Monday, August 3, 2009

"Hi, glad to meet you, my name is Mr. Platitude..., er General Gration"

From a transcript of General Gration's comments comes this gem:
Past peace negotiations have faltered, and we have learned from these experiences. We are collaborating with the African Union and United Nations joint chief mediator, Djibrill Bassolé, to ensure that the peace process is inclusive and that it adequately addresses the grievances of the people of Darfur. We are engaging with the fragmented movements in Darfur to help them unite and to bring them to the peace table with one voice. We are working with Libya and Egypt to end the proxy war between Chad and Sudan that has ignited further conflict. We are supporting the full deployment of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) as a critical mechanism for protecting Darfuri civilians. We are determined to work toward a peaceful Darfur where displaced families can resettle and reestablish their homes. We must act without delay—innocent Darfuris have suffered for too long. [emphasis added]
Hmmm. What learning is embodied in these platitudes? The peace negotiations have always been a collaboration with the AU and UN and international partners. From the AU website is this description of the 23 August 2004 meetings...
The Sudanese Peace Talks resumed today, in Abuja, Nigeria, under the auspices of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Current Chairman of the African Union (AU), President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and in the presence of President Alpha Omar Konaré, the Chairperson of the AU Commission. Also present were President Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo, Chair of ECCAS, President Idriss Deby of Chad, and the representatives of the Governments of Libya, Uganda, Ghana and Eritrea, as well as the Secretary General of the Arab League, and the representatives of the UN Secretary General, EU, US, France and the UK.

The DPA talks included both SLA and JEM and even at times other fragmentary forces. The U.S. has never supported one movement over the others, at least not to my knowledge. Was there a time when the U.S. as a matter of policy did not pretend to work with Libya and Egypt to end the Chad-Sudan proxy wars? Was it U.S. policy to obstruct UNAMID deployment? Was the U.S. previously against working towards a peaceful Darfur? I'm so glad we have learned from the "faltered" peace negotiations. Yes, it is possible to imagine a U.S. policy very different from these platitudes, but if there is no change in policy why can't Gration just say "I am happy to tell you that none of our usual platitudes have changed, nor has there been any change in substance, but if you care to look carefully, you may detect slight changes in wording that indicate that if something good happens in the near future we will attribute it to our change in wording."

And then, I love it, the viable word enters the transcript:
Our strategy seeks to help the South improve its security capacity to defend against external and internal threats while striving to ensure a potentially independent Southern Sudan is politically and economically viable.
He must not be reading my blog. And, why should he! But I'd love to know what his criterion is for deciding whether a country is viable. I admit I can't really even imagine what these people have in mind. Would Los Angeles be a viable country? How about the Navajo Nation? Would Iowa be viable? I wonder if Burma is viable. And what makes Puntland viable? "Calling Mr. Platitude, Mr. Platitude to the white telephone please." The presumption is that there is some kind of threshold of viability that can be ensured through some kinds of strivings. Probably what he means is some kind of statistical likelihood of declining. But probably he has no conception of the counterfactual against which to measure that decline. Would a non-viable country be a viable region? Boggles the mind!

And then the "have it both ways plus some weirdness" department:
We also seek an end to Sudan’s efforts to weaken or marginalize opponents abroad or align with negative state and non-state actors.
But publicly Gration says that Sudan is a model cooperator in anti-terrorism, so what are these "efforts" to "align with negative state...actors." And WTF could a "negative state actor be"? I'm obviously behind on my jargon. Nattering nabob of negativism indeed.

The he concludes:
As you can see, we are aiming high, thinking big, and expecting much. We do so because we believe innovative concepts and ideas, coupled with detailed planning and sufficient resources, are the only way to achieve big results.
And it would be funny, because there is no evidence in the prepared testimony of any of that... just evidence of decent platitudes. But it's not funny... just disappointing.

In the spirit of constructive criticism, how about instead of the platitudes some measurable goals:
1) Pilot program of internationally monitored and assisted return of 100,000 IDPs, with Sudan government guarantees and verification of demobilization of local janjawid, internationally monitored resolution of Arab squatter claims to Masalit/Fur/Zaghawa homesteads, compensation (paid by government of Sudan) of some reasonable resettlement sum (say $200 per person), etc.
2) Six months of normal press freedom and freedom of association, where no newspapers are confiscated, no editors harassed, no fines handed down, no opposition rallies disrupted, etc.
3) President al-Bashir publicly present, before a panel of human rights lawyers and the multi-partisan subcommittee of the National Assembly, in a respectful and sober environment, his defense against specific accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity that are contained in the ICC arrest warrant application, and also present his administration's "official" history of the 2003-2005 Darfur conflict, the 1990s Nuba Mountains cleansing campaign, and the 1998 Bahr al-Ghazal famine. Wouldn't this be a clear indication of the regime's willingness to "turn the page" on the secrecy and belligerence that have characterized the past two decades? Isn't that what it means to "make unity attractive"... to at least pretend to tell the truth (in detail, not platitudes) about what happened that resulted in the deaths of so many?

I think everyone knows the al-Bashir regime will never agree to these benchmarks. It is useful to ask why not. Are they outlandish? Does anyone imagine a viable ;-) Sudan that doesn't at some point in time implement all three?

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