Omar al Bashir 311 R.
(photo credit: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters)
The news from Sudan’s Nuba Mountains is sadly familiar: a brutal dictator is
slaughtering his own citizens, human rights activists are urging the United
States to intervene, and the Obama administration says it’s doing all it can to
stop the killing. But this time, a senior US official has revealed the
administration’s real position. And it’s not good.
In a series of
powerful dispatches last week from the Nuba battle zone, New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof described the attacks launched by the Arab regime of
Sudanese president Omar Bashir against the non-Arab residents of the Nuba
mountains. The Obama administration has responded with a quiet diplomatic effort
to end the food blockade on Nuba, while taking no serious action against
Bashir’s aggression. Kristof wrote that the attacks carry “echoes of Darfur.” So
does the Obama administration’s response.
During the 2008 presidential
campaign, Barack Obama sought to distinguish himself from the other candidates
by vowing that when it came to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan,
America would not allow mass murder to take place on his watch.
must be real pressure placed on the Sudanese government,” he said.
would have represented a significant change in US policy, since America’s track
record in this area has largely been one of moral failure and complacency. The
absolute sovereignty of nations and the concessions of realpolitik have usually
trumped other values.
US planes bombed German factories adjacent to
Auschwitz but were never sent to strike the nearby gas chambers and crematoria.
The US ignored genocide in Cambodia in the 1970s, and in Rwanda in the 1990s,
even though those mass killings took place in front of the world’s television
cameras. And America responded far too slowly to “ethnic cleansing” in the
Balkans, waiting for an international consensus rather than simply taking
immediate humanitarian action.
As president, however, Obama has refrained
from taking meaningful steps for Darfur, such as imposing a no-fly zone over
Sudan or bringing about the arrest of President Bashir, who has been indicted by
the International Criminal Court for his role in the Darfur genocide. Over the
past several years, Bashir has visited Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries
that are major recipients of American aid. This outlaw absurdly and mockingly
travels around openly like a respected statesman, and the US neither apprehends
him nor penalizes those who host him.
It always struck us as curious that
when asked by reporters about the Bashir indictment, administration officials
mumbled vaguely about the need for “justice” in Sudan. They never said clearly
and openly that the US was trying to have Bashir arrested.
Now we know
why: in a recent interview, Obama’s envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, told the
London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat: “Frankly we do not want to see the
ouster of the [Bashir] regime, nor regime change... It is not in our interests
to see the ouster of the regime in Sudan, for this will only create more
So there you have it. The Obama administration is not
interested in arresting the world’s most notorious practitioner of genocide and
thereby ousting his regime. Instead, it prefers – in the words of Lyman’s
predecessor – “giving out cookies” and “gold stars” to encourage Sudan’s leaders
to behave better.
Cookies are for children and gold stars are for lazy
employees. Those who commit genocide should not be treated as if they are being
asked to play nice in the international community.
Indeed, by virtue of
their misdeeds, they have already forfeited their place at the grown-ups’ table,
having demonstrated that they are unfit to serve as leaders among
The administration’s weak response to Darfur and halfhearted
strategy on Nuba is symptomatic of a broader Obama foreign policy strategy that
prefers empty gestures of diplomacy to direct, righteous action. It is a
strategy that has not worked.
Leaving Omar Bashir in power in Sudan has
not changed his behavior.
Hillary Clinton’s praise of Syrian dictator
Bashar Assad last year as a “reformer” did not make him one. The Obama
administration’s refusal to support the Green Revolution dissidents in Iran
enabled a regime with nuclear ambitions to believe that its actions would never
Ironically, and most tragically, nations and government
leaders all one day come to regret their failure to act – long after their
efforts to save lives would do any good. The mass murderers have already
finished their job. The chorus of those lamentably late is always louder than
the drumbeat of death, which could have been silenced if the nations of the
world had not been so deafeningly silent.Dr. Rafael Medoff is a
historian and founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust
Studies. Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist and law professor at Fordham University,
and the author of The Myth of Moral Justice