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By Barry Rubin
You might not care about Sudan but Sudan cares about you. Here's a dictator who--as he murders his own people--openly brags: America is on my side. That interpretation of what the Obama Administration's policies mean is likely to spread.
This is a consequence of a foreign policy that can be summed up as: being tough on friends and soft on enemies. This theme reduces American credibility, loses or weakens friends, and emboldens tyrants. To demonstrate this, a number of examples can be given.
In the enemies' category: Iran, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela are most obvious. Bolivia, Brazil, China, Turkey, Lebanon, and Pakistan--countries whose current rulers often aren't helpful and side with America's enemies fairly often--also rate special treatment. In the friends category: Honduras and Colombia, Israel, more than a dozen ex-Soviet states and satellites fearing Russia, and India, among others can be listed. Even Western European countries are getting worried about this pattern.*
But what about Sudan? Here's one of the world's most ruthless dictatorships, accused of genocide and certainly guilty of mass murder. Last October I wrote an article prophetically entitled, "How and Why Engagement with Sudan Shows Precisely What’s Wrong with Obama Administration Foreign Policy." and in the previous month, "The Obama Administration Finds Another Dictatorship to Appease; Makes Friends with Sudan."
Now, Nicholas Kristof, who generally is quite sympathetic to Obama's foreign policy, reminds us that all these fears have been realized. He explains: "I’m afraid that Sudan is getting the message that the Obama administration won’t stand up to Khartoum if it doesn’t honor the referendum in southern Sudan."
“Until he reached the White House, President Obama repeatedly insisted the U.S. apply more pressure on Sudan so as to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur and elsewhere. Yet as president, Mr. Obama and his aides have caved, leaving Sudan gloating at American weakness. President Bashir, al-Bashir of Sudan, a man wanted for crimes against humanity in Darfur, has been celebrating...telling a rally in the Blue Nile region: ‘Even America is becoming a member [of my political party]. No one is against our will.’ Memo to Mr. Obama, when a man who has been charged with crimes against humanity tells the world that America is in his pocket, it’s time to review your policy.”
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked about this on Meet the Press she said something truly remarkable:
"I can’t take anything seriously that Bashir says. He is an indicted war criminal. The United States is very committed to seeing him brought to justice."
She then gave a detailed defense of U.S. policy which Kristof quickly pronounces impressive. The basic theme is that since the United States went easy on Bashir he, too, has lightened up a bit. I don't agree, since Clinton's explanation left out the fact that there could be an alternative policy.
But wait a minute. Clinton is missing an extremely important point. When foreign dictators brag that you are in their pocket they aren't just making propaganda, they may actually believe it. It should be a matter of utmost concern for the United States that aggressive and murderous dictators think they don't have to worry about U.S. policy because it is so soft, appeasing, agreeing with their own world view on several points, and failing to take real international leadership.
And when that happens dictators arrest and murder more people, commit more aggression against their neighbors, and trample on U.S. interests. This is International Affairs 101 but many people seem to need a refresher course.
Clinton and Obama better start paying attention to what Ahmadinejad of Iran, and Putin of Russia, and Chavez of Venezuela, and their counterparts in lots of countries are saying in this regard. They should also pay attention to friendly leaders who express their horror in private, or even in public, about the lack of strong and determined U.S. leadership. Because those basic attitudes are going to determine the world's future for the next decade or more.
Note: *Even this administration is wary of being nice to Cuba and North Korea.Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.