Friday, April 23, 2010

Flawed Democracy? Dictatorship? Upcoming Civil War? All the Above?

Seems Nikolas Kristof reads my blog--ok, ok I can dream can't I? I imagine he either read the many other blog posts like my last one or more than likely had a lot of the seems thoughts as the ones I expressed. Makes sense since I am a devoted reader to his column. Whatever the motivation for his most recent column, it seemed to be a good follow-up to the concerns I have over the US response to the recent Sudan elections and the upcoming referendum.

I wanted to pull out three quotes from the column, but since one of them is kind of long, I recommend just reading it. Oh wait, you're here persumably for my commentary so read this before/after... thanks!

“If the result of the referendum is independence, there is going to be war — complete war,” predicts Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, one of Sudan’s most outspoken human rights advocates. He cautions that America’s willingness to turn a blind eye to election-rigging here increases the risk that Mr. Bashir will feel that he can get away with war.

“They’re very na├»ve in Washington,” Mr. Mudawi said. “They don’t understand what is going on.”

As I fear, despite the relatively blood-less elections Bashir will feel emboldened by his new found *cough cough* "legitimacy" (excuse me while I cough up a lung) that he'll believe he has a mandate or the power to forcibly keep Sudan together regardless of next year's referendum for southern independence. Seeing that the referendum is likely to pass overwhelmingly any such action would lead to civil war as Mudawai suggests.

Although as Kristof says, "On the other hand, a senior Sudanese government official, Ghazi Salahuddin, told me unequivocally in Khartoum, the nation’s capital, that Sudan will honor the referendum results."

Perhaps American "diplomacy" is working and while the elections were not free or fair in the least, Bashir will be content to be the "legitimate" (here comes that coughing again) leader of Sudan without the oil rich south. From all the commentary out there that sounds unlikely, but I suppose let's keep our fingers crossed?

Kristof ends the article with a statement that may sound like the same old calls for action, but rings more true now: "My own hunch is that the north hasn’t entirely decided what to do, and that strong international pressure can reduce the risk of another savage war. If President Obama is ever going to find his voice on Sudan, it had better be soon."

Did we need Obama to act and appoint a special envoy a lot sooner in order to deal with ICC backlash in 2009? Yes. Have we done far too little to respond to recent violence in Darfur? Yes. But now more than ever do we need leadership by the United States along with other international actors to prevent a civil war? YES!

The adminstration plan to simultaneously be lukewarm regarding the election's legitimacy while continuing to defacto legitimize a genocidal dictator by engaging him as a negotiating partner may be a gamble that pays off. Even if that is the case, though, holding Bashir's feet to the fire (while we hold Obama's) will be necessary to keep him from another of his notorious 180s next year.

If the gamble doesn't work out, than alternative plans must be made to avoid civil war AND Sudan will at least for now will be stuck with Bashir and the NCP. But to end here's a bonus quote that made me vomit a little (see if you can keep down your lunch):

“Even America is becoming an N.C.P. member. No one is against our will.” -President Omar al-Bashir, indicted war criminal, suspected instigator of two genocides.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Legitmizing the Devil

I know this sentiment isn't unique, but I still have to ponder "out loud" here. Our government has made the decision to continue working with Omar al-Bashir despite many concerns from the EU, AU and the Carter Center about the voter suppression and vote rigging. Even a State Department spokesperson said, "This was not a free and fair election. It did not, broadly speaking, meet international standards."

The key motivation seems to be that the US has decided that getting through the elections in order to maintain the CPA time line and be willing to accept an illegitimate president indicted of war crimes and quite possibly guilty of genocide continue to be a chief diplomatic partner in ending the genocides and conflicts he and his cronies are responsible for.

With tensions as high as it is, a delay or cancellation of the South Sudan referendum would surely crush already fragile relationships between Juba and Khartoum and likely create more violence if not a return to war. So our hope is to indirectly legitimate liar, murderer and rapist as president of Sudan in the hope he honors an agreement to lose control over a significant amount of land and oil next year.

While I sympathize with the State Deparmtent's desire to keep the CPA together in order to prevent things from getting worse and therefore not being more aggressive in refusing Bashir's illegitmate legitimization, who the hell believes we're going to be able to trust him or his NCP government next year anyway?

Though I'm still a huge Obama supporter, for Sudan we need far more than hope to get change.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hypersenstivity Meets Kindergarten Pettiness

Apparently conservatives are making Dan Rather their latest target for claiming comments he made on Chris Matthews show as racist. While I was never a big fan of Dan Rather and I absolutely disdain Chris Matthews I just have to take a moment to break from my usual commentary on international affairs to tell conservatives to shut up on this one.

Dan Rathers said President Obama ” … couldn’t sell watermelons if you gave him the state troopers to flag down the traffic.”

OOOO he mentioned our black president in the same thought as watermelons! Guess what, Obama also likes basketball and I like money. So apparently I hate black people and I'm furthering the negative Jewish stereotype.

While perhaps it can be (and apparently is) argued this was a poor choice of words. I don't think so, I think this was just another of Dan Rather folksy (and silly) sayings. Being post-racial or trans-racial or whatever you want to call it is being aware of your place in a multi-racial society. its embattled history and work whenever possible to create connections and opportunities that celebrate both differences and similarities. Being a post- or trans-racial society does not mean policing ourselves not to say things that have vague random similarities to racist comments.

He didn't say Obama loves watermelons because he's black. But y'all are making stupid comments because you're petty conservative commentators. Oooo, I said it. Now shut the fuck up.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mr. President... This Isn't Working

I have been writing about the relationship between President Obama and the anti-genocide movement as a marriage. Perhaps this metaphor is a bit silly, but it stemmed from the honeymoon commentators use to describe the first few weeks/months of a presidency. When the administration failed to appoint a Sudan envoy before announcement of the ICC warrant back in March I announced the honeymoon over ("Obama's Anti-Genocide Honeymoon Is Over").

Responding the warrant, Bashir kicked out aid groups and under even strong pressure the administration finally appointed a special envoy in a move I had hoped with would save the "marriage" ("Will Obama Save The Marriage?").

Unfortunately the man who originally the movement celebrated, Special Envoy Scott Gration, did not signal a more robust pro-peace Sudan policy by the administration which would save the marriage, but rather signaled the end through confusing policies of appeasement to the ruthless dictator so strongly denounced by President Obama.

In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, President Obama once again echoed his call for peace in Darfur (and all of Sudan) saying: "That is why we will strengthen our support for effective peacekeeping, while energising our efforts to prevent conflicts before they take hold. We will pursue a lasting peace in Sudan through support for the people of Darfur, and the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement, so that we secure the peace that the Sudanese people deserve."

In order to achieve this peace Gration told the Washington Post: "We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries -- they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement." Let's put aside how ridiculous it sounds to compare a country whose government has pursued genocide to solve disputes with kids and look at the absurdity of giving a genocidal government "cookies, gold stars and smiley faces."

I could repost comments by John Prendergast, but I think the most powerful refutation of Mr. Gration comes from his boss, the President, who immediately preceding his comments regarding Sudan during last week's speech said, "For the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the hope of human beings - the belief that the future belongs to those who build, not destroy." According to the Chief Prosectuor of the ICC, Bashir is responsible for crimes against humanity estimated to have cost the lives of 300,000 Darfuris. Additionally Bashir may be responsible for similar crimes costing 2.5 MILLION lives during the conflict with South Sudan.

The question persisting on my mind to both the President and his Special Envoy... does this sound like a man we should be cuddling up to in hopes that out of good will to our new found friendship he'll stop massacring his own citizens? If I heard the President right, the future is NOT for the people like Omar Al-Bashir, but rather for peacemakers.

Sadly, in the six months of Gration's time as envoy, the message has consistently been engagement, normalization and friendship to Bashir at a time that the United States has the opportunity to bring new leadership backed by the ICC warrant to reinvigorate peace talks. Bashir was put in the corner and rather than using that advantage, we decided to bail him out and are now considering frolicking together in the park.

The marriage is over, Mr. President. I, one of your strongest supporters even until today, cannot stand by and allow my admiration of you prevent me from berating this confusing and highly disappointing stance on Darfur. The rhetoric has been incredible with the same or perhaps more force than your predecessor and certainly with more eloquence. Time for actions, we have had enough of words!

The long awaited Sudan policy review will supposedly be unfurred this week. I urge the President to order the State Department to use this opportunity to reverse the action of General Gration. Demand his resignation and start fresh with a new envoy focusing on bringing about new peace negotiations backed by multilateral support with tough consequences for any stalling by Bashir or his government.

Marriage is over, but time to decide whether this is amicable separation or not. Despite his rhetoric the movement turned on President Bush for this inaction. Your move Mr. President.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Will Obama Save The Marriage?

When I came home this evening (from a planning meeting for a Darfur-related event: Art for Darfur), I received the exciting news that President Obama is finally appointing a Special Envoy for Sudan, retired Air Force General Scott Gration.

As one of many thousands who have been demanding since Janurary 20th that Obama appoint a special envoy, I am very pleased that we at least have a name. With the escalated crisis brought upon the expulsion of humanitarian aide groups by President Bashir, the envoy is needed more than ever to hopefully bring the long nightmare to an end.

As quoted in the New York Times, Jerry Fowler of Save Darfur Coalition said, “Why is there a disconnect? We need presidential engagement and we need it now.”

As you saw in my last blog post, I argued that both pro-Obamas and otherwise in the anti-genocide movement should take off the gloves and put the squeeze on our officials like we had attempted to when President Bush was in office. I believe the increases outcry of Sudan activists over the last two weeks (since the ICC indictment) helped bringing about this long awaited appointment.

The question remains though, Will Obama Save the "Marriage?" If the honeymoon is already over due to the lateness and weakness of the adminstration's response, does this appointment mark the beginning of our government salvaging itself from months of relative neglect on Sudan or is this simply a token measure in response of increasing pressure by activists?

Regardless of the answer, I echo my previous thoughts. We must continue to mount pressure on our officials including President Obama to ensure an appropriately robust policy on Sudan that goes beyond managing the situation and toward finally sustainable solutions for peace in Darfur and all of Sudan. This includes insuring that General Gration does not suffer from the same defecits as previous envoys Rich Williamson and Andrew Natsios. Gration NEEDS to have adequate staff and the ear of the President and Secretary Clinton in order to succede in his mission.

We must continue keeping Obama accountable so that he can keep his promises regarding Darfur. You can find a complete lists of asks for the Administration and Congress created by STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition here:

Let's keep up the calls, letters, op-eds and events. This news is worth celebrating, but we cannot get complacent until there is peace.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Obama's Anti-Genocide Honeymoon Is Over

While anti-genocide work has been a very bi-partisan and non-partisan endeavor essentially from day one and all anti-genocide advocacy organizations are by design non-partisan, there was and continues to be overwhelming support for President Obama from anti-genocide activists nearly from early on in his campaign. As a senator, President Obama used his assignment in the Foreign Service committee to sponsor and support a number of pieces of legislation aimed at bringing the crisis in Darfur to an end. His commitment to peace in Sudan earned him a consistent A+ Darfur Score by the Genocide Intervention Network and a shared prologue to the New York Times Bestseller, Not On Our Watch with Senator Sam Brownback.

During his time as senator into his campaign and now into his administration, Obama reinforced his anti-genocide credentials by receiving advice from and hiring many friends of the anti-genocide movement. John Prendergast, co-author of the previously mentioned book and chair of the ENOUGH Project, served as a foreign policy advisor to candidate Obama. US Ambassador to the United Nations during her confirmation and for years before has passionately spoken about her regrets over Rwanda and her determination to not repeat mistakes. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also spoke passionately regarding Darfur on the campaign trail and was a consistent champion of Darfur along with Obama in the Senate. Finally, Samantha Power, has been officially brought back into the Obama camp after resigning from his campaign for her gaffe by calling Clinton a “monster”. Power wrote American and the Problem Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which has been utilized as a critical resource with countless insights for the current anti-genocide movement.

I, for one, have been one of the most passionate Barack Obama supporters since his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. I felt he would one day run for president and win and that he was a truly genuine politician with an incredible worldview which I felt was in sync with mine. Despite all that, it pains me to say that I believe Obama’s honeymoon period with the anti-genocide movement is over. I’ll give two reasons:

1. Where’s our envoy?

Last Tuesday, February 23rd, one of the best known advocates for peace in Darfur actor George Clooney met with President Obama after returning from a trip to the Chad/Darfur border. After the meeting Clooney spoke to the press with overall positive remarks including that reassurances were made that a US Special Envoy for Sudan would be appointed soon.

A week and a half later, neither the White House or the State Department have definitively confirmed that this promise will be kept in a timely manner. I, nor anyone in the anti-genocide movement, can deny the importance of the large scale policy reviews going on at the State Department. Additionally it is hard to argue that special envoys for the middle east, Afghanistan and elsewhere were/are of critical importance. But an ongoing genocide that has cost the lives of 400,000+ and has captured the outrage of many tens of thousands US citizens should be a priority of the administration and specifically the State Department. I am shocked that a sympathetic president who like his predecessor clearly wants to end the genocide has let his administration act so slowly to appoint someone for such a critical post.

2. What does “exercising restraint” mean?

The need for a US Special Envoy for Sudan was critical before the news out of the International Criminal Court this week. With the release of a warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his retaliation of revoking humanitarian organizations’ licenses, a high level diplomat with sufficient resources to push for peace in Sudan is an even more urgent need than ever before. Despite this we still have no mention of when such an envoy might be appointed or who the envoy might be.

What troubles me more, though, is the continued weak responses coming out of the White House and State Department in light of developments such as the ones this week. The State Department responded to the ICC announcement by urging restraint from all sides. While I would hope the Sudanese Government would show restraint in their campaign of genocide, I cannot shake the question, how does a government who commits genocide really show restraint?

The boldest action or statement yet was that a meeting at the White House with State Department officials and aid groups concerned with the humanitarian organizations being expelled from Sudan. While I commend the Administration and State for participating in the conversation, where is the action? At the very least where is the strong condemnation of the Sudanese government’s horrendous action?

The sticking point is that while the United States faces many unprecedented challenges and the Obama Administration has to deal with practically all of them, a few million Sudanese civilians will be neglected by their government, targeted for genocide and now will go without humanitarian aide out of a corrupt regime’s unwillingness to negotiate peace or respect justice. And our government’s response is a whisper. Not action, not even a shout, but a whisper.

To President Obama, we expected more.

To my anti-genocide advocates both pro-Obama and others, we should not hesitate to hold this President’s feet to the fire like we attempted to do for President Bush.

Sympathetic thoughts and feelings will not end genocide, Obama must do more and we must demand more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Thoughts and Actions RE: ICC Warrant for Bashir 2

I wanted to finish the previous blog before starting this one. As I was thinking up what I wanted to say, a very troubling development came to my attention. As reported by Reuters:

“Sudan revoked the licences of Oxfam and at least five other aid groups on Wednesday after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, aid officials said.

The move -- which effectively freezes the agencies' work -- was the first concrete sign of repercussions against international groups after the global court indicted Bashir on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Sudanese government officials have in the past threatened to take action against Darfur-based aid groups they say are passing evidence on to the global court's prosecutor -- accusations the agencies deny.

Oxfam said Sudanese authorities had revoked its license to operate in north Sudan, although it had not been given a reason for the order and it was not clear whether staff would be expelled.

"This is going to have a devastating effect on hundreds of thousand of people," said Oxfam spokesman Alun McDonald. "We work with 600,000 people in north Sudan, 400,000 of them in Darfur. It is of the utmost importance the government agrees to let us continue that work."

I’m sure my outrage from these developments spilled over to my previous entry. The ICC stopped short of covering the crime of genocide in their warrant for Bashir’s arrest. After this development, I find it hard that skeptics can believe this is simply a civil war and that genocide is an exaggeration. In response to a virtually unenforceable warrant for his arrest, Bashir has put hundreds of thousands, if not a millions more lives in jeopardy for a risky gamble to save his own hide.

The international community must NOT blink now. Bashir is betting in order to reestablish humanitarian aid, we will defer the warrant against him. In the lead up to today’s announcement many Darfuris expressed they knew the dangers of ICC action against Bashir, but still urged for justice to be served. They knew the consequences and as I started below, this case against Bashir gives us an opportunity to bring about peace AND justice in Sudan. This is a bitter pill to swallow, but it is the only one that can lead to long term peace and stability in Darfur and all of Sudan.

What the international community SHOULD do is call this bloody bluff. We must continue pushing for justice and only support deferring the warrant for true signs of peace as articulated in Article 16 of the Rome Statute. Anything less is unacceptable. If we blink now, we will return to the status quo of genocide and displacement in Darfur.

Stronger words and actions including condemnations of Bashir’s latest move, a renewed effort to fully deploy UNAMID and an invigorated peace process are the only ways forward and as I stated before, should be the only possible saving grace for Bashir.

I am still hoping to replace or add onto my list of possible actions, but again I urge that we push for the following:

1. A strong statement from one or all President Obama, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice and/or Secretary of State Clinton repeating in unequivocal terms our support of the ICC investigation, the peace process and UNAMID’s peacekeeping operation.

2. Along with this statement or immediately following it the US must being the process of appointing a special envoy to Sudan with the appropriate support and staff necessary to manage the current situation and bring about the peace process to end the genocide.

3. A statement by Secretary Gates or the Defense Department either publicly or to congress about the status of the Missing Assets Taskforce, a taskforce within the DOD to work with allies on finding helicopters for UNAMID. These efforts must reinvigorated as soon as possible.

4. Congress should pass resolutions echoing the above efforts. Members of congress, especially those on the appropriate committees, should urge Secretaries Clinton and Gates to take the prescribed actions. Once an envoy is appointed, confirmation should happen as quickly as possible.

5. Any additional sanctions that can be made on members of the National Congress Party, especially those with ICC warrants must be issued until humanitarian aid is fully restored.

6. Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice should immediately push for additional multilateral sanctions until humanitarian aid is fully restored.

Call your representative, senators, the White House and/or State Department immediately. You can reach all theseoffices by calling 1-800-GENOCIDE ( 800-436-6243). You can also find mailing addresses for your elected officials at