THE PLANK JULY 12, 2009
I'm always skeptical when someone criticizes an Obama official for "naively favoring carrots over sticks" in our dealings with another country. Too often, such complaints are cover for demagogues who consider any negotiation appeasement. Yet it's becoming harder and harder to deny that this is a more or less undistorted description of the approach being taken by Barack Obama's Darfur envoy, Major General Scott Gration.
What Gration, and the United States, want Khartoum to do at this point is relatively straightforward: in the short term, to readmit the humanitarian aid groups that were expelled after President Bashir was indicted for war crimes (only a few with limited capacity have been allowed to return, under different names); and in the long term, to accept a peace deal that lets Darfur's refugees return home, and guarantees them physical security and political representation.
The question is how to persuade the Sudanese government to come around on these issues. And the general consensus among Sudan watchers is that sticks work better than carrots. As a joint statement by Sudan policy groups recently put it, "[T]he Sudanese government responds much more directly to pressures than they do to incentives."
Here's why I'm worried Gration is getting the balance wrong.