Good faith.” These are the words chosen by President Bush last Wednesday to describe the spirit in which Sudan’s Islamist dictatorship is negotiating an end to 21 years of catastrophic civil war.
This perplexing statement did not get much hype from the administration’s media men–for good reason. It contains not an ounce of political capital. The Left instinctively jeers, while the human-rights-conscious Right blushes.
Last April, the president was so confident in the U.S. partnership for peace with the Islamists of Khartoum that he announced that a comprehensive settlement would be finalized before the end of June 2003. The June deadline passed without an agreement. So too did the August deadline, and the October deadline, and the December deadline, and the February deadline, and now the April 2004 deadline.
Against the background of these dashed hopes, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher admits it would now be “foolhardy” to expect a quick peace. Another administration official speaks gloomily of “the difficult and stagnant pace of the talks,” and warns that the “existing atmosphere foreshadows an uninspired effort to implement the terms of an accord.”
So what is wrong with the bold Sudan peace initiative launched by President Bush in September 2001? Why is a comprehensive settlement so elusive? The biggest problem with the peace process is not a new one: the totalitarian Islamist ideology that permeates the regime of Sudan’s president, Lt. Gen. Omer Bashir.
What is Bashir’s political pedigree? In 1989, as a leading member of the extremist National Islamic Front, Bashir overthrew the elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq El Mahdi and established an Islamist regime based on terror. He declared jihad against opponents of Shariah, especially in the predominantly black, non-Muslim communities of Southern Sudan and adjacent regions.
So extensive were the crimes against humanity committed by Bashir’s armed forces that President Bush and Congress declared in the Sudan Peace Act of October 2001: “The acts of the Government of Sudan…constitute genocide as defined by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Bashir’s terror was not only directed at Sudanese citizens: Sudan also became a hub of al Qaeda’s international network, and was accordingly placed on the State Department’s list of terrorist states.
When the president courageously set in motion the current peace process, the administration had a strategically important choice to make. It could continue Clinton’s plan for regime replacement, or it could try to co-opt Sudan’s Islamists by making them America’s partners for peace. Sen. Danforth and his team opted tragically for the latter.
Like the failed Oslo Accords, the Sudan peace process has produced a fresh wave of death and destruction–but this one far surpasses the violence that engulfed the Holy Land after the Oslo bubble burst. The Sudanese government’s cease-fire offensive in the western Upper Nile produced, as I have documented, massive displacement, murder, enslavement, and destruction. For the past twelve months, Bashir’s Islamists have directed an extensive “ethnic cleansing” campaign–to quote the U.N. Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila–against restive black Muslim communities in the far west of the country. According to the latest U.N. reports, over one million civilians have been displaced, while many others have been killed or abducted and subject to gang-rape. Five U.N. fact-finders now await permission from the Sudanese government to enter the war zone to investigate what they call, in a leaked report, compelling evidence of “human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Meanwhile in the Upper Nile province, the Episcopal Bishop of Renk, Rt. Revd. Daniel Deng, reports that Bashir’s troops have razed 22 villages, displaced over 12,000 people, and killed “a great number.” The massacres, he says, take place on the basis of “direct orders from…senior army commanders.”
Such is the behavior of America’s Islamist partner for peace. Can anyone who knows Sudan be surprised that Khartoum has failed to commit itself to a sustainable peace agreement? What is astonishing is the persistence of senior policy-makers in basing U.S. policy on the utopian dream of transforming Sudan’s Islamist terrorists into respecters of democratic values. Even if they are bullied and cajoled into signing a peace agreement, it is difficult for a sober mind to conclude that this would be implemented in good faith.
President Bush has long understood that the Palestinian terrorists Yassir Arafat, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad cannot function as partners for peace in part because of a fundamental ideological disposition to wage jihad against the kufar (infidel). In Iraq and Saudi Arabia, radical Islamists have also proven to be unreliable partners for peace. Will our foreign-policy establishment now acknowledge that the Islamist rulers of Sudan have failed the test, and seek an alternative from within Sudan’s democratic opposition?
“Scorched earth tactics,” “ethnic cleansing,” and “genocide” cannot serve as the backdrop for credible U.S.-sponsored peace talks, nor can the perpetrators of these crimes be rewarded with accolades of “good faith.” There is an enormous discrepancy between what is happening in Sudan and President Bush’s vision of democracy in the Islamic world. This fact will not be lost on brutal regimes both in that region and beyond.
–John Eibner is assistant to the president of Christian Solidarity International.