Globe Editorial

In Sudan, dialogue has limits

October 24, 2009

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AFTER CONSIDERABLE delay and intramural debate, the Obama administration rolled out a new Sudan policy this week that proposes a judicious balancing of carrots and sticks to change the behavior of Sudan’s government. In other instances, President Obama’s penchant for engaging in dialogue with nasty regimes may prove savvy. In the case of Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, it is all too likely that engagement will end up looking naive.

The goals of Obama’s policy are the right ones - to end the humanitarian tragedies suffered by the people of Darfur; to make sure the Bashir regime keeps its commitments to hold a referendum in 2011 that would likely lead to independence for southern Sudan; and to prevent Sudan from becoming a sanctuary for terrorists. But the chances Bashir will accommodate Obama’s good intentions are closer to none than slim.

The past performances of Bashir’s regime form an unmistakable pattern. His army and the proxy militia known as janjaweed have bombed and burned villages in Darfur, raping and massacring villagers. They have caused the deaths of more than 300,000 people and the uprooting of about 3 million. All the while Bashir, who is under indictment at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and war crimes, has been fending off international efforts to end the genocide.

He makes promises but then stalls on implementing them. He allows aid organizations to operate in Darfur and then exposes them to assaults or kicks them out of the country. His unchanging practice is to preserve his power and to go on burning down villages, securing all of Sudan’s oil reserves for his regime, and crushing the least sign of regional or ethnic resistance.

Whether to keep Bashir guessing or to shield itself from premature carping, the administration has added a “secret annex’’ to its Sudan policy detailing the rewards and punishments that are to be meted out to Bashir. We have to hope the punishments are potent and ready to hand.

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