A new attitude toward Sudan

Steven Lerman is a Sacramento software developer and founding member of Freedom From War

U.S. foreign policy in the last century has been long on brawn but short on brains, as demonstrated by current conflicts with Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. If citizens were more informed about these lands, perhaps we’d be less likely to support bad policies. Take, for example, the steadily worsening situation in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Sudan has existed as a nation for only 50 years. In that time, there have been 10 years of peace. The other 40 years have seen one civil war after another, often between the northern and southern regions. The United States’ 16-year obsession with dominating Iraq has made our relations with Muslim countries such as Sudan very difficult. The “business as usual” approach results in continued war.

How can the United States help Sudan make the first step toward peace, the cessation of hostilities? We imposed a trade embargo on Sudan in 1997. The economic sanctions were based on accusations that the Sudanese government supported international terrorism, destabilized neighboring governments, permitted human-rights violations and created an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. security and foreign policy. Last April, the sanctions were expanded because of the situation in Darfur.

Economic sanctions punish the population while leaving the rulers in power, and they haven’t been effective in North Korea, Cuba or anywhere else. They only isolate the population of the sanctioned states from U.S. cultural influences.

To be effective, there are a number of steps the United States can take. If the United States would withdraw from Iraq and develop non-threatening relations with Iran, this would convince other Muslim countries of our honorable intentions. We also could support the efforts of regional and international organizations (the African Union, the Arab League and the United Nations) to end hostilities in Sudan. Putting our weight behind non-governmental, non-religious international educational and development organizations would accomplish much.

Short-term solutions to Sudan’s half-century of nightmares cannot address the basic problems of this impoverished and troubled society. Working to end genocide with a country whose culture is so very different from ours is not simple, but it must be done. Just shaking a finger from a distance while withholding economic aid won’t work.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian crisis in the region worsens daily. Concerned individuals could contribute to effective international organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders and the International Red Cross.