There was something surreal about General Scott Gration's testimony at Thursday's congressional hearings on Darfur. "We are aiming high and we are thinking big. Failure cannot be an option," the broad-faced Air Force general intoned, his tinny voice making him sound like a distant air-traffic controller. "We must proceed with boldness, with hard work to make this proactive and preventative approach work."
Gration, the man President Obama has tasked with fixing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, often responds with such generalities when quizzed about the specific carrots and sticks he wants to employ while negotiating a peace accord with the genocidal government of Sudan. Several members of the Foreign Relations Committee, who grilled Gration, were extremely concerned that his current policy involves only incentives and no penalties--an approach that seems doomed to fail given Sudan's past negotiating behavior. Senator Russ Feingold
Pat Leahy led the charge, demanding assurances that Gration would not simply reward Khartoum without seeing tangible improvements there. Gration could not offer much in the way of concessions from the Sudanese, but he tried to assure Leahy that the U.S. administration's approach would be "very balanced," including incentives and pressures. "In many ways," Gration said, bending the definition of 'stick' close to the breaking point, "the lack of incentives is turning out to be, also, a pressure."
The only time during the hearing that Gration was truly animated was when he denounced U.S. sanctions against Sudan, which he said were undermining economic development in the country's south. "We're going to have to unwind some of these sanctions," he fumed, before agreeing with Senator Bob Corker that U.S. sanctions mean "cutting off our nose to spite our face." Oddly, this testimony flies in the face of statements made by the government of Southern Sudan, which says it doesn't want sanctions lifted, because it too thinks reducing pressure on Khartoum would be counterproductive. Gration was similarly dismissive of the U.S. government's decision to keep Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, calling the designation "a political decision."