Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hope in Sudan

Yesterday, the State Department announced a new U.S. strategy toward Sudan, the culmination of months of review. The idea seems to be something of a carrot and stick approach, perhaps less punitive than might have been suggested during the presidential campaign, but still containing elements of coercion and rewards. The idea of some form of engagement with the government in Sudan actually sounds more in line with President Obama's general foreign policy approach of willingness to talk to unfriendly regimes, than does the idea of escalating sanctions.

The participants in this policy review seem to have discarded as unworkable the alternative of more draconian sanctions without engagement. As long as China and other countries support the government in Sudan, sanctions seem to be relatively ineffective. Instead, the prospect of rewarding the government of Sudan for cooperating with the peace process may hold greater promise toward attaining the goal, as Secretary of State Clinton stated, of either "a united and peaceful Sudan after 2011, or an orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other." The 2011 referendum process no doubt needs to be supervised closely. Creating and maintaining peace in Darfur will also obviously require continued vigilance by the world community. The administration's announcement yesterday may offer some hope that the United States is paying attention and will play a constructive part in achieving these goals.

I feel as though I've been living in Sudan recently, as I just finished reading Dave Eggers's book What is the What, an amazing and heartbreaking story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, as told by one of the survivors, Valentino Achak Deng. So it comes as a relief, and a surprising coincidence, to read the news that the State Department has also been busy studying the problems of Sudan, and has announced new efforts to improve the situation there. We probably needed to have a healthy debate in the State Department about the best strategy for the region, but it may be more important simply to decide to pay more attention to the problems of this troubled country. When the world shines a spotlight on the parties involved in ongoing conflict, genocide and other human rights abuses are probably less likely to take place.

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