Saving Sudan


Published October 21, 2009, issue of October 30, 2009.

President Obama’s predilection for finding diplomatic compromises for knotty world conflicts won him the Nobel Peace Prize, but it doesn’t always play well at home, where engagement can be ridiculed as naïve or wishy-washy. Sometimes, though, it’s the only way to thread the needle. And the president seems to have done just that with his long-awaited new policy on Sudan.

Satisfying though it is to continue to try to isolate Sudan’s president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir — and as an indicted war criminal, he deserves nothing more — Obama is correct in saying that this policy did not work under the Bush administration. The new carrot-and-stick approach places greater emphasis on incentives, but also warns of additional punishments if the government in Khartoum does not end the abuses that have left millions of people dead or displaced in Darfur and, most crucially, does not implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that is supposed to end the bloody struggle between Sudan’s northern and southern regions.

Preventing the horrifying possibility of a return to civil war — the last one killed over 2 million people, 10 times more than Darfur’s fatalities — must be the highest priority for all who wish an end to one of Africa’s ongoing nightmares. The White House remains vague on the details of its new approach, and that makes activists understandably wary.

The road to peace in Sudan is paved with diplomatic, military and ethical minefields, but at least now there’s a sensible path to take and an administration willing to lead.

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