Powell's Sudanese FarceThe genocidal pogrom against the inhabitants of southern Sudan is finally emerging onto the radar screen of Western media and elites. But President Bush can’t and won’t do anything effective or decisive about it. As you will see, he threw away the best chance for a resolution of the crisis in 2002, and is unlikely to be able to improve the situation with the tools he is willing to employ. Bush ordered Secretary Powell to undertake a humanitarian mission to Sudan, but Powell is working with both hands tied behind his back. No matter how earnestly he tries, he will fail. Powell issued a strong statement demanding an end to the attacks on civilians and calling upon the Sudanese government to control the Janjaweed, the mounted Muslim militias responsible for the killings.
The government claims they do not control the Janjaweed, but nobody takes this claim seriously. The Janjaweed are just conveniently deniable irregular government forces. For a few weeks, or even a few months Khartoum will rein in the Janjaweed - especially if Powell has been authorized to offer Khartoum something under the table - but they will return to their depredations soon enough. Bush needs results in Sudan, but he is just not willing to do what is required to make permanent change possible. Bush is under considerable pressure from his Christian base to do something about Sudan. Most of the victims of ethnic cleansing are Christians, and their killers are Muslim. Allowing this to continue unchecked is politically problematic in the clash of cultures environment upon which Bush has built his ‘War on Terror.’ Bush also needs another diplomatic ‘triumph’ such as the Libyan reproachment, before the election to prove he is capable of playing the statesman, as well as the warrior. If the Sudanese government doesn’t take immediate action, a UN Security Council resolution will likely be passed. Draft versions of the resolution do not propose any immediate action against the Sudanese government, only a cognizance of the issue and the possibility of later action, such as travel restrictions and an arms embargo.
These measures are very marginal. They may produce some short-term compliance by the Sudanese government, or at least more circumspection as to the conditions under which Janjaweed militias carry out their pogrom, but the Sudan crisis is so deeply rooted and strongly motivated that such measures have no hope of permanently ending the violence. Bush and Powell will make some noise and pass a symbolic UNSC resolution, and press Khartoum to keep their affairs out of the news, but the reasons for the conflict and the interests which lay behind the genocide prevent the Administration from taking serious steps to end the conflict. International diplomatic pressure has been used before, and after a brief period of ameliorating the suffering of the southern Sudanese, Khartoum has always returned to endemic intercine warfare and ethnic cleansing.
Sudan is truly two nations. The north is Muslim and mostly Semitic, the south is Christian and traditional African religions and mostly black. The northern and southern regions were administered separately under the British, who recognized their essential differences. Unfortunately, the territories were joined together into one nation upon decolonization. Since independence in the 1950s, a low-intensity state of warfare has existed between north and south. An independence movement and rebellion took root in the South, exacerbated by the establishment of Sharia and an Islamic state in Khartoum in 1983. The Southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SSPLA) was formed and by the late 80s had taken control of nearly a third of the country, fighting the government forces to a virtual standstill. Though the rebels can no longer effectively contend with Khartoum’s government forces and irregulars, now better armed and paid with oil revenues, aspirations of independence are still alive in the South. Fear of that persistent desire and its attendant loss of vital resources, especially oil, is the major reason for the ongoing ethnic violence.
Joined to the South’s desire for independence, Khartoum’s greed for oil becomes a motive for mass murder. The producing fields are in the south, and almost the entire south is covered by lease parcels which are being explored as likely sites of further oil reserves. The more reserves which are found, the worse the violence will become. Khartoum perceives a need to remove southern Sudanese from the regions surrounding this natural bounty, so that the wealth the oil produces cannot be denied to the government.
Khartoum is terrified of a partitioned Sudan which leaves the north resource-poor, cut off from the productive lands of the south and unable to access its tremendous water and oil resources. In the last few years the pogrom has intensified and become more persistent, more violent, and more organized. The clear and simple reason is that in 2000 the recently discovered oil reserves of the south (PDF) were brought into production, providing Khartoum with the means and motive to expand their program terror and genocide in the south, especially against those live on or near the active oil fields. The tie between the oil resources of the south and the ethnic cleansing is the Gordian knot which must be cut to bring relative peace to Sudan.
The oil deposits of the south are now the Sudanese government’s financial lifeline (PDF). The intimate connection between the oil fields and the violence is explored in a CBC film about the Canadian company Talisman (RealPlayer: Part 1, Part 2). To force Khartoum to stop killing the people of the south, one would have to threaten their beneficial use of Sudan’s oil resources. That is exactly what the Sudan Peace Act (PDF) of 2002 was intended to do. Sections 8 and 9 of the House version of that bill would have made effective the embargoes imposed by Executive Order in 1997 by President Clinton, and maintained in force every year since.
Embargoes are notoriously easy to evade, generally laxly enforced, and the penalties for violations are very low under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The Sudan Peace Act would have required the SEC to investigate potential violations of the embargo and to make them public. It would further have barred all companies doing business with Sudan from access to American capital markets; no American stock sales, no American commercial banking. The Act had real teeth. It made evading the embargo so difficult that Talisman, the Canadian oil services company who originally developed Sudan’s oil resources in partnership with Khartoum, felt immense pressure to divest its interest in Sudanese oil, and it eventually did so. The market pressure caused by the mere possibility the law would be passed caused such a drop in Talisman’s stock price that company became undervalued and vulnerable to a hostile takeover. The efficacy of the Sudan Peace Act was obvious; even before it was passed it was forcing corporations, even foreign ones, to cut their ties with Sudan.
The original Sudan Peace Act would have been a powerful tool for coercing Khartoum into stopping the genocide. The disclosure requirements and capital markets restriction would have been an effective means of stopping oil services companies from helping Khartoum explore and exploit their oil resources. Without such help, oil production in Sudan would be made nearly impossible, giving America a powerful lever to ensure compliance with a peace agreement, a monitoring regime, and to ensure access to at-risk populations by international relief agencies. The Act passed the House 422-2, but the Bush Administration let it be known that it did not favor the most effective provisions of the bill.
The Senate version, that was eventually passed (PDF), did not include the disclosure requirements or the capital markets restrictions. It also did not include Section 10, which made a Congressional determination that genocide was taking place, legally binding us to act under international law. In the enacted version, further study is called for in order to determine if genocide is taking place; two years and many thousands of lives later, Powell is still carefully circumlocuting the term ‘genocide’ to avoid obligating America to act.
The Bush Administration killed the best hope for peace in the Sudan in order to preserve access to the Sudanese fields for the global oil industry. Only threatening their oil revenues will force Khartoum to stop the violence. A ghostly echo of the critical role of oil remains in Section 8 of the enacted version, stripped of context and bereft of all force by fiat of President Bush. Using oil production to stop the genocide would be highly effective, but it would also mean a potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars for the oil companies currently producing and exploring in Sudan. Bush is too firmly indebted to global oil interests to credibly threaten the Sudanese government’s ability to produce oil. Faced with genocide, President Bush is willing to settle for a face-saving temporary abatement of the violence in order to avoid upsetting his political patrons. Bush has proven himself willing to tolerate genocide, so long as the oil flows.
So Powell wandered around Khartoum and Darfur, looking for all the world like a plenipotentiary diplomat, demanding an end to a genocide with the only tool at his disposal: a toothless UNSC resolution and the promise of yet more ineffective measures to come. But he hasn’t the ability to apply the full power of the United States to the cause of peace because Bush has hamstrung American diplomacy as a favor to his oily friends. Khartoum knows that Powell’s visit is an empty show. Despite Powell’s claim that a ‘frank exchange of views’ took place (which is diplomat speak for he gave them a stern talking to), the reality is that the bluster is most likely a cover for a generous deal for Khartoum to cease their depredations in the south until after the Presidential election, so that Bush can appear effective.
The praise of the Administration from those concerned about the genocide becomes painfully ironic when you know the Bush Administration’s real agenda. Khartoum is likely more than happy to help the President with his image, knowing they have his tacit acquiescence in their plans to continue using the Janjaweed irregulars to harass, kill, rape, and enslave the people of the south, wipe away whole villages (PDF), and eventually complete their genocidal aims. So long as they are circumspect, waiting for the world’s attention to once again move elsewhere before continuing the genocide, President Bush really couldn’t care less.