The Obama administration’s troubling Darfur policy
The sudden resignation of the U.S. ambassador in Kenya has cast an uncomfortable spotlight on the deep flaws in the Obama administration’s policies regarding the Darfur genocide.
After only 13 months on the job, J. Scott Gration resigned his post in Nairobi last week, just ahead of the release of a State Department audit that reportedly will criticize his “odd habits,” such as “working in a restroom to avoid the scrutiny of the embassy staff” (according to The New York Times).
Before his posting to Kenya, Gration had served from 2009 to 2011 as President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan. He took up that position shortly after Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court for sponsoring the Arab militias that were “murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing, and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property” in Darfur.
Yet Gration made it clear from the start that Bashir was not going to be handled like any ordinary perpetrator of genocide. In a September 2009 interview with The Washington Post, Gration explained his approach: “We’ve got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries — they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement.”
Gration’s “cookies and gold stars” remark horrified Darfur advocates, but prompted no reprimand or even explanation from the Obama administration.
And reports about the forthcoming State Department audit indicate that it will not take issue with Gration’s soft-on-genocide approach. Instead, it will criticize his “lack of interpersonal skills” and his “brusque” style. In other words, some of his staffers found him to be rude.
Being rude to one’s underlings is not a pleasant quality, but giving rewards to those involved in “murdering, exterminating, raping, [and] torturing” innocent people is a lot worse.
Unless, of course, the policy of “cookies and gold stars” for the Butcher of Darfur was ultimately President Obama’s policy, not Gration’s — in which case blame must be laid at the feet of the president, not his messenger.
President Bashir’s behavior in the three years since the ICC charged him with genocide reveals a great deal about U.S. policy. Flaunting the indictment, he has traveled openly to numerous Arab and African countries. There have been many opportunities for U.S. forces to do to him what they did to other tyrants and terrorists, such as Panama’s Manuel Noriega, the hijackers of the Achille Lauro, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden. Yet no attempt has been made to capture the fugitive Bashir.
Some of the countries that have hosted Bashir are major recipients of U.S. aid, such as Egypt, Iraq, and Libya. Yet President Obama has never even publicly criticized those regimes for welcoming a mass murderer.
Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, an outspoken advocate for Darfur, recently sponsored an amendment suspending non-humanitarian aid to countries that host visits by Bashir. The Obama administration opposed Wolf’s bill. The House Appropriations Committee adopted it anyway. The administration is now trying to water it down or bury it before the Senate adopts it, too.
Why? Call it the politics of genocide. Bashir has important allies. Russia and China are his major arms suppliers. The Arab League sees his indictment as an anti-Arab conspiracy by Western imperialists. The Obama administration doesn’t want to strain its relations with Moscow, Beijing, or the Arab League. That’s why Gration’s replacement as U.S. envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, said last year that “we do not want to see the ouster of the [Bashir] regime, nor regime change.” That’s why President Obama has been heartbreakingly silent about arresting Bashir.
J. Scott Gration will not be missed by those who care about Darfur. But perhaps he is owed a small debt of gratitude on his way out. State Department official Benjamin Rhodes, commenting on the style that got Gration into trouble with his colleagues, said Gration “speaks his mind, publicly and privately. … People respond to that in different ways.” It’s a good thing that Gration spoke openly about giving “cookies” to Sudan’s mass murderer-in-charge. In doing so, he pulled the curtain back and revealed the truth about the Obama administration’s troubling Darfur policy.
What are the consequences of allowing Bashir to remain free? One need go no further than the op-ed page of The New York Times, where Nicholas Kristof has reported on several occasions in the past month about Bashir’s murderous air raids on the black Christian villagers in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains region. The administration’s response to the Nuba atrocities has been predictably tepid.
Meanwhile, hundreds of anti-Bashir protesters were clubbed and tear-gassed by Sudanese police in the Khartoum suburb of Omdurman last week. According to news reports, they chanted “Freedom, freedom” and called for Bashir’s resignation. The Obama administration, which has spoken out in support of other popular uprisings in the Arab world, has been silent concerning the protesters in Sudan. The cookies and gold stars are apparently reserved for Sudanese government officials, not their opponents.
Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and coauthor, with Prof. Sonja Schoepf Wentling, of the new book ‘Herbert Hoover and the Jews: The Origins of the “Jewish Vote” and Bipartisan Support for Israel.’