Surprise: Obama reverses course, chooses engagement with Sudan

Say this for him: His approach to human-rights abusers is entirely consistent. In this case, it simply took him a few years to work up the nerve to acknowledge it.

Welcome back, champ.

After lengthy debate, the Obama administration has settled on a policy toward Sudan that offers a dramatically softer approach than the president had advocated on the campaign trail — but steers clear of the conciliatory tone advocated by his special envoy to the country.

The new U.S. policy, which will be formally unveiled Monday, calls for a campaign of “pressure and incentives” to cajole the government in Khartoum into pursuing peace in the troubled Darfur region, settling disputes with the autonomous government in southern Sudan and providing the United States greater cooperation in stemming international terrorism, according to administration officials briefed on the plan. It also provides Khartoum with a path to improved relations with the United States if it begins to address long-standing U.S. concerns…

In an interview last month with The Washington Post, [U.S. special envoy Scott] Gration said he wanted to give “cookies” and “gold stars” to Khartoum, infuriating human rights advocates and congressional officials. Under the new policy, Gration will not be authorized to negotiate directly with Bashir, and Sudan will not be removed from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism in the immediate future, officials said…

Clinton is expected to frame the evolving U.S. strategy toward Sudan as part of the broader effort to engage America’s traditional enemies to achieve U.S. political goals. American officials said that although the United States is not planning to detail possible rewards or penalties, many such ideas are on the table, including tightening U.N. sanctions and removing Khartoum from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The new State Department assessment of Darfur is that genocide is indeed still taking place there, a rebuke to “Cookies” Gration’s own belief that merely the, ahem, “remnants” of genocide are now present. Presumably that rhetoric is The One’s way of keeping the heat on Bashir internationally, as a concession to angry human-rights activists, but it means we’re now in the surreal position of offering “gold stars” to a regime which, by our own admission, is still engaged in crimes against humanity. There’s something to mull over in an idle moment while you’re watching football tomorrow.

More perspective from Goldfarb, who reminds us that not even a fully constitutional ouster of the sitting president in Honduras was enough to overcome Obama’s fear of supporting regime change:

On Sudan, Obama once had the courage of his convictions. He issued a joint statement with Senator McCain during last year’s campaign declaring that the candidates stood “united and demand that the genocide and violence in Darfur be brought to an end.” Joe Biden even talked of sending NATO troops to Darfur in April 2007, saying it was a “moral imperative.” Now after nine months of policy reviews and infighting, we’re getting a policy “pressure and incentives.” No doubt the indicted war criminal who rules Sudan is shaking in his boots at the prospect of such skillfully deployed “smart power.”

Exit question: Should we expect any angry protests from the “Save Darfur” movement over this betrayal by Bambi? Hmmmm.

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