It’s Time to Focus on the Key Elements in the China-Sudan-US Equation
The Christian Science Monitor does the usual handwringing over Darfur and fingerpointing at China in Danna Harman’s article How China’s Support Shields a Regime Called Genocidal.
But before she can move on to Darfur and provide a hook for the genocide tag in the article, Ms. Harman does the public a service by devoting a few paragraphs to the true driving force in Sudanese security affairs—and China’s involvement: Sudan’s conflict with the oil rich south, an old fashioned, brutal, and desperate but non-genocidal incipient once-and-future civil war.
When it comes to what makes Sudan tick, Darfur is simply a tragic, terrible sideshow.
It’s a sideshow that the Western media has fixated on, perhaps because the Bush administration is unwilling to draw attention to the fatal rot at the heart of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) it brokered between the South and Khartoum in January 2005.
I blogged in detail on the Bush administration’s remarkable, even bizarre engagement with Sudan’s Islamicist, bin-Laden-friendly regime in the service of its African objectives last year, but here’s the gist:
The Bush administration reversed the Clinton administration’s ostracization of Khartoum and went to enormous lengths to close a deal between Khartoum and rebels in the south that includes provisions for power sharing, revenue-sharing—and also for a referendum in 2011 that virtually guarantees the partition of Sudan between the Islamicist north and the pro-U.S. south.
In order to maintain its post-2011 viability, the Sudanese regime, with the help of China, is desperately and duplicitously creating “facts on the ground”: hogging the oil revenues, encroaching on oil fields on the southern side of the future border zone, destabilizing the area through the use of supposedly arms-length militias, and amassing a war chest, weapons, and dual-use infrastructure that will deter the south from contesting Khartoum’s aggression.
On one level, the catastrophe in Darfur can be seen as unexpected blowback from the North-South deal, with some forces in the west of Sudan playing the civil war card to place a me-too claim to oil revenue sharing—a ploy that backfired as Khartoum pushed back hard and tipped the whole country into failed-state status with a brutal anti-insurgency campaign conducted through its janjaweed militia proxies.
The Bush administration’s Sudan diplomacy, though in many ways the antithesis of the militarized coercion displayed in Iraq, shares in its execution much of the “hope is not a plan” fecklessness that doomed our adventure in Mesopotamia.
Washington has consistently appeased the Khartoum regime, citing its supposed contributions in the war on terror but probably anxious to forestall its repudiation of the CPA, the one clear-cut success in six unhappy years of Bush administration diplomacy.
If DEBKAfile is to be believed, in 2004 the Bush administration entertained Sudan-fueled fantasies almost too puerile and embarrassing to credit:
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… 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…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 [sic] the next moves on Sudan and their impact on voting patterns in November…the president’s senior political adviser Karl Rove is taking charge of strategy on Sudan and its exploitation as campaign fodder.
Once the agreement was in place, the State Department apparently gave little thought to preserving and enhancing the leverage needed to ensure its proper implementation, let alone achieve dramatic displays of Arab penance for the slave trade on the White House lawn–or Rove-orchestrated gains among the African-American electorate.
The State Department’s anxiety to protect the CPA has apparently translated into an anxiety to do nothing vis a vis the South—such as meaningful economic and infrastructure support—that might antagonize Khartoum.
With the CPA as its hostage, no wonder Khartoum feels free to flout us and the world on Darfur.
If execution of the CPA is meant to be a demonstration project for the advantages of soft-power diplomacy by the career professionals at the State Department, it almost makes one wish the middle-finger hardliners with their brutal zeal were running the Sudan show.
Preoccupied with America’s staggering problems in the Middle East, the State Department has been unable to focus its attention and resources on Africa. But even within this context, U.S. neglect of South Sudan is striking.
Our special envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios fills the position part-time while teaching at Georgetown. The U.S. presence in the South has actually been reduced while our staffing in Sudan’s capital has been boosted. USAID’s chief resides in Khartoum, not the southern capital of Juba. Little has been done to help reorganize the South’s chief rebel force, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army or SPLA, into a regular army and viable counterweight to Khartoum’s military.
According to Sudan analyst Eric Reeves, turning our back on the South and giving Khartoum a free hand to undermine the CPA could have devastating consequences:
[The SPLA] is the key guarantor of the security arrangements (and hence all terms) of the CPA–and yet the SPLA is probably weaker today than a year ago, and Khartoum continues an aggressive policy of purchasing advanced weapons systems. The oil roads in southern Sudan would allow for all-weather projection of mechanized military power in the event of resumed war—something without precedent. When in 2003 I was talking with SPLA commanders on the ground in southern Sudan, and with John Garang personally, all made the same statement: if war resumes (a shaky ceasefire was in place while I traveled to various locations), then it will be the most destructive phase of a civil war that had at that point killed over 2 million and displaced as many as 5 million. [e-mail to China Matters, 6/30/07]
Contra the hopeless muddle in Darfur, we’ve got real assets and opportunities in the South: a functioning state, viable, pro-American government authority with battle-hardened leaders, legitimacy, and, thanks to its Christian element, a reservoir of potent political clout among the evangelical base in the United States.
And the South has got oil, of course.
South Sudan’s leaders came to the United States in January to testify before Congress and sound the alarm concerning Khartoum’s duplicity in implementing the CPA.
In supporting testimony , Roger Winter, the former special envoy to Sudan, also called for strengthening South Sudan’s army and drew, I believe, a proper distinction in between bolstering the SPLA as a genuine nascent national army versus the generally irresponsible and/or malicious U.S. practice of arming of useful factions around the world:
It is in the U.S. interest to invest significantly in the conversion of the SPLM’s military force, the SPLA, into a modern, well-trained and well- managed military. Unlike many situations in the developing world, the SPLM is a positive rebel political force that, despite many limitations and liabilities, was recognized by the U.S. as the key to creating a new, democratic Sudan. Similarly, with the SPLA, all the forces of Khartoum, formal and informal, collectively could not defeat the SPLA. In a very real sense, the very existence of a strong SPLA is the best guarantor of CPA implantation. Policy realism would, I believe, indicate that, of all the military forces in Sudan, only the SPLA has both the vested interest in seeing the CPA scrupulously implemented(i.e. so the Referendum is actually held) and, having fought off the NIF forces already, the capacity to protect the CPA without foreign military intervention. U.S. efforts in this regard are too limited and moving too slowly.
He concluded his testimony with a message to President Bush that our preoccupied lame-duck supremo will probably be unable to heed:
A note to President Bush: Achieving peace in Sudan was a goal you set for your Administration at the very beginning of your tenure. Your initiative succeeded beyond expectations in the South. The CPA, your legacy to all of Sudan, was a solid win, but is now at risk. It needs your personal attention.
Given the major investment of American prestige in the Sudanese powersharing arrangement and Khartoum’s serial malfeasance in the matters of the South and Darfur, one might think that the United States would muster the will and resources to maximize our leverage in Sudan and buttress the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Instead, we get impotent jawboning from the Bush administration and griping that China is not doing enough to save our bacon in Sudan—the nation that was supposed to be America’s foreign policy beachhead in Africa but has turned into another one of our geopolitical headaches instead.
If the Bush administration had expended half the effort it committed to the lost cause of coercive diplomacy against North Korea and China—an effort doomed to failure in North Asia, where China is the 800 pound gorilla with vital interests and every conceivable military, economic, and diplomatic lever—and bolstered the South instead, we might be looking at a different situation in Sudan.
For all the blather about China’s soft power in Africa, China lacks the ability to force its way in Sudan.
It can only expand its influence when American neglect and incompetence leave a vacuum.
We might have seen a situation in which China—a long way from home, with zero military power projection and linked to an unsavory and unpredictable ally—would back away from backing Sudan in a proxy war against a U.S. client, and think twice about opportunistically enabling Khartoum’s encroachment upon the military, political, and economic security of the South…
Instead we are passive, deluded, and despairing spectators at the Darfur sideshow–while the decisive tragedy of Sudan unfolds elsewhere.