Three years ago, President George W. Bush correctly termed the crisis in Sudan a "genocide." And the nation waited for action. As hundreds of thousands of innocent people were murdered and millions more were displaced, the world waited on us for further action. Now, the president seems willing to do more than talk tough.
Bush, still trying to regain his political footing at home and abroad, has put forward tough new sanctions against the rogue regime in Sudan. His attempts to resuscitate the administration's plan to end the violence in Sudan are admirable and much welcomed. But is it enough?
Members of Congress, away for a week to rest up before tackling the annual appropriation bills and immigration reform, reacted cautiously to the White House statement. Some would like to see the administration place tougher sanctions on the Sudanese government. They want Bush to use whatever political capital he has left to get the U.N. Security Council to help hit the Sudanese government where it hurts most, its oil industry.
As Congressman Donald Payne, D-N.J., a high-ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health, stated this week: "It is simply unconscionable that Khartoum has been allowed to dictate the actions of the international community." The administration's renewed focus, Payne said, is "a small step in the right direction but a far cry from what's needed to save the people of Darfur."
To make matters worse, Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir has stalled implementation of the U.N. plan to which he agreed last November, seeking a larger African military force combined with U.N. technical and logistical support. Last week, the United Nations and African Union structured a hybrid peacekeeping plan involving at least 23,000 highly mobile troops and police "capable and ready to deter violence," who would be backed by aerial surveillance and equipment designed to move troops expeditiously. The plan awaits approval by the Sudanese government.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and other leaders on the Hill reacted swiftly to Bush's statement. Many wonder whether his new emphasis can force the government to halt killing or whether Bush is trying to score some political points before attending the G-8 Summit starting June 6 in Germany.
Sudan has weathered almost a decade of economic sanctions, bypassing previous attempts to place international pressure on its murderous practices. Unless the administration is willing to help break the partnership between China and Sudan's president, the genocide will continue.
Sudan has become wealthy from oil revenues, and China has become one of its largest investors. The Chinese are involved actively in Sudan's economy, including the construction of oil pipelines, and they have become one of Sudan's largest trading partners. During a state visit in February, China's President Hu Jintao agreed to write off $80 million in Sudanese public debt. China also promised to give Sudan an interest-free, unconditional loan of $13 million for infrastructure projects, including a new presidential palace. That's right, a new palace for a president who appears unwilling to stop the violence against his own people.
It's time the administration pressures China to stop sucking up to the Sudanese government. If China refuses to do the right thing, perhaps we all need to follow the example of Obama, who earlier this year announced that he and his wife would divest their investment portfolio of any Sudan-related financial holdings.
The Save Darfur Coalition welcomed many aspects of the president's new "get tough on Sudan" policy, but is worried that the administration will not put the resources behind efforts to monitor, track and penalize those who are still doing major business in Sudan, which includes many Chinese firms and some based here in America.
Like the crisis in Iraq, where scores of civilians are dying needlessly in a sectarian war, the situation in Darfur has become one of the most important humanitarian crises facing the international community. It requires more than a fresh new statement from the president; it also requires leadership by calling on other nations to shun Sudan and to stop feeding its oil industry.
I admire what Obama did in putting his checkbook where his heart is and divesting. We should all look at how we can impose our own sanctions against the Sudanese government. To identify investments or retirement funds doing business in Sudan, use the mutual-fund screening tool on the Web site of the Sudan Divestment Task Force (www.sudandivestment.org/screener.asp). Obama's team has stated that it's one of the most reliable and acceptable ways to screen for Sudan-related holdings. It's the least we can do.
It's too late to save the hundreds of thousands already dead, but we can still make a difference in the lives of those displaced and perhaps save others from further harm. I'm glad the president is willing to do more than talk tough, but it's time for everyone to start walking the walk and divesting completely from Sudan.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, and former campaign manager for Al Gore.