The grim calculus of international policies and politics
By Eric Reeves
Towards the end of her long chapter on the Rwanda genocide in “A Problem From Hell” (2002), Samantha Power renders a moment from this terrible international failure that has long haunted me. It is both unforgettable in its implications and points to far too much that is unforgivable. The moment occurred in late July 1994 as the U.S. under then-President Bill Clinton finally managed to step away from its absurd sophistries and the moral cowardice that had defined American policy during the horrific months of carnage, which were at this point essentially over. Prior to the deployment of 200 U.S. troops to protect the Kigali airport, the UN force commander of UNAMIR, Lt.-General Rómeo Dallaire, received a phone call:
A U.S. officer was wondering about precisely how many Rwandans had died. Dallaire was puzzled and asked why he wanted to know. “We are doing our calculations back here,” the U.S. officer said, “and one American casualty is worth about 85,000 Rwandan dead.” (page 381, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide)
I see no reason to doubt Dallaire’s recollection, offered less than eight years after the events of spring 1994—and certainly not having met with Dallaire and encountered the searing authority and detail of his soul-destroying memoire, Shake Hands with the Devil: Humanity’s Failure in Rwanda. Moreover, what struck me as such an obscene calculus on the part of the U.S. military in 1994 no longer seems so strange. Indeed, in one form or another, it governs current actions by the U.S. military—in all its dimensions and guises—every day. The assessment of civilian casualty risks in U.S. drone strikes on suspected terrorist locations is only one example. No, what seems strange to me now is that any U.S. military officer would venture to be so specific about a calculus that included such a ratio: “one American casualty is worth about 85,000 Rwandan dead.”
Perhaps the savage cynicism in such a calculus was simply too conspicuously in evidence. Certainly Susan Rice, then young in her government career, came to regret an equally cynical comment—recorded by Power in the same chapter, about actually “doing something,” even daring to use the word “genocide” (this in late April of 1994):
…Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC…stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] elections?” Lieutenant Colonel [Tony] Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” (page 359)
[Power’s paragraph concludes: “Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, ‘If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.’” – Yes…yes indeed…]
What I attempt here is an overview analysis of the quantitative implications that follow from continuation of such a ghastly and cynical calculus in other forms, specifically the forms it takes in the Sudan policies of various international actors of consequence. For in fact, this cynicism lies behind the disingenuousness, mendacity, and deliberate ignorance of so much that defines the Sudan policies of Western nations, the UN, the African Union, the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Conference. It is finally the same cynicism as experienced by General Dallaire and given voice by Susan Rice.
The Savage Calculus at Work
The calculus I adumbrate is certainly not peculiarly American. European countries, particularly the UK and Germany, are desperate to stem the flow of African refugees to the European continent; and they have calculated that the benefits to stanching this flow justifies a policy of rapprochement with the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime in Khartoum. To be sure, European policy is also animated by commercial and other economic interests. Europe has never seen an obligation to impose economic sanctions on the Khartoum regime, even when in 2004 the Parliament of the European Union, almost unanimously, declared that the actions of that regime in Darfur were “tantamount to genocide.” Economic and commercial interests have long prevailed, despite unctuous public pronouncements of concern by various European leaders.
So conspicuous has the hypocrisy of Europe been that French banking giant BNP Paribas was emboldened, in the interest of huge profits, to abandon all concern for any atrocities committed by the Khartoum regime. In doing so it deliberately chose to violate U.S. financial sanctions on a massive scale—from within the U.S. itself. This led to the 2015 criminal conviction of BNP Paribas by the U.S. Justice Department—for violations so flagrant that the Deputy Attorney General described BNP Paribas as Khartoum’s “central banker” abroad, thereby insulating the regime from the most serious consequences of the most significant element of U.S. sanctions. There was no moral calculus at all—no regard whatsoever for the destructive consequences of providing “financial save haven” to a regime has engaged in brutal, finally genocidal counter-insurgency wars on Sudan’s peripheries since 1989. The details for the years 1997 – 2007 are outlined in extraordinary detail in a class action civil suit filed on behalf of Sudanese victims (in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, Case 1:16-cv-03228-AJN; full text of the Complaint is available upon request).
The Sudanese Economy Without BNP Paribas as de facto Central Banker
The Sudan policies of most European governments are guided by the willfully ignorant and self-serving economic “calculation” that somehow the people of Sudan will be helped if a savagely repressive, self-enriching, and genocidal regime is preserved. The evidence to the contrary here is simply overwhelming and makes nonsense of any such calculation as it informs European policies, whatever fig-leaf of “country concern” is provided. The realities are that the regime continues to function conspicuously as an extremely powerful kleptocracy, with policies of self-enrichment that are now badly undermining the country’s economy (see http://sudanreeves.org/2015/12/09/7041/).
That economy is in an irreversible nose-dive, a collapse catalyzed by the desperately inadequate investment policies of the past decade and more, indeed since oil revenues began pouring into Khartoum in 1999. There has been no meaningful investment in agriculture; the sector that should be the backbone of the economy is collapsing, even the famous Gezira Scheme. At the same time, severe water shortages are constantly reported from around the country; these are but one reflection of the regime’s refusal to invest in infrastructure projects than benefit the general population of Sudan. The current, widespread outbreak of deadly cholera in Sudan can be traced directly to the failure to provide adequate supplies of clean water, especially in places like Port Sudan, where the minority Beja population is so numerous. Nor was any adequate refining capacity built during the years flush with petro-dollars; now Sudan is forced to import large quantities of refined petroleum products, including cooking fuel, prices for which have skyrocketed for a number of years.
In refusing to plan for the loss of oil revenues that came with the 2011 secession of South Sudan, Khartoum set in motion a series of cascading economic crises. Foremost among them was the sharp decline in the influx of hard currency. Without the foreign exchange currency (Forex) that had been generated by large oil exports, Khartoum has been unable to purchase sufficient quantities of critical items from abroad, including not only cooking fuel, but urgently needed medicines, and even wheat to make into flour for bread, the staple food for many. Bread prices have also seen an enormous spike, and there are severe shortages as well as long lines for purchase. Broader inflation is likely in the range of 50 percent, and perhaps higher.
There are no reliable inflation figures from either the regime or the IMF, the latter another corrupt actor in international policy views of Sudan. In an October 2013 “IMF News Release,” Edward Gemayel, the IMF’s Mission Chief for Sudan, declared that: "Sudan has a long track record of implementing sustainable economic policies” (http://www.4-traders.com/news/IMF-International-Monetary-Fund-Press-Release-Sudan-Meeting-of-the-Technical-Working-Group-on-E--17345158/). Preposterous and demonstrably false declarations such as this have served the Khartoum regime well for the past two decades. But economic realities are not hard to discern, despite the mendacity of men like Gemayel.
How, we must wonder, would Gemayel characterize the current military and security budget for the Khartoum regime as demonstrating “a long track record of implementing sustainable economic policies,” particularly in light of the allocation percentages and the final remark by President al-Bashir? —
"Sudan allocates $1.8 billion for defense in 2017" | Sudan Tribune, December 23, 2016 (KHARTOUM) - Sudan has appropriated more than 29 billion pounds (SDG) (about $1.8 billion) to defense and security which represents the largest single spending item in the 2017 budget. According to Sudan’s 2017 budgetary estimates seen by Sudan Tribune, 5 billion pounds have been allocated to the sovereign sector while 2.3 billion was appropriated for agriculture and forests spending. Other budget spending items includes 1.9 billion for the economic sector, 5.5 million for culture and information, 5.3 million for health, 828 million for education, 1.7 billion for minerals and 1.7 billion for transport, roads and bridges.
It is noteworthy that the combined education and health spending represents about 3% of spending on defence and security.
The Sudanese army has been fighting Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/North (SPLM-N) rebels in Blue Nile and South Kordofan since 2011 and a group of armed movements in Darfur since 2003. Sudan’s security apparatus has expanded vastly and military expenditure continued to rise as the government relies increasingly on militias such as the Popular Defense Forces (PDF) and the Rapid Support Forces (SRF) in military operations.
Last year, Sudan’s President Omer al-Bashir said, “If 100% of the state’s budget was allocated to the army to secure the country, then that is still not enough.”
Given such budgetary priorities, it is hardly surprising that the value of the Sudanese Pound—the best barometer of the general availability of hard currency (inside and outside the Central Bank of Sudan)—has been declining precipitously for several years, reaching record low after record low—all thoroughly reported. Only cash infusions from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States keeps the economy from utter catastrophe. These infusions are seen as the necessary cost of preserving estrangement between Khartoum and Iran, formerly the regime’s “key strategic ally” (see leaked minutes from meeting of senior regime military and security officials, August 31, 2014: http://sudanreeves.org/2014/10/22/new-and-exceedingly-accurate-translation-into-e/).
If Europe, the UN, the IMF and others would only look honestly at the economic policies of the NIF/NCP regime, going back to the military coup that brought it to power in 1989, they would of course see that whatever putative gains may be realized by normalizing relations with this junta, the policies of rapprochement only provide support for economic self-destruction destruction and ongoing genocidal tyranny. The regime feels emboldened because of the widespread, deliberate ignoring of news from Sudanese news sources, news that if taken seriously would interfere with the counter-productive international policies now firmly in place.
So spectacular is the ignorance required to justify European policy views, that it is finally not credible: what we are witnessing is not true ignorance (although there is plenty of this) but “ignorance by selectivity.” By picking and choosing which reports seem to justify current policies, the Europeans have effectively created their state of ignorance. The three major human rights reports on Sudan of the past two years by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have gained no real traction, despite the horrific atrocities documented on the basis of countless interviews conducted by researchers for these reports.
In the end the conclusion is inevitable: the European economic and refugee policies in place and being implemented are simply the European version of a statement made by the U.S. Special Envoy for the Sudan, Princeton Lyman, in December 2011:
“We [the Obama administration] do not want to see the ouster of the [Khartoum] regime, nor regime change. We want to see the regime carrying out reform via constitutional democratic measures.” (Interview with Asharq al-Awsat, December 3, 2011 | http://english.aawsat.com/2011/12/article55244147/asharq-al-awsat-talks-to-us-special-envoy-to-sudan-princeton-lyman)
The U.S. Calculus for Sudan
In the case of the U.S., at least since the terrorist attacks of September 11, Sudan policy has increasingly reflected a trade-off between, on the one hand, the putative value of Khartoum’s providing counter-terrorism intelligence and, on the other, the knowledge that in providing critical diplomatic cover for the survival of the NIF/NCP regime, the U.S. is complicit in the repression and atrocity crimes of that regime.
Certainly any survey of what has transpired between Lyman’s interview of December 2011 and the present, certainly in the way of political “reform,” makes clear how preposterous his assertion was. Also clear are the brutal consequences of his deliberately false suggestion about what the NIF/NCP regime is capable of. For of course Lyman was not so ignorant as to have believed that the regime could actually preside over “reform [of Sudan] via constitutional measures.” Rather, it was a statement made to preserve the status quo in relations between Khartoum and the Obama administration, which was continuing policies begun under the Bush administration and which have been consistently defined by demands from the U.S. intelligence community. Khartoum, as a senior regime official recently boasted, now is home to one of the largest and most important U.S. intelligence listening posts in the Middle East.
To put the matter in terms that would be familiar to General Dallaire, Lyman was implicitly declaring that such a trade-off was “worth it” in terms of American lives saved from potential terrorists threats, working on the problematic assumption that Khartoum could help us avert such threats. Lyman made this calculation on behalf of the Obama administration, knowing that he was speaking about a regime that would continue to impose catastrophic humanitarian embargoes on many hundreds of thousands of Sudanese civilians, embargoes that continue to this day; a regime that would mercilessly and continuously bomb civilians in various regions of the country; a regime that soon after Lyman’s statement would replace the Janjaweed of Darfur with the much better armed and organized militia force known as the Rapid Support Forces wreaking even more terrible havoc; and a regime that would be perfectly capable of using chemical weapons, as it did during the 2016 military campaign of extermination in the Jebel Marra region of Darfur:
(“Scorched Earth, Poisoned Air: Sudanese Government Forces Ravage Jebel Marra, Darfur,” Amnesty International | 109 pages; released September 29, 2016).
And as for political “reform,” what we have seen in Sudan during the five intervening years is a dramatic growth in repression, increasing numbers of arrests and torturing of human rights advocates (singling our Darfuri students in the greater Khartoum area in particular), a severe curtailment of the press, the killing of civilians in September 2013 by security forces that had been issued “shoot to kill” orders—and a re-issuing of the threat to institute such orders by President Omar al-Bashir in December 2016.
Lyman and the Obama administration knew, could not possibly have been ignorant, of the implications of the deal that Lyman was announcing with his interview statement of December 2011. Khartoum, of course, readily accepted the deal—one that has progressed to the point where, in its closing days, the Obama administration decided to lift economic sanctions on Khartoum, a decision subject to review in July 2017 but which the ignorant and malignant Trump administration is hardly likely to reverse, should it even taken notice of the obligation of review—an increasingly unlikely prospect, given the chaos evident in every quarter of the new administration. Khartoum’s recent boast, reported by Sudan Tribune, January 31, 2017—
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) office in Khartoum is the largest one in the Middle East, said the Sudanese intelligence General Hanafi Abdallah, to give an idea about the importance of intelligence cooperation between the two countries—
—even if somewhat hyperbolic, reflects confidence that the U.S. will not dare surrender the relatively recent activation of its Khartoum-based intelligence listening post.
In lifting sanctions on Khartoum, the Obama administration was so eager to justify its decision that it resorted to permitting outright falsehoods to be deployed. One apt response to the decision came from Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, who called the decision simply "inexplicable”:
“There has been no progress on human rights. Sudan’s government has failed to make progress on core benchmarks, from its ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur and other conflict zones, to its extensive repression of independent voices, [Lefkow said].” (Reuters, Washington DC | January 13, 2017)
But most conspicuous among these falsehoods was the claim by Obama administration Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who declared in her final press interview that there had been a “sea change” of improvement in humanitarian access in Sudan. This is patently false, as the State Department has privately made clear. Conspicuously, there has been no public explanation—from any official of either the Obama or Trump administration—of how this claim comports with facts on the ground in Sudan. It is a falsehood that stands as the official view of the U.S. government.
Here we should note that this means a correction has not been offered by key former officials of the Obama administration, including Power herself and National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who is a former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and knows Sudan well—and knows that Power’s claim is deeply and consequentially false. Why hasn’t she spoken out to offer a correction? And why haven’t we heard from Gayle Smith, formerly a senior official for African Affairs in Obama’s National Security Council and who was Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development until January 20, a week after Power’s press interview? She knows perhaps better than anyone in the former Obama administration how false Power’s claim is: why has she said nothing? Why has she offered no correction?
This is hardly a small matter. Khartoum—which knows perfectly well that it has done nothing to earn the praise that it has been accorded (a “see change” in improved humanitarian access)—will prove only more intransigent in truly improving access for relief workers and supplies. Particularly hard hit will be the areas of the Nuba Mountains that remain, to this very day, under Khartoum’s savagely cruel humanitarian embargo. An experienced and highly knowledgeable humanitarian on the ground in the Nuba conveyed to me his reaction to Power’s “sea change” claim:
“…there’s been absolutely no change in humanitarian access [in the Nuba Mountains—suffering under Khartoum’s humanitarian embargo for over five and a half years]. Not a single grain of sorghum nor one tablet of medicine has entered Nuba from any of the usual humanitarian agencies.” (email from Dr. Tom Catena, the only surgeon operating in the Nuba Mountains; received January 17, 2017)
In an email received today (February 12, 2017) Dr. Catena offered a grim update on the consequences of the humanitarian embargo:
“The situation here is still the same. Everyone had a poor harvest and is running short of food. The food available in the market is unaffordable for all but a few people. It’s going to be a long year.”
As this communication makes clear, the consequences of Khartoum’s denial of humanitarian access may well be measured in thousands of lives lost, perhaps tens of thousands if we bear in mind the humanitarian embargo on large parts of Blue Nile and many locations in Darfur. A very recent “Flash Update” from the “South Kordofan/Blue Nile Coordinating Unit” (#14 | February 11, 2017) offers a very grim account that comports all too fully with Dr. Catena’s:
"Deteriorating Food Security Outlook Following Poor Harvest Assessment"
The recently released Food Security Monitoring Unit (FSMU) report for the period of December 2016 describes a “bleak food security outlook” based on declining harvests compared to the same period last year. According to an early harvest assessment and a decrease in rainfall reported by FEWSNet*, there is a strong indication the region will experience a decline in food production in 2017. This will further increase strain on traditional coping methods and indicates an early onset to the annual lean season…
[Famine Early Warning Systems Network and the US Geological Survey release satellite data on regional evapotranspiration and deviation from historical norms. This measure, the Evapotranspiration Anomaly Index, is a reliable proxy indicator for rainfall. As facilities to directly measure rainfall throughout the area are not available this serves as the best measure for seasonal rains.]
Presumably this, too, is all part of the Obama administration’s Sudan policy “calculus.” For if Khartoum believes that the Obama administration has in fact credited the regime with what it has not done, this powerfully diminishes the incentive for a supremely canny regime to meet the supposed “benchmark criterion” for keeping sanctions lifted (one of only two meaningful criteria in President Obama’s Executive Order lifting sanctions). Moreover, it seems extremely unlikely that the character of humanitarian access in Sudan will become an issue during the confused opening months of a Trump administration, an administration that seems incapable of appointing anyone to any position who will taken seriously this critical issue, with life and death implications for many hundreds of thousands of people.
The Ultimate Cynicism
The countries of the West—particularly in North America and Europe—like to think that they are morally superior to such ruthlessly and destructively self-interested actors as Russia and China—and increasingly the African Union, especially its Peace and Security Council. They like to think that the UN would function effectively but for the obstructionist roles of Russia and China on the UN Security Council. But Western “outrage” at the undeniable obstructionism on the part of Russia and China is largely belied when the same “outraged” countries engage in policies that in their way are all too similarly self-interested, offering Sudan only a veneer of moral concern.
The U.S. Criteria for Continuing with Lifting of Sanctions
Besides humanitarian access, the benchmarks for Khartoum to meet in maintaining a suspension of U.S. sanctions are three:
 No longer supporting the maniacal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which has been reliably reported in the Kafia Kingi enclave—part of South Sudan but controlled militarily by Khartoum; for years Khartoum used the LRA as a fantastically brutal proxy in its war with the South and subsequently—this as a means of gaining leverage with Uganda; the LRA appears to be in its death throes in any event, and even if it were to attempt to reconstitute itself as a consequential threat in the region, it would take much more than six months to do.
 No longer interfering militarily in the affairs of South Sudan. Although such military support was to have ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of January 2005, until very recently Khartoum was assisting so-called “Other Armed Groups” (OAG) in South Sudan. This has been conspicuous and well-documented and includes assistance after January 2014 to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/In Opposition, one side in the extraordinarily destructive civil war that has wracked South Sudan for the past four years. Given the self-destruction South Sudan is inflicting upon itself, it costs Sudan very little to commit to “non-interference.”
 Ending violence in Darfur and the Two Areas (South Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile). Aerial bombardment of civilians is highlighted as a form of violence that will be closely monitored; and there has been a very significant diminishment of this indiscriminate and particularly brutal form of counter-insurgency warfare over the past six months (although for a historical view of Khartoum’s bombing practices see | http://wp.me/p45rOG-Pv/). But ending violence is supposed to include a halting of new military offensives in the regions being monitored, and to understand what levels of violence persists requires taking reporting by Sudanese news organizations seriously, something that the Obama administration has seemed determined to avoid. And it requires taking seriously the September 29, 2016 report (see above) by Amnesty International, which records atrocity crimes that occurred during the 180-day “look back” period: this was the period of time supposedly monitored in making the decision to lift sanctions.
None of the evidence available today suggests that these criteria will be the basis for any sort of honest assessment of Khartoum’s behavior over the coming five months: the calculus is not favorable, and the people of Sudan will be the ones who pay the price.
Eric Reeves, Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights