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Deja vu about genocide. Or, why it’s okay to sleep with a racist

August 1, 2009

Yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley and the press had a little battle. Some of it might sound familiar:

[CROWLEY]:…”On that second point, the President has said that genocide has taken place in Darfur. But as General Gration himself said yesterday, our focus is not on definitions. Our focus is right now on the dire situation that we see with the people of Darfur.

QUESTION: But why is your focus not on definitions? I mean, if genocide is taking place, that unleashes a whole gamut of responses. So what you’re saying is if the genocide has taken place – but you’re not sure whether it’s still taking place because you’re – this is all under review and you’re still thinking about it?

This is – this relationship is not about any one thing. It’s about many, many things.

Whether the genocide in Darfur is/was ongoing is again an open question, and I’ve surely said elsewhere that I believe in following the numbers, not the rhetoric, on this one. And while I also believe in the importance of language, and in the reality of our obligations under international treaties, I’m more and more of the mind that answering the genocide question in Darfur isn’t as important as doing something to end the conflict. I’m not sure the designation and the needed response are related much at the moment. But I’m absolutely no expert.

All that is to say this: WTF? “The President has said that genocide has taken place in Darfur.” I’m moved. I’m also reminded, as Bec Hamilton was, of a similar press conference 15 years ago (a State department briefing, no less) in which it was acknowledge that “acts of genocide have occured” in Rwanda.

But I’m troubled by something a little more blatant: The acknowledgment by Crowley that the genocide designation — and, I think it is fair to impugn, the government’s response — is one of “many, many things” in our “relationship” with Sudan. Hmmm….

“I mean, I don’t really like the guy. He’s a total racist, but he’s got monay–he’s in oil or something–so the dinners are nice, his friends are powerful (I’m totally copying his rolodex next time I sleep over). And when he smiles, he’s kinda cute.”

That’s much too straightforward. The US “relationship” with Sudan is increasingly a turf war over who gets the third spot in a menangez trois. When Gration asks for more carrots and less sticks (“It’s not genocide,” “Sudan doesn’t sponsor terrorism,” etc), does he speak for Obama, or has he gone rogue? If he’s “freelancing,” as one journalist in the briefing put it, does that open up space for Clinton, who has lately been called “sidelined” from and “diminished” in importance regarding foreign policy?

Crowley should be able to do better than, “It’s complicated.” Well, yeah. The issue is “complex,” he insists, and different agencies and individual have different opinions on any one of the “many, many things” our “relationship” is about. But surely he could have seen this coming: Gration’s recommendations are so far afield from the usual Sudan/Darfur line that every agency in the administration should have figured out how to respond to them. I know, I know, “It was a very detailed testimony.” But if his intern didn’t get him an advanced copy of Gration’s four pages of prepared remarks, I’m pretty sure it’s time to find some new unpaid labor.

Meanwhile, there’s speculation about who’s really running the foreign policy show, Obama or Clinton. And I bet that (and not just the fact that this was a briefing at State) is one of the reasons you hear Crowley say, over and over, that the President and the Secretary of State are reviewing the policy, must come to a decision, etc.

Sam Bell thinks the dithering shows that Sudan is not a top priority for the administration. I gotta say, those emails from the Genocide Intervention Network, asking people to call in and tell Obama to get it together, are making more and more sense…

For my money, Bec Hamilton gets it exactly right:

The one thing that surely everyone from Gration to Rice, Reeves to de Waal and beyond can agree on, is that divisions among those [the administration] interacts with work to Khartoum’s advantage. We have seen it in the south, in Darfur, between the rebels, between the aid organizations who did and did not go back in, between AU members over the ICC, and now we are seeing it with Obama Administration as well. Time’s up guys. Finish the review and take a policy position.

Meanwhile, stay tuned. Someone’s gonna get He’s-Just-Not-That-Into-You-ed. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were Bashir?

Watch the press conference here (shifts to other topics at 16:05)

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Or read the transcript.

And watch this space on Monday, when I’ll quibble with Gration about sanctions. By which I mean, I’ll quote other, more important people than me suggesting he might be wrong, and Gration, who is unaware of my existence, will never know I did that. So it goes.

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