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Where is George Clooney?Alysha Atma Salem-News.com African Affairs Correspondent
A Republican Congressman asks the President to please pay closer attention to Sudan.
(PORTLAND, Ore.) - This morning I had the great pleasure of speaking with Congressman Frank Wolf. He was honest, forthright and had great tenacity to stand and call for change to the status quo. The point of our conversation:
I was struck by one comment; the humble tone that it took and the sincerity in which it was given…
I am but one congressman, where is George Clooney?
We both laughed at his question “Where is George Clooney?” We understand our American culture; if Clooney were to stand up and ask for change... his celebrity magnetism is far reaching. He carries with him the power of both the media attention and citizen action.
My belief is that this one congressman can inspire; he is persistent in his quest, he recognizes the urgency of the situation in Sudan and most importantly he hears the Sudanese asking for help.
The following is a copy of the letter he is sending to President Obama, I urge all of you to do the same.
May 5, 2010
The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
Washington DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
“If President Obama is ever going to find his voice on Sudan, it had better be soon.” These were the closing words of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof two weeks ago. I could not agree more with his assessment of Sudan today. Time is running short. Lives hang in the balance. Real leadership is needed.
Having first travelled to Sudan in 1989, my interest and involvement in this country has spanned the better part of 20 years. I’ve been there five times, most recently in July 2004 when Senator Sam Brownback and I were the first congressional delegation to go to Darfur.
Tragically, Darfur is hardly an anomaly. We saw the same scorched earth tactics from Khartoum in the brutal 20-year civil war with the South where more than 2 million perished, most of whom were civilians. In September 2001, President Bush appointed former Senator John Danforth as special envoy and his leadership was in fact instrumental in securing, after two and a half years of negotiations, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), thereby bringing about an end to the war. I was at the 2005 signing of this historic accord in Kenya, as was then Secretary of State Colin Powell and Congressman Donald Payne, among others. Hopes were high for a new Sudan. Sadly, what remains of that peace is in jeopardy today. What remains of that hope is quickly fading.
I was part of a bipartisan group in Congress who urged you to appoint a special envoy shortly after you came into office, in the hope of elevating the issue of Sudan. But what was once a successful model for Sudan policy is not having the desired effect today. I am not alone in this belief.
Just last week, six respected NGOs ran compelling ads in The Washington Post and Politico calling for Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice to exercise “personal and sustained leadership on Sudan” in the face of a “stalemated policy” and waning U.S. credibility as a mediator.
In that same vein, today I join that growing chorus of voices in urging you to empower Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice to take control of the languishing Sudan policy. They should oversee quarterly deputies’ meetings to ensure options for consequences are on the table.
There is a pressing and immediate need for renewed, principled leadership at the highest levels – leadership which, while recognizing the reality of the challenges facing Sudan, is clear-eyed about the history and the record of the internationally indicted war criminal at the helm in Khartoum. We must not forget who we are dealing with in Bashir and his National Congress Party (NCP). In addition to the massive human rights abuses perpetrated by the Sudanese government against its own people, Sudan remains on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. It is well known that the same people currently in control in Khartoum gave safe haven to Osama bin Laden in the early 1990’s.
I believe that this administration’s engagement with Sudan to date, under the leadership of General Gration, and with your apparent blessing, has failed to recognize the true nature of Bashir and the NCP. Any long-time Sudan follower will tell you that Bashir never keeps his promises.
The Washington Post editorial page echoed this sentiment this past weekend saying of Bashir: “He has frequently told Western governments what they wanted to hear, only to reverse himself when their attention drifted or it was time to deliver….the United States should refrain from prematurely recognizing Mr. Bashir's new claim to legitimacy. And it should be ready to respond when he breaks his word.” Note that the word was “when” not “if” he breaks his word. While the hour is late, the administration can still chart a new course.
In addition to recommending that Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice take the helm in implementing your administration’s Sudan policy, I propose the following policy recommendations:
When the administration released its Sudan policy last fall, Secretary Clinton indicated that benchmarks would be applied to Sudan and that progress would be assessed “based on verifiable changes in conditions on the ground. Backsliding by any party will be met with credible pressure in the form of disincentives leveraged by our government and our international partners.” But in the face of national elections that were neither free nor fair, in the face of continued violations of the U.N. arms embargo, in the face of Bashir’s failure to cooperate in any way with the International Criminal Court, we’ve seen no “disincentives” or “sticks” applied. This is a worst case scenario and guaranteed, if history is to be our guide, to fail.
Many in the NGO community and in Congress cautiously expressed support for the new policy when it was released, at the same time stressing that a policy on paper is only as effective as its implementation on the ground. More than six months have passed since the release of the strategy and implementation has been insufficient at best and altogether absent at worst.
During the campaign for the presidency, you said, regarding Sudan, “Washington must respond to the ongoing genocide and the ongoing failure to implement the CPA with consistency and strong consequences.” These words ring true still today. Accountability is imperative. But the burden for action, the weight of leadership, now rests with you and with this administration alone. With the referendum in the South quickly approaching, the stakes could not be higher.
The marginalized people of Sudan yearn for your administration to find its voice on Sudan – and to find it now.
Frank R. Wolf Member of Congress
Alysha Atma spends many hours working on projects that support and benefit the beleaguered people of African nations who spend way too much time off the western media's radar. This writer explains that she is a culmination of all her experiences, most importantly knowledge she says, and all that she still needs to learn; lessons of love, laughter and the extraordinary giving of both young and old. She says she has the enormous fortune of learning from the best; every person around her, and the amazing strength and fortitude of those she has never met but will always strive to listen to. "I continue to work and write because I believe in the power of community and the power of one, both contradictory to each other and yet can move together in a very powerful way. I feel a responsibility to use my place, freedoms and connections here in the US to stand up and yell for those who need my voice and actions. I have seen such strength in my fellow humans that I cannot even begin to comprehend, they have traveled distances, have gone without food, water, shelter and safety for days and weeks at a time. I have a responsibility as a fellow human to put our common humanity before anything else. Everyone deserves to look towards tomorrow, to dream of a safe future and to have a peaceful present." You can write to Alysha Atma at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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