Recently, two top Obama Administration officials gave conflicting views on Sudan policy, and the contradiction was pointed out as proof of confusion within the Administration about how to address the continuing problem of Darfur specifically and Sudan generally. However, it is just as possible that the two divergent views are an indication of a good cop-bad cop strategy as a way of dealing with a complex, difficult situation.
United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice said in a news conference that the Khartoum government was responsible for the continued military over-flights and offensive actions in Darfur. “We continue to receive reports of offensive military actions by the Government of Sudan in Darfur,” Rice said. “If these reports are true, this behaviour does not suggest a new willingness on the part of Sudan to fully engage in the peace process.” Ambassador Rice also signalled frustration at international community violations of Sudan sanctions and the failure of the U.N. sanctions committee to stem the tide of weapons into Sudan.
Meanwhile, Special Envoy Scott Gration hailed last month’s signing of a peace accord between the Government of Sudan and the main rebel force, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), as a “landmark” agreement. Gration also has been working steadily to bring together other disparate rebel factions and engineer a similar peace accord signing between the Liberation and Justice Movement (LJM) and the Sudan government. However, he has downplayed mention of the government’s offensive in Darfur in recent weeks, which reportedly has claimed hundreds of lives.
Rice was previously Senior Director for Africa at the National Security Council and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Clinton Administration. She has had to deal with the Khartoum government before and has experienced their repeated duplicity on peace agreements. In her position at the U.N., she has to keep her fellow representatives focused on pressuring Sudan to finally end the Darfur conflict, while at the same time conduct acceptable elections next month and a referendum on southern Sudanese autonomy next January. She cannot afford to look past Khartoum’s refusal to cooperate with international mandates on the restoration of peace and an end to human rights abuses in that country.
Gration, on the other hand, faces different actors having variant aims in this situation and a window of opportunity for peace that could close soon and lead to all-out war in Sudan. Neither the United States nor the North Atlantic Treaty Organization want to intervene militarily in Sudan if war breaks out, and the combined U.N.-African Union force has not and will not be effective in stopping conflict in Sudan. U.N. peacekeeping forces act to maintain a peace that the warring parties agree to end. They have not shown the will in recent years to intervene in an active conflict, which could be on more than one front in Sudan. Gration is a military man and not trained to see life through rose-colored glasses so one would think his position must be tactical.
The Government of Sudan, which lost control of Darfur several years ago, has now re-established its authority in advance of elections, and by resuming cooperation with neighboring Chad, is putting all rebel movements in a more difficult position. Both JEM and the fragile LJM are not likely to be in a better position than now to negotiate a peace agreement. Meanwhile, the United States, which has been the main peace negotiator for the past several years, has seen Libya continue to supply rebel forces and Qatar become an increasingly important player in peace talks on behalf of what they apparently see as Arab unity.
The elections are in slightly less than a month from now. JEM has said it will not run candidates, and the LJM would not have time to enter the elections. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, southern Sudan’s ruling party, is only partially contesting the elections; much of the party is focused on the 2011 referendum on autonomy. The Khartoum government stands to do well in the elections, which they undoubtedly believe will legitimize the regime.
Given the combustible mix that is Sudan, the U.S. government must try all tactics – even if some seem to signal hopelessness about a negotiated peace in Sudan while others see light at the end of a long tunnel. Neither tactic has worked alone in the past, so perhaps the Obama Administration is trying more than one path to the same goal at the same time.
We won’t have long to wait to see whether either approach or both will succeed.