Obama Administration Special Envoys for Sudan: A Succession of Failure, Duplicity, and Cynicism

The Obama administration—under three successive “Special Envoys for Sudan(s)”—has proved almost inconceivably misguided and destructive in addressing the many problems of Sudan---and not only genocide in Darfur (Obama himself used the word “genocide” repeatedly both as a senator, a presidential candidate, and early in his Presidency. His administration and special envoys have collectively encouraged the Khartoum regime to believe it will pay no significant price for its continuing wars on the marginalized people of Sudan, and they have badly failed in assessing the political and economic crises of the country as a whole. The recent column in the Sudan Tribune by current envoy Donald Booth (http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article60908/) only continues eight years of deliberate and expedient misrepresentation of Sudan’s crises and the diplomatic tasks that confront not only the U.S. but the African Union, the UN, and the European Union.

I’ll return to Booth’s central claim, one that implicitly suggests that the Khartoum regime (one of the “parties to the conflict,” in his diplo-speak) is beginning to move “toward peace” in Darfur—a claim for which there is not the slightest shred of real evidence:

“[Abdul Wahid al Nur’s] refusal to negotiate has been a perennial problem for international efforts to end the conflict in Sudan, but it has become especially damaging as other parties to the conflict begin moving toward peace.”

While I too have found Abdul Wahid thoroughly obdurate in conversation, the idea that he is the problem—that if only his “cooperation” could be secured Darfur’s massive crisis would be resolved—is simply perverse; it appears to be a last, desperate effort by the Obama administration to absolve itself of responsibility for the continuation of “genocide” over the entire eight years of Obama’s two terms as President of the United States.

The Obama administration's current Special Envoy for the Sudans, Donald Booth

But before looking in detail at the disgraceful dishonesty of Booth’s assertion, it is worth looking briefly at the destructive diplomatic handiwork of his two predecessors, also part of the Obama legacy.

Air Force Major-General (ret.) Scott Gration

Gration was appointed by Obama in March 2009 to address perhaps the single most difficult diplomatic challenge on the world scene: ongoing war in Darfur and the troubled move toward fulfillment of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA; January 2005) between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army of South Sudan (as well as South Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei). Gration had no knowledge of Sudan, no diplomatic experience, and had voted for George W. Bush in 2000, three years before Bush led the U.S. and Britain into the catastrophic invasion of Iraq. He had no Arabic or other relevant language skills.

Air Force Major-General (ret.) Scott Gration---the embodiment of diplomatic incompetence

He was completely befuddled by the challenge posed by Khartoum’s expulsion from Darfur (March 2009) of thirteen critical international nongovernmental humanitarian organizations, and the closing of three Sudanese NGOs. So over-matched was Gration that it fell to then-Senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry to handle the crisis, which he did in his typically expedient and disingenuous fashion. UN humanitarian officials informed me at the time that the expulsions and closures represented roughly 50 percent of total humanitarian capacity in Darfur; Kerry traveled to Khartoum and issued the following statement in April:

Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee and also representing Obama in Khartoum, has expanded administration disingenuousness by declaring (April 17, 2009): “We have agreement [with Khartoum] that in the next weeks we will be back to 100 percent [humanitarian] capacity,” said [Senator John] Kerry. (Reuters [el-Fasher], April 17, 2009)

Kerry knew full well that such restoration of capacity was not even remotely logistically possible. But by framing it as an “agreement” with Khartoum, Kerry effectively made the crisis look manageable. No matter that the Khartoum regime had never abided by any such agreement—not one, not ever. The same has been true of Khartoum’s “Status of Forces Agreement” with the UN and African Union concerning UNAMID forces, guaranteed by the January 2008 “agreement” the right to move unhindered throughout Darfur. Relentless denial of access has defined UNAMID’s presence in Darfur from the day the agreement was signed.

And full humanitarian capacity was never restored in Darfur, nor anything remotely close. On the contrary, Khartoum continued with its expulsions of humanitarian organizations and made access as difficult for humanitarians as it had for UNAMID.

By the time Envoy Gration was actually working in office, he demonstrated extraordinary and dangerous ignorance on Darfur issues. He quickly sided with the regime on the question of early returns of displaced persons, without any understanding of the danger facing people forced to leave the relative security that the camps afforded. For that ignorance he was taken sharply to task by a humanitarian “Inter-Agency Management Group” (IAMG) in summer 2009: people who actually understood the situation on the ground in Darfur refused to be silent in the face of such dangerous statements as issued from Gration and his office. This was reported by the superb journalist for the Washington Post, Colum Lynch, on August 5, 2009 | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/05/AR2009080503808.html/. With access to the notes from the IAMD of their meetings with Gration, I wrote in detail about their harsh assessment of the special envoy’s views (http://sudanreeves.org/2011/01/23/us-special-envoy-on-returns-of-displaced-persons-in-darfur-september-2009/).

Undeterred by the evidence of his ignorance, Gration soon went on to display his thoughts about diplomacy with the hardened and supremely canny Khartoum regime:

"We've got to think about giving out cookies. Kids, countries—they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement" (Washington Post, September 28, 2009 | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/28/AR2009092802336.html/)

The fatuous, benighted, and dangerous character of dealing with ruthless génocidaires on such a basis can hardly be overstated. These words certainly encouraged Khartoum immensely in its continued ethnically-targeted campaign of destruction in Darfur, and set the stage for the events of late 2010 and early 2011 in the run-up to the Southern self-determination referendum. On Abyei in particular—joined by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and current Secretary of State John Kerry—Gration urged the government in Juba to “compromise” further on the boundaries of Abyei, despite the existence of a final and binding ruling on Abyei from the Permanent Court of Arbitration—binding arbitration that Khartoum had agreed to (July 2009)

This ruling was favorable to Khartoum and significantly reduced the area of Abyei entitled to participate in what was to have been a January 9, 2011 self-determination referendum, which would have seen an overwhelming vote to join South Sudan. But encouraged by Gration and others in the Obama administration, Khartoum had by the time of the referendum resolved to seize all of Abyei militarily, which it did—after substantial and clearly visible military preparation—on May 20, 2011 (for a complete timeline of events and decisions leading to this deeply threatening military action, see http://sudanreeves.org/2011/05/27/an-abyei-timeline-the-long-road-to-khartoums-military-invasion/).

Princeton Lyman

Just as destructive as Gration in the attitudes and policy views he espoused was Obama’s second special envoy, Princeton Lyman. Lyman was in charge of Sudan policy throughout the early months of 2011 and knew full well of Khartoum’s military preparations to seize Abyei. He said nothing of consequence, and after the actual seizure on May 20, also said nothing of significance—no demands that Khartoum withdraw militarily, specifying consequences if they did not. All that the U.S. and international community offered the people of Abyei, denied their right to a self-determination referendum as guaranteed by the CPA’s “Abyei Protocol,” was an Ethiopian brigade of peacekeepers, which has done little more than preserve the status quo.

Unsurprising, emboldened by the entirely successful military seizure of Abyei, Khartoum soon after initiated hostilities i