agreement:

The US engineered peace for Darfur, commonly known as Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) is both “fake and unsustainable”. Its prime engineer Mr Robert Zoelick and his arch Experts produced a document that turns out to be a mockery of international diplomacy. As Professor Reeves said, the DPA was borne dead right from day one. In addition to the government of Sudan, the only other signatory of the DPA was Minni Minnawi and his SLM fraction, erroneously and persistently promoted to be the biggest Darfur “rebel” group. Subsequent attempts to create a force out of Minnawi by the international community, the AU and the Government of Sudan came to naught. The US too was involved in this fiasco, culminating in Minnawi’s visit to the White House. The visit was by means ill-advised.

That the DPA is dead if not borne so is beyond doubt. Mr. Pronk, the UN Special Representative to Darfur described it as “severely paralysed, does not resonate with Darfur people and requires major rewriting”. Lashing Minnawi to sign the agreement, Mr Zoelick warned him: “I could be a very good friend but could also be a nasty enemy”. Well Mr, Minnawi chose “a very good friend”. Mr President, I trust you concur with us that any agreement that is an outcome of bullying cannot guarantee “lasting and sustainable peace”.

Mr. Minnawi has so far failed to sell the DPA to Darfur people. Both of his public rallies in Alfashir and Khartoum had to be cancelled. But he is not the only one who failed to recommend the DPA in a public venue to Darfur People. Mr. Egeland, the Head of UN Humanitarian Operations had a tragic experience. His attempt to recommend the DPA to Darfur IDPs [internally displaced persons—ed.] ended up with his interpreter lynched in front of him. If the IDPs do not think that the DPA is good for them, who else does?

For “lynched” read “beaten and hacked to death”.

As reported above, President Bush even took the extraordinary step of meeting with Minni Minawi in July 2006, and made what sounds like a futile and humiliating attempt to cajole him into behaving like a genuine American client.

From the Washington Post:

Bush told the rebel leader that his forces must refrain from violence and pressed him to forge an alliance with other factions in Darfur to broaden support for a peace agreement, [NSC spokesperson] Jones said.

Jones had no comment on how Minnawi responded.

When a policy’s success relies on inviting a powerless, semi-retired, and risk-adverse bandit to the White House for a dispirited jawboning session, you can say that policy is in trouble.

From the same article:

Minnawi faces rising opposition to his leadership among commanders in northern Darfur, including those from his Zaghawa tribe, according to the United Nations.

"He signed under incredible U.S. pressure and was probably given a lot of promises by the U.S. and the U.K.," said Jemera Rone, a Sudan specialist with the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. "I'm sure he feels that the U.S. government now owes him and the people of Darfur quite a lot."

A report issued earlier this month by the U.N. mission in Sudan cited allegations by displaced Sudanese that Minnawi's faction "was indiscriminately killing, raping women and abducting" civilians.

"That agreement is not working, and one of the many reasons is Minni Minnawi," Kenneth H. Bacon, president of the advocacy group Refugees International, wrote last week in a letter to Bush.

Refugees International said yesterday that Minnawi's forces have conducted a "reign of terror" in North Darfur by beating and raping women, killing young men and displacing thousands of people. Bacon asked Bush to "please stress" to Minnawi that the rebel leader "must honor the terms of the Darfur Peace Agreement and stop fighting."

At the time I speculated that this deeply flawed agreement was rushed out in order to provide a riposte to Hu Jintao’s high profile trip to Africa.

Hu’s visit certainly furnished the occasion for an ill-advised attempt to regain political traction on Sudan with a stunning diplomatic master-stroke. On that superficial level, I expect the DPA was meant to wrong-foot the Chinese president and win America a PR victory, and it succeeded, if temporarily and at the expense of further antagonizing China.

The greater significance of the DPA was probably that is was part of a failed, last-minute attempt to cobble together a strategic counter to China’s burgeoning influence in Sudan and to try to salvage the relationship that had evolved with such promise since President Bush’s election in 2000.

But the desperate measures appear to have come to nought.

The hastily-concluded Darfur Peace Agreement is in shambles.

Al-Bashir claims that he has a right to pursue the rebel groups that opted out of the June 2006 Darfur peace agreement. That’s not an unreasonable position. Trouble is, his only sound doctrine and effective order of battle relies on the use of the ethnic cleansing cum genocidal Janjaweed.

Now Khartoum is preparing a new offensive in the northwest; the shadow of riot and massacre hangs over two million desperate and despairing people huddled in squalid refugee camps; and the developed countries have declined to underwrite the AU peacekeeping contingent beyond September 2006, apparently deciding that its utility even as a figleaf for First World inaction wasn’t worth the money and trouble needed to refund its mandate.

Cynically, al-Bashir offered to allow the AU force to remain if Sudan funded it, thereby turning it into a toothless auxiliary of his army.

As a result, the crisis has been tossed into the UN, the venue in which, because of Chinese and Russian resistance, meaningful action is the least likely.

George Bush is disappointed, but I suspect al-Bashir is seriously annoyed.

The cornerstone of the 2005 deal—rehabilitation of Sudan’s international standing—seems further off than ever because of uproar over Darfur. It’s a promise that George W. Bush can no longer deliver on.

So Khartoum gave away direct control of a good third of its territory to the southern rebels in the CPA autonomy deal and got nothing in return.

What’s more, under the terms of the CPA, in 2011 the south is supposed to get a vote on independence and if it goes ahead, southern Sudan and its oil fields are undoubtedly gone forever.

The U.S. money and support for Khartoum that was supposed to compensate for the giveaway to the south and assure the survival and prosperity of what will probably become the new Islamic Republic of North Sudan hasn’t materialized; and al-Bashir is no doubt sufficiently realistic to understand that future administrations are going to side with the southern Sudanese political force that is adored by Christian evangelicals, and his a) tyrannical b) Muslim c) Arab regime is going to find itself squarely in the regime change crosshairs when push comes to shove.

Al-Bashir has his back against the wall and President Bush can’t help him.

All President Bush can do is plead with al-Bashir publicly and privately to play along and accept some gesture that will placate the world community—like “rehatting” the AU troops as part of a UN force—and al-Bashir is having none of it, at least for now.

Instead, al-Bashir has readopted the defiant language of Arab nationalism in his dealings both with the United States and the UN. With relations between Sudan and the U.S. are reverting to open hostility, it is very unlikely that Khartoum will welcome a UN force that might become the vanguard of a Western regime change offensive against his regime.

In an August 29, 2006 AP story carried on Yahoo as Sudan president claims west conspiracy, and in contrast to the effusive mutual handkissing between Bush and al-Bashir in 2003 quoted above, the Sudanese strongman declared:

"Everybody knows the Americans and British are scheming against the Sudan," al-Bashir said at a rally to muster support for his opposition to the proposed deployment.

"We shall not be the first country to be recolonized in Africa. ... We are free and shall not be enslaved," al-Bashir told about 2,000 workers belonging to a federation of unions.

With the clock running out on control of the south—and perhaps his entire regime; with U.S. support revealed as a taunting mirage; and with President Bush, the one U.S. political actor emotionally committed to engagement with Khartoum, fading into distracted lame-duck weakness as the end of his final term in office looms, it’s not surprising that al Bashir has increasingly relied on China—which, since 1996, has taken advantage of Khartoum’s pariah status to become the single largest foreign investor in Sudan’s energy industry--as the one power with the determination and strong stomach to support his regime domestically and on the international stage.

Once again the Bush administration finds itself in the familiar and unenviable position of suddenly finding itself with little leverage and few options in dealing with a troublesome regional crisis. In contrast to North Korea and Iran, there is less excuse here since the United States has been engaged with the Sudan regime for the last five years.

Unable to explain its awkward, unrealistic, and now disintegrating flirtation with this terrorist state, the White House understandably looks for a scapegoat:


The title of the Washington Post’s September 6 editorial Responsible China? Darfur exposes Chinese hypocrisy pretty much conveys the political line of frustrated administration policymakers.

The United States and its European partners have called upon Sudan to let the U.N. force in. But China, which has enormous leverage over Sudan because of its investment in Sudanese oil fields, has failed to push the Sudanese into accepting the "realistic option" of a U.N. deployment.

Rather ironic that Sudan, which was supposed to serve as the keystone of Bush administration engagement with Africa, has turned into an exclusive sandbox for the Yellow Peril.

More to the point, it should be recalled that the United States has consistently pursued Sudan as its exclusive Great Power trophy, most recently when it decided that it would pursue its Darfur diplomacy directly with Khartoum and use the African Union as its vehicle, excluding China and bypassing the UN.

But that didn’t quite work out.

So President Bush has been forced to return to the UN to try to get the Security Council to rescue not only Darfur, but Sudan—from itself, and the genocidal activities that will remove it permanently beyond the diplomatic pale--by insertion of an effective peacekeeping force.

Its credibility and clout diminished by the failure of its DPA initiative, the U.S. government is reduced to impotent table pounding by its media proxies and indignant finger wagging by humanitarian and evangelical groups trying to somehow coerce China into helping out.

It must be especially galling to President Bush that not only is his diplomacy in Sudan in disarray, but the Chinese are in there scooping up the oil.

It’s amazing what poorly conceived, badly executed, and intermittent diplomacy can accomplish.

In the past, I’ve argued that liberal criticism of China, though justified in certain aspects, has been misplaced since the true issue was that Khartoum could always counter any pressure from China by intensifying its rapprochement with Washington, a patron that had demonstrated its unwillingness to censure its wayward client.

However, if al-Bashir has truly burned his bridges with Bush, and not just engaging in reckless brinksmanship, then the sub rosa US support that Khartoum has relied in order to flout international censure with impunity may be gone—and the Chinese finally will have the leverage we’ve always been so eager to ascribe to them.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like they are in the mood to help us out.

It must seem absurd to Beijing that China is expected to sanction its ally to rescue a unilateral US diplomatic initiative that was designed primarily to strengthen US influence at China’s expense--simply because the wheels have come off the President Bush’s Sudan bandwagon and there’s nobody else around to help pick up the pieces.

No doubt a lot of eye-rolling about that in Zhong Nan Hai.

The true significance of the Darfur war—and China’s crucial role in propping up the Khartoum regime—will probably be revealed in the south, not the northwest.

The main oil reserves are in the southern province of Abyei. In order to make the CPA deal work, Khartoum (and the Bush administration) did not sweat the details of power-sharing and boundary definition there.

But Khartoum has been working the problem non-stop ever since, desperately, illegally, and ruthlessly.

As the distinguished Sudan-watcher Eric Reeves writes:

At the same time, the National Islamic Front senses that it will enjoy virtually complete diplomatic protection from China and other international actors, and that the Western nations that helped bring the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to fruition are not sufficiently engaged to ensure that key terms of the CPA are respected. This is extremely dangerous and may well lead to renewed war in the south, possibly in the near term. For example, Khartoum’s refusal to accept the findings of the distinguished international Abyei Boundary Commission creates of the oil-rich Abyei enclave a potential flash-point for renewed violence. Though the Government of South Sudan seems determined to seek international arbitration in its effort to force Khartoum to abide by the terms of the CPA, many in the SPLM have made clear that continued intransigence on Khartoum’s part could lead to war, which will almost certainly be the most violently destructive phase of a civil war that began in 1955, on the eve of Sudan’s independence from Anglo-Egyptian colonial rule.

In a replay of Darfur tactics, Khartoum is supporting militias in Abyei. Not regular army troops strong enough to turn on the central government, but forces strong enough to drive people from their homes and challenge the southern administration’s claim to uncontested sovereignty over the crucial oil regions there.

I believe that China’s crucial role is to come in and beef up the oil production, transportation infrastructure, and security and assist Khartoum in creating the “facts on the ground” that will help it deny the ownership of the oil assets to the southern regime after independence—and make it easier to defend these assets against a southern counterattack.

Maybe the Chinese believe they have a special expertise in the economic penetration and exploitation of mineral resources in unfriendly ethnic enclaves—think Tibet and Xinjiang. And their determination, patience, and focus might also prove to give China more lasting influence and success in Sudan and throughout Africa than the lazy “just add freedom” grandiosity of the Bush administration.

In theory, the Bush administration could resign itself to the current situation, in which China has favored access to Sudan’s oil and the trust of the Khartoum regime, and promise to respect its position and interests in return for Beijing’s active participation in compelling a genuine cessation of the violence in Darfur.

But that would mean abandoning the increasingly unattainable goals and ever more remote dreams that the Bush administration apparently still cherishes--for an American triumph in northeastern Africa, an isolated , cowed, and weak Muslim regime in Khartoum, the prospect of Sudan’s eventual conversion into a pro-US bastion centered in the south, and the positioning of Sudan’s oil reserves within America’s orbit and far outside of Chinese reach—in exchange for simple humanitarian goals.

The current campaign of China-bashing—attacking the one party we now accept has the capacity to influence the Khartoum regime—appears to indicate that the U.S. hasn’t made this choice.

So until a U.S. administration reconciles itself to the loss of its position of advantage in Sudan—or the situation somehow lurches back into Bush’s favor—accommodation with Beijing on Sudan will remain unattainable.

And for the foreseeable future, for the people of Darfur, there may be no respite—and no rescue.


Unknown said...

Sudan sounds strange in this company! Clenbuterol

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