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The Sudan Crisis: Obama’s Hypocrisy and Culpability

Among the many incoherencies of Obama’s foreign policy, none is more glaring and appalling than his stance toward one of the worst mass murderers of our time, Omar Al Bashir, the dictator of Sudan. Al Bashir and his totalitarian political Islamic regime have conducted two eliminationist campaigns—of mass murder, mass expulsion, and mass rapes—over 20 years, first in Southern Sudan and then in Darfur. This has earned him not one but two distinctive places in the annals of our time, the most murderous in human history: He has committed genocide for longer than any political leader aside from Stalin and Mao, and he has slaughtered more people than anyone except Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and the Japanese leadership before and during World War II, all of whom had continental-sized populations under their control.

By any standard, Al Bashir and his political Islamic cohort are the one leader and regime in the world that must absolutely and urgently go: because of the number of people murdered, on the order of 2.5 million; the millions more expelled from their homes and regions; the untold number of women systematically raped as part of a larger campaign of terror; the devastation government forces have wrought by razing and burning towns and villages, a scorched-earth policy implemented in the South and then in Darfur. Al Bashir and his regime have been at it for two decades, and predictably, taking no one who pays attention to Sudan by surprise, he has started up another deadly eliminationist campaign, this time against the Nuba people of central Sudan (after already seizing the Abyei region and expelling Ngok Dinka people from it), perhaps to preempt the south from forming its new country with its territory and oil reserves intact now that its independence day of July 9 is approaching. (An agreement was signed on Monday between the north and the south for the withdrawal of the northern Sudanese troops from Abyei, but we will have to wait to see if Khartoum abides by it.)

Obama has with words or deeds made it clear: Hosni Mubarak must go. Muammar Qaddafi must go. Osama Bin Laden, of course, had to go. But must Al Bashir go? Not according to Obama.

Mubarak, dictator and brute, was tame compared to Al Bashir. Yet Obama abandoned him, a longtime American ally and stabilizing force in the Middle East, in a blink of an eye after protestors, composing a small percentage of Egypt’s populace, occupied Cairo’s Tahrir Square and insisted on his ouster. Qaddafi, said by Obama to be readying mass murder because of the threatening phrase “rivers of blood” that Qaddafi’s son uttered, though the Libyan strongman had not actually committed mass murder against those recently protesting his dictatorship—certainly on nothing approaching a genocidal, Al Bashirian scale—was declared by Obama to have “lost legitimacy to rule.” Quickly, the U.S. and NATO began waging a now three-month-old war against Qaddafi and in support of inchoate rebels, representing no one knows exactly whom, seeking no one knows exactly what, except to get rid of Qaddafi.

Obama, self-styled champion of protecting the innocent, has passively stood by since he took office while Al Bashir continued his eliminationist and murderous assault on the people of Darfur, in what has been aptly called an ongoing genocide by attrition. To the Sudanese of the Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan, of Southern Sudan, and of Darfur, Al Bashir is Hitler; and, like Hitler, he uses mass elimination and murder as a reflexive instrument of policy. But Obama has not unequivocally denounced the Hitlerian mass murderer Al Bashir. Obama, a generally outspoken devotee of international legality, has in effect not supported the International Criminal Court’s indictment, arrest warrant, or attempt to try Al Bashir for mass murder. Obama, the orator, has not resoundingly declared that Al Bashir has no legitimacy to rule, or publicly warned, let alone threatened, Al Bashir of any serious consequences for further renewing his mass elimination and murdering.

Instead, Obama and his administration have repeatedly soft-pedaled, negotiated with, even effectively lent support to Al Bashir and his totalitarian regime. By their actions and (mostly) inaction, Obama and his administration have helped set the stage for Al Bashir to commit this new assault on the largely defenseless people of the Nuba Mountains and of the South, including the Abyei region.

This, even though Southern Sudan, under a negotiated deal that Al Bashir agreed to, democratically, lawfully voted in January to secede with a 99 percent majority. Southern Sudan’s secession, and the likely desire of the people of Abyei to join it (the Ngok Dinka’s own self-determination referendum has yet to take place), constitutes a far bigger and more legitimate democratic movement than the ones in Egypt or Libya that so easily mobilized Obama to action on their behalf. Yet Obama now fails to draw a line in the Sudanese sand saying that the democratic movement’s and its country’s integrity must be defended, and, above all, that the hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of innocent and defenseless civilians—children, women, and men—many of whom have already lost relatives and themselves been subjected to the eliminationist violence of Al Bashir, must be defended.

Instead, for the Sudanese, Obama expresses meaningless “deep concern.” The Obama administration tepidly whispers that Al Bashir’s eliminationist assault might undermine further normalization of Sudan’s relations with the US. How likely is that to stay the hand of a decades-long genocidal killer, seeking territory and oil and to rid a sizable area of Sudan of people he and his political Islamic regime deem threatening? Forget about threats of American or NATO airstrikes: Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, just explained to Time—and therefore to Al Bashir—that the United States is not contemplating any serious intervention in Sudan even if the eliminationist assault intensifies.

All this (together with Obama’s self-delusional attempt of the last few years, including sending envoys to Khartoum, principally the feckless Scott Gration, to cajole the Sudanese Hitler to defang himself), has emboldened Al Bashir to attack and then intensify his attacks on the Nuba people, to try to conquer territory that he does not want to go to the South, and to restart his eliminationist campaign, which is now underway with selected killings, mass expulsions, and the destruction of homes and villages.

We should be clear, as it will help pressure Obama: If the administration continues standing by and doing nothing, Obama will have given a tacit new green light to a genocidal killer and will be morally, politically, and materially complicit in the unfolding devastation. This complicity will be a prominent stain in Obama’s future historical ledger. It is fair to say this because he and many in his administration have explicitly invoked U.S. inaction during the Rwandan genocide as something that must never again be repeated, and because, right next door to Al Bashir, against a far less monstrous Qaddafi (however monstrous he is), and next door to him, Mubarak, a comparative featherweight in human destruction, Obama has brazenly and with the ringing tones of democracy, of freedom, of protecting the innocent, done otherwise. In the case of Libya, Obama was shamed by the Europeans to intervene, so he and his administration invoked the US inaction in Rwanda as a reason to attack Qaddafi. But now, when something like the Rwandan genocide may actually happen in a country ruled by a totalitarian regime that has already perpetrated large-scale eliminationist assaults and genocides twice, and partly on Obama’s watch, the president has returned the U.S. to its cynical, decades-long, do-nothing stance. All the while, eliminationist killers assault their victims.

Obama must make it clear to Al Bashir and the northern Sudanese political and military leadership that, if they do not stop their eliminationist assault against the Nuba, respect an internationally recognized dividing line between north and south Sudan, and desist entirely, then their military forces will be targeted, and their personal homes will be hit by bombing sorties and drones. He must make it clear that, as in Iraq with Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi Baathist leadership, the extremely effective U.S. Rewards for Justice program will offer millions of dollars to those giving information or themselves taking measures that lead to the death or capture of Al Bashir and his lieutenants. He must make it clear that the U.S. will seek to execute the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Al Bashir, and that all manner of sanction will be placed on northern Sudan, its leaders, and their foreign accounts. He must make it clear to Al Bashir’s Chinese patrons—a principal reason the weak-kneed Obama plays nice with the Sudanese dictator—that, if Al Bashir doesn’t stop, the Sudanese oil they so prize will cease to flow.

Obama’s limited war against Libya, already unpopular among Congress and the public, in addition to the entanglements and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that he inherited, make acting forcefully in Sudan politically difficult. But no one should accept such difficulties as excuses or justifications for Obama’s current inaction. He chose to attack Qaddafi over far less, while treating the overtly genocidal Al Bashir with kid gloves. So Obama may not now plead that his hands are tied.

Going after Qaddafi and not Al Bashir is like going after Mussolini but not Hitler. Going after Mubarak and not Al Bashir is like going after António de Oliveira Salazar for his autocratic rule in Portugal (from 1932 to 1968) but not Hitler. Political leaders have shown again and again that, once they embark upon eliminationist politics, once they begin mass murdering, they tend to do it again, targeting new groups in new campaigns of destruction. Al Bashir has already done this twice. Now, he is starting up for a third time: According to United Nations estimates, he has already expelled 100,000 people from Abyei, and the former governor of South Kordofan put the number of Nuba expelled at half a million. And Al Bashir is massing his troops for much more.

Isn’t it time that Obama stops fooling around, stops pretending all the pretend things he and his predecessors have done, not done, or believed that have allowed Al Bashir to eliminate and exterminate people for two decades? Isn’t it time Obama does something to stop the Hitler of Sudan, the worst mass murderer in the Middle East, from eliminating and slaughtering perhaps hundreds of thousands more children, women, and men?

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen is the author of Worse Than War: Genocide, Eliminationism, and the Ongoing Assault on Humanity, which is the basis of a the PBS documentary of the same name. His work can be read at