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Standing down

"Standing down" Continued...

Issue: "Is Christianity in the U.S. doomed?," June 20, 2009

With a disaster six years in the making, many wonder: Why doesn't Obama already have a Sudan policy? Theories differ, but Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute thinks the delay hinges on Bashir's indictment by the ICC. Shea thinks Bashir's defiance of the war crimes indictment leaves the Obama administration debating whether the United States should encourage the court to drop the indictment so outside nations can negotiate peace for Darfur. (Bashir has used the indictment as an excuse to continue withholding aid from Darfur.)

That's a controversial question within the pro-Darfur community: Some human-rights activists-including Franklin Graham of Samaritan's Purse-believe the indictment only enflames Bashir and destabilizes the whole country, especially if he continues easily to avoid arrest. (Some African neighbors have refused to turn over Bashir to the court.) But other activists say the indictment at least makes strides toward exacting justice for the Bashir-led campaigns of violence against his own people.

The ICC has long been a controversial issue for the United States. The United States isn't a member of the UN-led court-both former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush expressed concerns over the court's expansive powers, and many are waiting to see if Obama will reverse that course. The Bashir debacle may make that decision more complicated.

So far, the United States has supported the Bashir indictment but has also offered little commentary. Vanderbilt University professor Michael Newton thinks that's because the Obama administration doesn't have a clear policy on the ICC in general, not just on the Bashir indictment. "There's no clear central voice," says Newton, who helped formulate the court's documents on defining crimes.

Reeves of Smith University has a different theory: The professor doesn't believe Obama's delay has anything to do with the ICC, but instead, a lack of political will. Reeves thinks the crisis in Darfur was a popular campaign issue for most candidates since "it was easy to be on the right side."

Finding a solution is harder. An administration spread thin by domestic turmoil and thorny issues elsewhere in the world may have lost steam on Darfur, says Reeves: "It's one thing to criticize from the outside. It's another-when you have the power-to exert it in a way that really makes a difference in a very difficult crisis."

Reeves describes Gration's tone toward Sudan as "squishy soft," and laments: "We're looking at an administration that is trying to tamp things down at the moment when they've reached their most critical point."

Things aren't just critical for Darfur: Officials in southern Sudan worry that if violence escalates in Darfur again, war could spread to the South as well. They also worry that Bashir may continue to defy significant portions of the 2005 peace agreement.

For those languishing in Darfur, the crisis is more immediate. Millions in sprawling refugee camps are running out of resources, and Reeves says the fast-approaching rainy season may mean it's too late to spare many lives: "It's a desperate moment."

That's something most Darfur activists agree on. Shea also believes the crisis in Darfur could plunge the entire country into war, and warns: "Make no mistake, if something isn't done to save Darfur . . . the Blue Nile will turn red."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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