Sudan groups set sights on Obama deputies

Sudan groups set sights on Obama deputies

Frustrated by their inability to influence Sudan special envoy Scott Gration, Sudan advocacy groups are moving up the food chain, calling out senior Obama administration officials by name in a series of new ads.

The ads, to appear in the Washington Post and Politico starting Tuesday, take aim at officials who will be participating in a National Security Council deputies meeting this week on Sudan. They accompany a new strategy paper being circulated by Sudan advocacy groups calling on the administration to publicly disclose the measures by which it is evaluating progress in Sudan ahead of the coming elections.

“We’re just trying to hold their feet to the fire,” John Norris, CEO of the Enough project, told The Cable, “It’s not an effort to demonize them, but we recognize they are key decision makers.”

The ads name Susan Rice’s deputy Erica Barks-Ruggles, NSC deputy Tom Donilon, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levy, and Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy.

“They are a hugely influential group of public officials that most of the public knows very little about,” said Norris. Underlying the push is a feeling among groups that the Sudan issue has been put on the backburner since the administration’s policy rollout last October.

But with national elections coming in April and a referendum on splitting the country scheduled for next January, the Obama team will have to take Sudan policy more head on, these groups contend. “At some point this is going to need some senior administration attention, but that just doesn’t seem to be there yet,” Norris said.

Gration has been traveling back and forth to the region constantly but that hasn’t mollified groups who want to see more concrete planning for the upcoming polls and a permanent and robust U.S. diplomatic presence on the ground.

Gration’s overtures to the brutal Khartoum regime have caused tensions between his office and the advocacy groups watching his issues, tensions made worse when he inartfully compared his idea of incentives with giving “gold stars and cookies” to children.

Advocacy groups keep calling for publicly debated benchmarks for measuring progress in Sudan. The Obama review has those benchmarks, we’re told, but they were put in a secret annex that also includes what specific incentives and pressures are being weighed against the Sudanese government.

Norris said he understands the decision to keep the benchmarks secret, but “we worry that by not publicly disclosing the benchmarks, you risk have a tyranny of low expectations that could let the parties off the hook.”

The strategy paper outlines why advocacy groups are skeptical that real progress with Khartoum is being made, due to the persistent violence perpetrated by the regime. “New agreements mean little if Sudan’s citizens are without basic freedoms and levels of violence are rising in the South,” the paper reads. “And there is no reason to put faith in an election that will likely be stolen from the people.”

The groups involved include Enough, Human Rights Watch, American Jewish World Service, Genocide Intervention Network, Humanity United, iACT/Stop Genocide Now, Investors Against Genocide, Physicians for Human Rights, and the Save Darfur Coalition.

The NSC deputies meeting is scheduled for Thursday.