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Our Sudan Policy is in Dismal Shape

While Scott Gration's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in August was deeply uninspiring, in the weeks that followed, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan did manage to make some fitful progress. He prevented a violent resolution to the issue of territorial rights in the oil-rich region of Abyei, and he at least tried to get Khartoum into talks with resistance and civil society groups from Darfur. It seemed that his efforts to engage Khartoum were falling short of total disaster.

But things have since gone downhill: Gration's attempts to jump-start the Darfur peace process have sputtered. Even as Gration has called for the U.S. to lift sanctions against Sudan, Khartoum has reneged on much of the previous progress made in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and it is again sponsoring violence against Southern Sudan, using armed militias. Meanwhile, Khartoum is taking advantage of Gration's goodwill and demanding rule changes that will undermine the crucial popular referendum and the election mandated by the CPA. No wonder that Gration is losing the trust of leaders in Darfur and South Sudan—even as he seems to have convinced Khartoum that he is on its side.

Now, in a mind-blowing statement in today's Washington Post, Gration seems to dispense with the idea that pressures of any sort can influence Khartoum: "We've got to think about giving out cookies," he explains. "Kids, countries--they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."* It's unclear where all of Gration's goodwill toward Khartoum is meant to lead. Few people believe his strategy is going to work--common sense suggests that it won't--and now, it looks like few of his initiatives have produced anything resembling sustainable success.

In other words, our Sudan policy is in dismal shape. Today, the interagency heads who have been unable to agree on Obama's Darfur Policy Review are again meeting to try and hammer out an official approach. Here's hoping that they come up with something--or someone better to lead the charge.

*The other amazing thing about this quote is how it manages to be both naïve and dovish, while also weirdly patronizing and colonialistic. First, Gration likens the government of Sudan to children. Then, inverting the hawkish trope that some countries can only understand the language of threats and force, he says that Sudan only reacts to cookies, gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talks, and engagement.