Obama’s Sudan Shuffle

White House opposes measure intended to isolate Sudanese warlord

June 28, 2012

The Obama administration opposes a congressional measure that would end U.S. foreign assistance to any country that plays host to the genocidal Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, an internationally sanctioned war criminal who has slaughtered scores of women and children.

The amendment, which was introduced last month by longtime human rights advocate Rep. Frank Wolf (R., Va.), would ax non-humanitarian aid to any country that permits Bashir to enter.

"For the administration to oppose this is beyond me," Congressman Wolf said in an interview, noting that not a single staffer at the White House has responded to his multiple calls for action.

President Obama’s opposition is galvanizing a sizable grassroots network.

"People who are supportive of President Obama in general are starting to break ranks with him on this issue," Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, told the Free Beacon.

"It seems like anything that will ruffle the feathers of anybody is something the Obama administration doesn’t want to touch," added Medoff, who recently petitioned the administration to fight the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region by backing the Wolf amendment.

Medoff joined more than 70 international Holocaust experts in a letter addressed to National Security Council staffer Samantha Power that presses the White House to "send a clear message to the international community that Bashir, the world's most notorious perpetrator of genocide, deserves to be treated as a pariah."

However, Power and the administration have not responded to Wolf or Medoff.

Neither Power nor the White House responded to a request for comment from the Free Beacon.

"They’ve been very weak so far on Sudan, so that could be part of it," said Wolf, who has travelled to Darfur multiple times on fact-finding missions. "When has the president ever been there? None of them [in the administration] have been there."

"I don’t honestly know" what the administration is thinking, said Wolf. "There ought to be a moral message from this government and administration: If you allow him to come … you won’t get American assistance."

Wolf’s amendment is attached to the fiscal year 2013 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations, a sprawling piece of legislation that will allocate around $40.1 billion to U.S. missions abroad.

While the amendment survived a House committee vote, Wolf and the Holocaust experts are concerned the Obama administration will attempt to water it down before final passage.

"If something happens to it, it will be done in the dark of the night by the administration," Wolf said. "Whoever does pull this out, though, their fingerprints will be on it and history won’t treat them well."

Darfur activists—spurred by Obama’s passivity and a new round of violence in Sudan—have pledged to fight on behalf of Wolf’s amendment. The activists have also threatened to flex their political muscle throughout the campaign season.

"There is a larger constituency for Sudan in the U.S. at the grassroots level than for any other foreign policy issue," said Andrew Natsios, who formerly served as an administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as a Special Coordinator for International Disaster Assistance and Special Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan. "It unites the left and the right."

The White House’s silence is due to a broader policy of engaging with Bashir’s major backers, experts said.

"It seems to my colleagues and I that the administration is motivated by a reluctance to have any clash with the Russians, Chinese, or the Arab League, and those are Bashir’s supporters," Medoff explained. "The Obama administration on this issue does not like to take the lead and take a strong stance if someone will get mad, but the bottom line is that this is genocide; it should not be business as usual."

"The administration has had a policy of trying to be able to work with the Muslim Brotherhood," Natsios said. "Bashir is the manifestation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan." He pointed to the administration’s recent embrace of Egypt’s newly elected president, the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Mohamed Morsi.

That "could be the reason the U.S. government is not taking aggressive measures with Bashir," Natsios said.

Since the liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof revisited the Sudan’s ailing southern region earlier this year, activists across the political spectrum have begun to find their voice, Medoff said.

"Many Darfur advocacy groups have been reluctant to criticize the administration, but that is beginning to change thanks to Kristof," he said. "Kristof is having an impact, and the Wolf amendment provides a good vehicle for action."

If passed, the amendment could immediately isolate Bashir, who has been welcomed by at least 11 countries in the last two years.

Bashir, who is also known as the "Butcher of Khartoum," spent time in 2011 in China, Iran, Qatar, and Egypt—all of which receive millions of dollars in taxpayer aid according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"You have Bashir travelling to China," Wolf said. "They give him a red carpet!"

Just this year, Bashir has voyaged to Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq, countries that together receive almost $2.3 billion in U.S. assistance.

However, experts said they are not optimistic that Obama will take the lead.

"I’m not sure they’re paying attention to foreign affairs right now," said Natsios. "They’re focused on the president’s reelection campaign, frankly."