Obama and Sudan: The Futility of Mere Hopefulness

Obama and Sudan: The Futility of Mere Hopefulness
Forthcoming in Dissent Magazine as lead website article, January 4, 2011
www.dissentmagazine.org

by Eric Reeves

In April 2008 candidate Barack Obama expressed “deep concern” that the Bush administration was making an unseemly deal with the Khartoum regime as a means to bolster the fledgling but already failing UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Obama also used the occasion to criticize U.S. failure to hold Khartoum accountable for its failure to implement key elements of the North/South “Comprehensive Peace Agreement”:

“This reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments. First, no country should be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism for any reason other than the existence of verifiable proof that the government in question does not support terrorist organizations. Second, the Bush Administration should be holding the Government of Sudan accountable for its past promises to let UN peacekeepers operate within its borders—Khartoum's record of inaction and obstruction when it comes to the deployment of the AU-UN force must not be rewarded. Third, the Bush Administration should be holding Sudan accountable for failing to implement significant aspects of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), imperiling the prospects for scheduled multiparty elections in 2009.” [ ]

“The Government of Sudan has pursued a policy of genocide in Darfur. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children have been killed in Darfur, and the killing continues to this very day. Meanwhile, lasting peace will not come without implementation of the CPA. The Bush Administration and Congress have imposed sanctions in an effort to change Khartoum’s behavior; to suddenly offer to normalize relations before that change takes place, particularly without close consultation with Congress, makes no sense. Washington must respond to the ongoing genocide and the ongoing failure to implement the CPA with consistency and strong consequences”

For those of us who had pushed for years for an honest recognition of what the Khartoum regime represented, and the dangers these brutal men posed to both Darfur and the fragile CPA for South Sudan, these were precisely the words we wanted to hear. Strong, principled, tough-minded. But less than three years later, this language stands starkly revealed as electoral bluster—an unprincipled and expedient trading on the potency of one of the most impressive American grass-roots constituencies ever to grow up around a foreign policy issue, and an African issue no less. The temptation on the part of some, including myself, has been to focus on how Darfur and Sudan have been betrayed by other members of the Obama administration—chiefly special envoy Scott Gration, but also officials at the National Security Council and State Department who have offered weak or misguided counsel; the Obama administration’s Sudan policy has also been hindered by poor advice from Senator John Kerry, as well as excessively belated involvement on the part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But that temptation must now be resisted: the administration policy that has unfolded over the past two years is President Obama’s policy, and he must take full responsibility for the demonstrable error, expediency, ignorance, and most shamefully, the mendacity that has defined this policy. He has chosen to keep Gration, to continue to deploy Kerry as an ad hoc envoy, and to allow key members of his administration to indulge a perverse “moral equivalence”—equating the actions, threats, and responses of the Khartoum regime to those of rebel groups in Darfur and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the South. President Obama, despite the enormity of his responsibilities at home and abroad, cannot slough off responsibility for what he has himself called a “policy of genocide” in Darfur. The previous administration indeed refused to “hold Sudan accountable for failing to implement significant aspects of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement,” thereby “imperiling the prospects for scheduled multiparty elections in 2009.” But Obama’s policies, no less than Bush’s, are “reckless and cynical,” the Southern referenda remain imperiled, and it is time for a reckoning.

Humanitarian Response to Darfur

Obama appointed former Air Force Major General Scott Gration as his special envoy to Sudan in March 2009, shortly after Khartoum had expelled from Darfur thirteen distinguished international humanitarian organizations and shut down three important domestic aid organizations; together these organizations represented approximately half the total humanitarian capacity in Darfur. Following the egregious violation of international humanitarian law represented by these expulsions, Obama’s appointment of a special presidential envoy was welcomed by many as a sign of seriousness. Troublingly, however, Gration had no relevant background for tackling the immensely complex and challenging issues inhering within the negotiation of a just peace for Sudan. Gration had Obama’s full confidence, we were told, but no experience in Sudan, no relevant linguistic skills, and—most consequentially—no diplomatic background.

The consequences of Obama’s choice were almost immediately apparent. Gration’s inexperience and general ignorance of Sudan led him to look for ways to accommodate Khartoum rather than press for a reversal of a decision that over the past twenty-two months has cost many thousands of Darfuri civilian lives—lives lost for lack of adequate primary medical attention, clean water, immunizations, sheltering materials, and food. Gration did not challenge in any meaningful way the pretext for humanitarian expulsions—the preposterous charge of “espionage”—but rather sought to make the most of the painfully small concessions Khartoum made toward restoring humanitarian capacity. Here he followed the shameful lead of Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and on several occasions an intermediary between the Obama administration and Khartoum’s génocidaires. A little over a month after the expulsions an apparently hopeful Kerry declared, “We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent capacity.” But this was not simply a lie, it was a consequential distortion that worked to let Khartoum off the hook for what was arguably a massive instance of crimes against humanity—the deliberate denial of humanitarian assistance to a needy population of millions of civilians. Gration would echo Kerry several months later, arguing in a September 2009 interview with Radio Dabanga that “the [humanitarian] situation has improved,” and that “as we have four nongovernmental organizations in, the capacity of the UN is increased, the capacity of the other NGOs still remained…. There has been a positive trend.”

This was more hopeful posturing, for the realities of Darfur were quite otherwise, as even timid and deferential UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was obliged to note in his report on Darfur to the Security Council (November 2009):

“[T]he sustainability of these initial [humanitarian] actions remains a critical issue. In remote locations, international presence has been reduced by 50 per cent, as compared to pre-March 2009 levels. The kidnapping of international aid workers has also contributed to this situation, which has led to a serious shortage of residual implementing capacity and a dramatic reduction in monitoring and evaluation capabilities in Darfur.”

What Gration disingenuously suggested was that the return of four expelled international humanitarian organizations was really the return of other national sections of the organizations in question (for example, the small Save the Children/Sweden replaced the expelled Save the Children/USA, the largest humanitarian actor in West Darfur). The replacement organizations did not begin to have the capacity or operational and organizational skills required in Darfur’s harsh environs, and none of the essential institutional memory and monitoring experience. Gone also was the humanitarian sector leadership (in food distribution, clean water, hygiene, primary medical care) that had been provided by the expelled organizations. To make the claims that Kerry and Gration did was nothing less than expedient mendacity, motivated by the misguided hope that Khartoum would become diplomatically more tractable. In fact, the signal sent to the regime was that even an act as outrageous as expelling critical humanitarian resources from one of the world’s greatest scenes of human need would be met with soothing words of accommodation. The implications of such expediency were not lost on Khartoum.

In the words of an especially well-informed representative from one of the expelled humanitarian organizations, “the view from within the aid community is that Gration has been a disaster for Sudan generally, and Darfur in particular.” And yet Obama continued to support Gration, as did the State Department and National Security Council. Thus in July 2009 Gration received no criticism for suggesting, in dangerously premature terms, that millions of Darfuris—displaced from their homes by more than six years of devastating genocidal counterinsurgency warfare—should begin the process of returning to their lands and villages. No matter that the lands were often occupied by the very Arab militia that had originally driven these people from their lands; no matter that many villages had been burned to the ground, with all means of livelihood systematically destroyed; and no matter that the two key aid agencies responsible for overseeing safe returns as defined by international humanitarian law—the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)—were quite unprepared and without nearly sufficient capacity to undertake this extremely challenging task.

In an extraordinary rebuke of the Obama administration’s excessive desire for signs of “progress” in Darfur, an ad hoc group of humanitarians in South Darfur (the “Inter-Agency Management Group” [IAMG]) assembled in late July 2009 to declare their views of Gration’s visit to the region:

“The [United States] mission was of a political nature more than humanitarian focused. The [U.S. Special Envoy] was exposing his political plan rather than seeking feedback from the humanitarian community and/or looking into the facts presented.”

The bluntness of the distinction and the politically one-sided character of Gration’s remarks put the aid organizations in an uncomfortable position, one they felt a need to clarify both for Darfuris in attendance and those who would seek to politicize their humanitarian mission in any fashion:

“Given the message sent by Scott Gration to the Humanitarian Community and the beneficiaries, i.e. peace will prevail in Darfur by the end of the year, and returns have to happen, the IAMG felt it has to take a common position.”

Clearly the aid representatives felt a need to take a “common position” because the humanitarian implications of Gration’s political assessment were enormous. An “end of the year” (2009) peace agreement was of course an absurd prediction, and as we begin 2011, peace seems no closer. Moreover, in summer 2010 Khartoum expelled senior officials of both the IOM and UNHCR, making returns for displaced persons even more unlikely. In July 2009 the IAMG had stressed all too accurately:

“The Special Envoy emphasized his desire to see Internally Displaced Persons returning to their home as early as possible. Beyond the fact that this is linked to a success of the political process, the IAMG, whilst recognizing the possibility to returns as an ultimate goal and supporting it, want to emphasize that specific impediments need to be addressed before it is made possible. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that a large part of the IDPs might opt for staying in their new settlements over a return to their place of origin.”

“The incapacitation of the International Organization for Migration and UN High Commission for Refugees in South Darfur is utterly limiting the capacity to deal with population movements and potential returns. IAMG emphasize that even if one of the Agency is granted access it will not be enough. The presence of the two is essential to work according to humanitarian principles and the UN framework for return.”

These failures of insight and perspective on Gration’s part were widely reported, including in The Washington Post. The Obama administration cannot pretend that it was unaware of Gration’s disastrous initiative, and his larger failure in responding to Darfur’s humanitarian crisis.

Sudanese National Elections

Candidate Obama rightly worried that U.S. inaction was “imperiling the prospects for scheduled multiparty elections in 2009.” In the end, the elections were not held until April 2010, and were by all reasonable accounts a gross electoral travesty. This was widely foreseen, as many of the most insidious machinations had occurred within the first year of the Obama administration, including an absurd “census” that grossly distorted Sudan’s demographic realities in ways both conspicuous and of obvious benefit to the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) regime in Khartoum. And yet extraordinarily, shortly before the elections were actually held, the Obama administration, again in the person of Scott Gration, declared that these elections would be “as free and fair as possible.” There is no possible parsing or contextualizing of such a statement that can make of it anything other than a deliberate lie, designed to assist Khartoum in securing a veneer of international respectability. It was not even the expression of hope; it was pure expediency.

Gration was joined in his assessment by former President Jimmy Carter—a notorious fool in all his political assessments of Sudan—and by Russia, China, the Arab League, and the African Union. Hardly a group of democratic stalwarts. The U.S. actions helped confer an undeserved legitimacy on a regime that was the beneficiary of massive vote and registration fraud, ballot-box stuffing and theft, an untenable census—a regime that also enjoyed the advantages of ruthless security forces and a monopoly on broadcast media. The White House itself took part in the charade, issuing an April 20, 2010 press release expressing “regret that Sudan’s National Elections Commission (NEC) did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting.” But this disingenuously shifted the blame by failing to note that the NEC was entirely a creature of the regime, and acted throughout the electoral period precisely as instructed.

Despite the fiasco of U.S. efforts to secure meaningful Sudanese elections, Gration kept the support of President Obama and senior foreign policy officials at State and NSC. And publicly, no dissent was permitted to be aired, even as we know that more than one administration official strenuously objected, including U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Indeed, tensions between Rice and Gration had been festering for some time, certainly since Gration had declared very early in his tenure (June 2009) that only “remnants of genocide” could be found in Darfur. Rice is reported to have been furious at such a characterization by the inexperienced Gration; and although the Obama administration did not accept Gration’s characterization, he was not rebuked either, and he stood stubbornly by his comments. Earlier this year Gration and Rice clashed again, this time as the slow-learning Gration belatedly realized that the self-determination referenda for South Sudan and the Abyei region were deeply imperiled by an excessively compressed electoral calendar. At an early August 2010 meeting on Sudan that included all relevant senior Obama administration officials—including Secretary Clinton—Gration is reported to have pushed for a “de-emphasizing of Darfur,” and a re-focusing on the South.

In one sense the decision had been made inevitable by the ineptitude of the Obama administration. Khartoum was seeking to run out the clock on the referenda, and preparations were in some cases literally years behind schedule (the Abyei Referendum Commission still has not been established, and there will be no referendum in this critical region, the most likely flashpoint for renewed war). Gration for his part had made no progress on Darfur—in securing a meaningful cease-fire, in uniting the most important of the fractious rebel groups, in presenting a credible outline for a peace agreement, in bolstering the beleaguered UN/AU force in Darfur (still badly hamstrung by Khartoum), or in improving humanitarian conditions and capacity. The so-called “Doha (Qatar) peace process” is making no progress, with present diplomatic hopes extending only to securing a fig-leaf agreement between Khartoum and one Darfuri faction that comprises several minor rebels groups; the agreement will not satisfy Darfuris or bring an end to conflict.

Gration’s record on Darfur has been one of complete failure, and unsurprisingly the Obama administration has recently appointed a seasoned and knowledgeable diplomat, Dane Smith, to take on the Darfur file (though without officially removing Gration from his role). At this point, however, the vast majority of Darfuris—both civilians and rebels—despise Gration and the Obama administration; in the camps, Gration’s security has become so great an issue that he can travel only to those camps most fully secured by Military Intelligence. Darfuris have even risked staging anti-Gration demonstrations and demanding his resignation. Ambassador Smith’s chances of success have been badly compromised.

But Gration’s determination to “de-emphasize” Darfur was accepted by senior Obama officials—including Hillary Clinton—and was among the recommendations presented to the President this past August (Susan Rice was reportedly given the opportunity to present a “dissenting view”). The full consequences of this decision were made clear by unnamed senior administration officials in the transcript of a November 8, 2010 briefing provided by the State Department, in which Darfur was not simply “de-emphasized” but “de-coupled”: “[A] senior administration official" declared that in order to secure cooperation from the Khartoum regime on the referenda, "the US is prepared to accelerate the removal of Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list." Specifically, in its now desperate effort to rescue the referenda, the administration "would also be decoupling the state sponsor of terrorism from Darfur and the Darfur issue." Despite the euphemism—“de-coupling”—the significance of the decision here can hardly be obscured. Although Obama administration officials pointed out that other sanctions remain in place, the leverage deriving from what is certainly the biggest carrot the U.S. has to offer Khartoum is no longer available for resolution of intensifying armed conflict in Darfur and reversing the continuing deterioration in humanitarian conditions affecting more than 4 million civilians, the vast majority of them displaced from their homes, many very recently.

Gration’s hand is again in evidence, since he testified to the Senate on July 30, 2009 that, “There's no evidence in our intelligence community that supports [Sudan] being on the state sponsors of terrorism. It's a political decision.” Is it simply a “political decision”? Is there no evidence of Khartoum’s ongoing complicity in terrorism? (Let’s recall that the present Khartoum regime, as the National Islamic Front, hosted Osama bin Laden from 1991 to 1996, the years in which al-Qaeda came to fruition.) One of the “Wikileaked” U.S. diplomatic cables reveals (according to Reuters) that, “In March 2009, the United States informed Jordan and Egypt about new Iranian plans to ship a cargo of ‘lethal military equipment’ to Syria with onward transfer to Sudan and then to Hamas, the Guardian [UK] said.” Hamas is still considered by the U.S., Canada, Japan, the European Union and others to be a terrorist organization. Why has there been no clarification of the apparently direct contradiction between Gration’s testimony—which guides his response to Khartoum—and evidence of the regime’s support for terrorism during the Obama administration? Has expediency triumphed yet again on the part of the President?

And just how far is the White House willing to go in countenancing a policy that is defined not only by Gration’s clearly limited understanding of state support for terrorism, but by his naïve assessment of the role of China and Egypt in Sudanese affairs? In his Senate testimony Gration suggested that his travels to Cairo and Beijing enabled him to meet “leaders who share our common concern and want to work together toward shared objectives.” But this hopeful assessment ignores the long and resolutely obstructionist role both Egypt and China have played in Sudan over many years. Shortly after Gration’s testimony, for example, a senior Egyptian official described Darfur as an “artificial” crisis directed against the people of Sudan. Cairo has also long and adamantly opposed Southern self-determination. For its part, Beijing continues to ship to Khartoum advanced weaponry and military supplies, which are then transferred to Darfur in violation of a UN arms embargo. China also opposes any role for the International Criminal Court in pursuing atrocity crimes in Darfur, and at the Security Council has relentlessly supported Khartoum’s intransigence. All this leaves one wondering what Gration means by “common concern.”

Moral Equivalence

Candidate Obama seemed to see the Khartoum regime for what it is, and to recognize the penchant of these ruthless men for lies, reneging, dissimulation, and bad faith. But President Obama is guided by a Secretary of State, National Security Council, and special envoy who are willing to see the actions and declarations on the part of the Government of South Sudan and the Darfuri rebels as “morally equivalent” to those of the regime. Although there are many examples of such destructive comparisons during the Obama administration, a recent example suggests just how extreme this distortion can become.

On December 16, 2010 the White House issued a press release concerning repeated attacks by Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) on the South Darfur village of Khor Abeche, and the forces of Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) faction leader Minni Minawi (formerly a partner in the regime). Deploring attacks that “left many [civilians] injured, some dead, and thousands displaced,” NSC spokesman Mike Hammer went on to say:

“This attack comes at a time that we are also seeing increased evidence of support to militant proxies from the Governments of Sudan and Southern Sudan. All Sudanese leaders have a responsibility to protect civilian populations—to do otherwise is unacceptable.”

The implicit claim here is that the Government of South Sudan is giving “support to militant proxies” and irresponsibly putting civilian populations at deliberate risk. In short, more than seven years of savage, finally genocidal predations by Khartoum-directed “militant proxies”—Janjaweed militia, the Popular Defense Force, the Border Guards, the Central Police, and other paramilitary elements in Darfur—are here being directly compared to the actions of the Government of South Sudan (GOSS).

This is an outrageous distortion, an apparent effort at soothing “even-handedness” that in fact deeply betrays the truth. It is the case that the GOSS has hosted in Juba some of the Darfur rebel leadership, including Minni Minawi. It is also likely true that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) has provided some medical assistance to wounded Darfuri rebels who make their way into Western or Northern Bahr el-Ghazal. It may or may not be the case that some elements of the SPLA have provided limited supplies, on an ad hoc basis, to rebel elements in Bahr el-Ghazal, something the Obama administration has warned against, and which indeed would be ill-advised. But none of this is in any way comparable to Khartoum’s recruiting, arming, and deploying the Janjaweed and other “militant proxies” in Darfur.

Indeed, the real perversity of the NSC comparison is most conspicuously evident in the nominal subject of this brief press release—Khor Abeche. Evidently the Obama White House has forgotten the history of Khor Abeche (South Darfur), and the brutal Janjaweed attack of April 7, 2005. This was one of the most destructive and best chronicled of the atrocity crimes that have defined Darfur for more than seven years. Here are some of the details of what happens when real “militant proxies” are at work.

Following the April 2005 attack on Khor Abeche, the UN and African Union Mission in Darfur (AMIS, the predecessor to UNAMID), declared on the basis of their investigation that the sustained assault on this civilian village was “savage,” “pre-meditated,” and ultimately a function of “deliberate official procrastination” by Khartoum, which prevented the deployment of AU observers who might have been able to forestall the clearly impending attack. For this was one of the many occasions on which the Janjaweed worked hand-in-glove with the SAF. The UN and AU both declared their “utter shock and disbelief of the relentless daylong attack on Khor Abeche.” Two years of fully comparable violence, amply chronicled by human rights organizations, should have forestalled both “shock” and “disbelief.” But certainly it would have been difficult to become accustomed to what occurred at Khor Abeche:

“[The Janjaweed proceeded to] rampage through the village [of Khor Abeche], killing, burning and destroying everything in their paths and leaving in their wake total destruction” (“Joint Statement by the African Union Mission in Sudan and the UN Mission in Sudan,” April 7, 2005)

The “Joint Statement” was unusually explicit in assigning responsibility for the destruction wrought by “militant proxies”:

“The African Union had been engaged in discussions with the Wali [Khartoum-appointed governor] of South Darfur and Nasir al Tijani Adel Kaadir [commander of the Arab militia/Janjaweed force] on several occasions in the past on how to maintain the security situation in the area. Indeed, the AU had prepared to deploy its troops in Niteaga and Khor Abeche since 3 April [2005], to deter precisely this kind of attack, but was prevented from acting by what can only be inferred as deliberate official procrastination over the allocation of land for the troops' accommodation.” (“Joint Statement by the African Union Mission in Sudan and the UN Mission in Sudan,” April 7, 2005)

As we approach the final countdown to the South Sudan self-determination referendum—with many critical issues unresolved, including the status of Abyei—the Obama administration continues to indulge a broad policy of “moral equivalence” that can have only one effect, and that is to encourage the Khartoum regime to remain intransigent while the U.S. does its diplomatic dirty work. And dutifully Secretary of State Clinton has recently insisted that the Southern leadership “compromise” on the contested Abyei region. But this apparent evenhandedness ignores the very significant compromises that the SPLM has already made, particularly on Abyei. Such pressure is deeply counter-productive at this point and makes clear just how dangerous “moral equivalence” can be in defining U.S. Sudan policy. And yet Gration, Clinton, and Obama himself seem incapable of rising above this disabling distortion. The consequences for Sudan—in the South as well as Darfur—may well be disaster. By virtue of its misguided and expedient policies, the Obama administration has surrendered most of the leverage it once wielded, and has no evident plan for regaining it.

Genocide in Darfur

In July 2010 the International Criminal Court issued a second warrant for the arrest of NIF/NCP President Omar al-Bashir—this one for three counts of genocide in Darfur. Gration—who had declared without rebuke that there were only “remnants of genocide in Darfur”—responded to the announcement with extraordinary cynicism: the ICC decision "will make my mission more difficult and challenging.” And perhaps it will: dealing with génocidaires can be diplomatically challenging, and it is certainly not al-Bashir alone within the regime who will face indictment for atrocity crimes in Darfur. But are we and the ICC to remain silent about what has occurred and continues to occur in Darfur? Must impunity continue to reign, at terrible human cost, so that Gration’s fatuously hopeful diplomacy may proceed? This again is a formula for continued conflict, not peace, and signals to Khartoum that it may proceed with its exceedingly ominous “New Strategy for Darfur” (September 2010), which is nothing less an effort to legitimize a renewed campaign of genocidal counter-insurgency, beginning with the further attenuation of humanitarian capacity. The plan has been “strongly supported” by Gration, who had expressed his general frustration with Darfuris last March by means of an implicit threat: there is “not going to be a lot of [diplomatic] bandwidth to be doing Darfur and negotiations [after the April 2010 elections],” Gration declared.

But with or without diplomatic “bandwidth” available for Darfur, the region’s agony continues. Today, this very day in Darfur, humanitarian reach and capacity are more restricted than ever, chiefly because of Khartoum’s continuing expulsions of aid workers and organizations, bureaucratic obstructionism, and engineered insecurity. Fearing Khartoum’s response, UN officials don’t dare release figures for malnutrition, according to the senior UNICEF official for the region. And there has been a major upsurge in violence and displacement over the past year, again much of it ethnically defined. On September 2, 2010, for example, more than 50 Fur men and boys were executed by Arab militia forces in Tabarat village, North Darfur; scores more were wounded, many seriously (some later died of their wounds); thousands fled their homes. There was no public comment from the Obama White House, nor a public report from UNAMID—and the silence was heard clearly in Khartoum. Elsewhere, Radio Dabanga remains our last thread of real-time information from the ground in Darfur, and reports constantly on the rape of girls and women; the deliberate destruction of crops in the fields; torture, murder, and imprisonment of political leaders from the camps; and relentless aerial bombardment of civilian targets. Special envoy Gration and the White House are willing to “de-emphasize” and “de-couple” such events.

As I write these words the headlines at Radio Dabanga are numbingly familiar: “Air strike in Darfur kills 10, including 5 children,” in Khazan Jadeed, South Darfur (December 28, 2010). There was no evidence of a military presence in this area, and the bombing took place at 2am, when there was no light to guide the bombers to military targets (in any event, the Antonovs deployed have no real bomb-sighting capability: they are crudely retrofitted Russian cargo planes from which barrel bombs are simply rolled out the back bay):

“Among the dead was the farmer Hamada Abdelrahman Dualbeit, 30 years of old, and with his wife and his three sons; and Muriam Ismail Abakr, student at the University of Nyala, in addition to her son; and Nasreddin Ahmed Bushara, and his wife and baby.”

Candidate Barack Obama professed to be outraged by such atrocities; President Obama has put in place and supported a special envoy who seems all too willing to ignore them—the real meaning of “de-emphasizing” and “de-coupling.” Candidate Obama professed to be distressed to see the CPA endangered by diplomatic lethargy, and the lives of millions of Southern Sudanese put at gratuitous risk; President Obama is guided by policies that have in many ways increased that risk. Whatever the failings of his appointees, too many in Sudan have died, too many suffer outrageously, and too many are in acute danger for overall responsibility to rest anywhere but with the chief executive—a President now, not a candidate.

December 29, 2010
Northampton, Mass.

[Eric Reeves has published extensively on Sudan, nationally and internationally, for more than a decade. He is author of A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide.]