Sunday, May 13, 2007

Weekly Commentary - Khartoum's Budding Affair with Washington

Amnesty International has issued a report detailing weapons transfers from China and Russia to Sudan, which it alleges have in turn been used in perpetuating the conflict in Darfur (China and Russia unconvincingly deny the claims).

While the U.S. has its own dogs in the region (see the Bush Administration's recent pledge to provide $14 billion in "training and equipment" to Kenya, or the case of Ethiopia, "a US ally in the war on terror," whose recent invasion of Somalia has sent the country "descending back into the violence and chaos seen in the previous 16 years," and caused the displacement of more people "in the past two months than anywhere else in the world," according to the UN), it is also becomingly increasingly apparent that Washington is cultivating strategic relationships within the Sudanese government.

By now, U.S. intelligence ties with members of Sudan's ruling Bashir regime are fairly well-known - even the mainstream media have reported on them - though strangely this knowledge of the CIA having "sent an executive jet" to "ferry" Sudan's Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Salah Abdallah Gosh to Washington for "secret meetings" has aroused little in the way of soul-searching by those who congratulate the U.S. for its "good work" in handling the crisis in Darfur.

No matter that Gosh used to be "Osama bin Laden's handler" or is "very likely a war criminal whose policies are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Darfurians."

Yet it appears that the U.S.-Sudanese alliance may be taking an even more nefarious turn.

The State Department’s Congressional 2008 budget justification was released in February and it includes some interesting indications of White House policy towards the government of Sudan.

For the first time in at least the last several years, there is a request for "Foreign Military Financing" to Sudan (see p. 58 of the 2008 request; Sudan is not listed as a recipient on p. 224 of the 2007 budget justification). Additionally, the funding requests for International Military Education and Training (IMET) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) are significantly increased from last year’s requests (which itself was the first time at least since 2005 that funding for these programs was requested for Sudan).

Altogether, while the U.S. continues to retain punitive measures against the Sudanese government as a whole (e.g., U.S. sanctions against Sudan, and maintaining Sudan’s position on the list of state sponsors of terrorism), these requests speak to an increasingly prominent policy of cultivating allies in the Sudanese military and intelligence community. The 2007 budget justification observed that:
The United States will maintain its strong support for countries on the front lines in the War on Terrorism, especially Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Sudan... [p. 18; emphasis added]
Which raises what should be an obvious question - how about fully funding the African Union forces in Darfur? This might afford them such luxuries as actually being able to pay their soldiers (it's been a "few months" since that has happened, as the AU spokesman Noureddine Mezni recounts).

Returning to the Amnesty report, there is plenty to condemn China and Russia for, but it requires considerable guile to assert that those two countries serve as Sudan's "two vetoes at this Security Council" against a UN deployment in the country, without considering Washington's own liaisons with Khartoum, and failures to fund the AU or take any meaningful steps to halt the violence in Darfur.

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