The Bush administration is beginning to focus on Sudan's nearly 18-year-old civil war between its Islamic regime in the north and the mostly Christian minority in the south. President George W. Bush has named Sudan in several recent foreign-policy speeches. On March 16, top White House aide Karl Rove convened a meeting of Sudan experts to discuss how to end the fighting there. A week earlier, Secretary of State Colin Powell had conducted his own brainstorming session on Sudan with State Department and National Security Council officials. In a widely quoted statement, Mr. Powell told a House committee: "There is perhaps no greater tragedy on the face of the earth today than the tragedy that is unfolding in the Sudan."
WORLD has been at the front lines in Sudan and in contact with church-based relief groups and with prominent religious and political leaders. Here's our four-point suggestion on what to do:
First, the United States must view the Sudan regime as a foe. The policies of Sudan's president, Omar el-Bashir, pose a threat not only to peace in the region but also to American security. Mr. Bashir invited radical Islamic terrorist Osama bin Laden to set up training camps in Sudan. News accounts tell of the government opening facilities for Saddam Hussein to produce weapons of mass destruction and Scud missiles. Khartoum bombers repeatedly hold target practice on relief operations run by Americans and funded, in some cases, by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
For the Clinton administration, the politics of Africa were bottom-drawer stuff, making only for frivolous safaris or dead-end trade tours. That should change, and Sudan is a good place to start. A victory by Mr. Bashir over south Sudan's rebel forces would push radical Islamic rule toward the heart of Africa. With financial and military backing from China, Sudan could threaten bordering democracies, as well as oil tankers and other Red Sea freight. For the south Sudanese it would not mark the end of sacrifice, but the end of sacrifice with purpose. For their good and ours, the United States should help.
Second, a new U.S. policy should strive to neutralize the Bashir government's ability to wage war. Atrocities by government forces are well documented, and yet Khartoum continues to prosecute war and increase its ability to do so. Oil is the reason. A pipeline from south-central Sudan came on line in 1998. Within two years military expenditures by the government more than doubled. At the same time, according to a confidential report to the International Monetary Fund, the state-owned Bank of Sudan reported that agriculture was "undercapitalized" and cannot produce at previous levels. The UN World Food Program predicts that 200,000 Sudanese will die of starvation and malnutrition this year.
Clearly the government, at the expense of its citizens, is building up its war machine. For the first time in the war it has the revenue to support it. Khartoum is also receiving extra help from oil developers. China, in particular, is improving Sudan's infrastructure and aiding the military under the guise of oil operations. Relief workers have identified Chinese workers at both military and oil installations.
Sanctions block U.S. firms from participating in Sudan's oil trade. But sanctions are applied unevenly. Overseas oil companies-particularly Talisman Energy of Canada and PetroChina-are traded on the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq. The United States granted a license to General Electric to manufacture spare locomotive parts for Sudan last year. Soft drink manufacturers lobbied successfully to continue importing gum arabic, an important natural ingredient in their beverages.
Talk of sanctions will hover like storm clouds over Mr. Bush and his pledges of free trade. So be it. There are exceptions to the rule. Sudan-with 2 million war casualties and 4 million displaced people-is an exception. But a political silver lining for Mr. Bush is that support for such restrictions extends from Christian organizations like Prison Fellowship and Family Research Council all the way to the other end of the spectrum, to the ACLU, the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus, a number of Jewish groups, and the U.S. Holocaust Museum's Committee on Conscience. If the presidential candidates had known how important these constituencies would loom in post-election vote counts, they might have mentioned Sudan sooner.
Third, the Bush administration must encourage good-neighbor policies. Bouquets go to democracies like Uganda and Kenya, while brickbats go to the European Union and United Nations. EU nations withdrew humanitarian aid to south Sudan as soon as they smelled crude. Meanwhile, the United Nations channels its aid to south Sudan via a corrupt program known as Operation Lifeline Sudan. Khartoum has veto power over its operations. Even after the government in Khartoum bombed OLS transports sitting on airstrips last year, UN officials renewed the arrangement.
Often overlooked is the single most important neighbor in the region-and U.S. ally-Egypt. As Milt Bearden, the former CIA chief in Khartoum, once said, "Their river runs through it." The rivers that form Egypt's lifeblood flow together and north in Sudan's capital city. Nile water rights are a key element to any peace arrangement. They explain why Egypt and other moderate Arab states take a complacent posture toward Khartoum. Egypt remains as doggedly uneasy about the radical Islamic influence from Sudan as it is determined to protect its only water source. Yet, Egypt has a vested interest in whoever controls Khartoum and in a united Sudan. Egypt's close ties to the United States should be exploited for the good of the south Sudanese. At the same time, a peace process without Egypt will produce an illegitimate peace.
Fourth, a policy toward peace must treat the rebels with respect. In recent years most rebel factions have consolidated under the Sudan People's Liberation Army and its chairman, John Garang. He heads not only a disciplined army, but a civilian bureaucracy of about 100 out of Nairobi.The soldiers are, surprisingly, Muslims and Christians. They are also ex-government officials, accountants, schoolteachers, churchgoers, and professional soldiers. "We did not come down from the trees, but that is how we have been treated," says the group's representative in Washington, Steven Wondu. Too often the rebels say their role has been overlooked by international organizations, dismissed by leading humanitarian groups, and downplayed in regional peace efforts. But without the SPLA and its mission-self-determination for south Sudan under a pluralistic government-the war would be over and Islamic radicals would dominate the country.
Treating the rebels with respect also means praying for them and also for their enemies. The United States does not know enough about opposition to Mr. Bashir's power-grabbing policies that exists among other Muslims in Khartoum. U.S. officials have kept few tabs on the regime since diplomatic relations formally ended when the United States bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan in 1998. "The file on Sudan does not exist," says U.S. Army War College analyst Earl Tilford. "It rarely appears on the strategic radar screen."
Ending the war at any price is an acceptable outcome for some relief groups, but if it ends in triumph for the radical Islamic regime, persecution of opponents will intensify and other African governments will be threatened. So one final word to U.S. policymakers: Don't blink. In the obscure tribal languages that persist in south Sudan, the word for "heart" or "soul" translates best as "stomach" or "liver." In a country plagued by what the Old Testament calls "double calamities"-both famine and sword-going to the heart of the matter will require guts.