THE PLANK DECEMBER 4, 2009
Yesterday, Obama's Sudan envoy Scott Gration testified before a House foreign affairs subcommittee. They were not happy with him.
Unlike Gration's last appearance before Congress—in which Senate committee chairman John Kerry made it clear that he supported the envoy—today's firing line of seven or eight House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health members was almost uniformly hostile. Planted in his seat, arms frozen uncomfortably at chest level, Gration listened as one after another took issue with our lax enforcement of sanctions, escalating proxy violence by Khartoum, and our approach to human rights offenders.
Chairman Donald Payne, who originally convinced Congress to declare the situation in Darfur a "genocide," said that "for some, our policy is too focused on punitive measures. I beg to differ." He complained that Gration has repeatedly put off appearing before the subcommittee and took the unusual step of inviting Senator Sam Brownback to bounce Gration off the walls. Brownback, who doesn't seem keen on any type of negotiation with Sudan's government at all, spent much of his time forcing Gration to admit that he's been engaging with the perpetrator of an ongoing genocide. (During the Obama administration's policy review, Gration opposed calling the situation in Darfur an "ongoing genocide," but he lost that battle. The official U.S. policy now is that there is a genocide ongoing—even though that's not literally true anymore—and Gration is stuck mouthing a formula he doesn't buy.) So Brownback interrogated Gration like a pissed-off parent, sinking the entire chamber into a pained silence with the following exchange (at 47:50):
Brownback: President Bashir, he has participated in a genocide in Sudan, is that correct?
Gration: Sir, he was the president of the country during the time that the genocide took place and, ah, therefore he would have participated.
Brownback: So he has led the genocide in Darfur?
Gration: His government was responsible for that, and he was the leader of the government, therefore he would have done it.
Brownback: President Bashir is an indicted war criminal, by the ICC.
Gration: He is. (Silence. Looks down at table.)
Brownback: Are there in the leadership of the government of Sudan, individuals you're dealing with or negotiating with?
Gration: I'm negotiating with individuals that are in high-level positions in the government of Sudan.
Brownback: You're dealing with a government that is conducting an ongoing genocide, is that correct?
Gration: (Pause.) I'm dealing with the government.
Brownback: That is conducting an ongoing genocide in Sudan?
Gration: (Pause.) I'm dealing with the government in an effort to end the conflict, in an effort to end gross human rights abuses.
Brownback: I understand your objective. I'm asking you, are you dealing with a government that is conducting an ongoing genocide in Sudan.
Gration: I'm dealing with--as I said, I'm dealing with the government in Khartoum, of Sudan.
Brownback: Which is currently conducting a genocide in Sudan, is that correct?
Gration: That's correct.
Brownback: Should we have dealt with Charles Taylor, who is an indicted war criminal?
Gration: I have not been involved with Charles Taylor.
Brownback: Should we have negotiated with the Serbian leader Karadzic, the butcher of Bosnia?
Gration: I have not been involved in that situation.
Boxed in by the Obama administration's own policy, Gration just took the abuse (although he walked up to Brownback and engaged him in a pretty public argument—which unfortunately I couldn't make out—after the hearing). It was clear that Gration has worked on his p.r. skills since first becoming an envoy; at least this time he kept himself from releasing any frustrated broadsides on behalf of the Sudanese government.
But the substance of Gration's answers was still deeply unsatisfying. When asked how the administration will develop benchmarks for progress from the Sudanese government, Gration replied that he'd developed "a stoplight chart, but we're taking it to the next level" a line he's used before—akin to saying "we've put together a spreadsheet" and then trailing off into generalities. Pressed for examples of concrete results we've seen from Khartoum, Gration was only able to name three things: readmitting some of the expelled humanitarian aid groups, progress toward a united negotiating front for Darfur rebel groups, and a reduction of proxy violence on the border with Chad. (One of those has nothing to do with Khartoum's actions anyway.) And when asked by Congressman Chris Smith about his repeated unwillingness to brief Congress on the contents of the "classified annex" to the Sudan Policy Review--a section of the policy that is, in theory, supposed to detail the sticks and carrots the administration is using on Sudan--Gration said he'd never heard anything about "the, quote, annex" and that "there is no annex," promising instead to give the committee a look at some NSC working papers on the issue. All in all, it didn't seem reassuring to the House members, and it certainly wasn't to someone watching from the press gallery.