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State’s first Twitter press conference angers Sudan activists

The State Department tried something new last Friday, answering selected questions posed via Twitter. Today, a Sudan human rights organization that was one of the selected questioners called the answer it got on Sudan policy “unconvincing,” “unacceptable,” “a broken record,” and “condescending.” The Twitter press conference, where State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland will give answers ...

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632256_120109_tweet1.jpg

The State Department tried something new last Friday, answering selected questions posed via Twitter. Today, a Sudan human rights organization that was one of the selected questioners called the answer it got on Sudan policy "unconvincing," "unacceptable," "a broken record," and "condescending."

The Twitter press conference, where State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland will give answers to questions posed over Twitter following each Friday press briefing in January, is an experiment in State's ever-evolving strategy that it has dubbed "21st Century Statecraft."

Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations, suggested one of the five tweets that was chosen and answered by Nuland, but the group is unhappy with the result.

The State Department tried something new last Friday, answering selected questions posed via Twitter. Today, a Sudan human rights organization that was one of the selected questioners called the answer it got on Sudan policy “unconvincing,” “unacceptable,” “a broken record,” and “condescending.”

The Twitter press conference, where State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland will give answers to questions posed over Twitter following each Friday press briefing in January, is an experiment in State’s ever-evolving strategy that it has dubbed “21st Century Statecraft.”

Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations, suggested one of the five tweets that was chosen and answered by Nuland, but the group is unhappy with the result.

The tweet, sent by @ObSilence but identical to the tweet suggested by Act for Sudan, was: “Why doesn’t @StateDept support regime change in #Sudan where government-led genocide continues? Why Syria+Libya but not #Sudan?”

“Well, first of all, ObSilence, each country and each situation is different,” Nuland responded. “But I will say that in Sudan, for many years, we have continued to press for concrete, meaningful, democratic reforms and accountability and an end to the violence. We have pushed hard for an end to the fighting in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and a full resolution of the Darfur conflict. Those responsible for crimes and crimes against humanity have to be held accountable.”

Nuland went on to say that normalization between the United States and Sudan could only progress when violence ends, and she called on the government to work with civilians to resolve their issues. She also acknowledged that “deplorable human rights conditions and unacceptable practices of bombing innocent civilians and denying humanitarian access continue.”

Act for Sudan put out a release today saying that several of its members were wholly unsatisfied by that answer, and believed that Nuland sidestepped the question in a way that downplayed the tragedy of the human rights situation in Sudan.

“Of course, we realize that all countries and situations are different, but does the United States of America have no standards regarding its responsibilities in the face of genocide and crimes against humanity?” said Eric Cohen, an Act for Sudan spokesman.

“In Libya, with thousand of civilians in danger, President Obama rightly authorized limited military action to help protect them, and publicly called for Libya’s brutal dictator to step aside,” said Cohen. “Why then, with millions of civilians endangered in Sudan by their own government, is the U.S. not leading the international community in its responsibility to protect the people of Sudan, by all means necessary, including military options? Why are we not leading the call for the ouster of Sudan’s president and his cronies, who are indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes?”

Act for Sudan coordinated an open letter in November signed by 66 organizations to President Barack Obama asking the United States to urgently address civilian protection and humanitarian assistance for Sudanese under attack by their own government. Among other recommendations, the letter asked Obama to instruct the National Security Council to accelerate decisions regarding protection of Nuba, Blue Nile, and Darfuri populations from air attacks and to seriously consider the destruction of offensive aerial assets and the imposition of a no-fly zone.  It also requests the immediate initiation of a cross-border emergency aid program to the Nuba Mountains, Darfur, Blue Nile and Abyei regions.

The Obama administration may be experimenting with unique ways to engage with the world through this Twitter press conference, but as this latest scuffle shows, social media remains a two-way street. And the Twitter world can now experience what reporters have known all along – answers given during press conferences rarely fully answer the question, much less satisfy the questioner.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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