The Failed State Lobby

Inside the bizarre moral campaign by Washington politicians, NGO do-gooders, and celebrities to create an independent South Sudan -- whether it's a disaster or not.

For pictures of the brutal regime in Khartoum, click here. 

Juba, South Sudan, is one of the few places in the world where American bipartisanship seems to be alive and well. One year ago today, President Barack Obama's envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, sat near former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell as Rev. Franklin Graham, a harsh evangelical critic of the U.S. president, cheered what White House officials were claiming as a major foreign-policy success -- the birth of an independent South Sudanese nation. Diplomats and African heads of state took turns congratulating the new government from a podium overlooking tens of thousands of sweating South Sudanese gathered under the midday sun for the occasion.

This was the miracle of South Sudan, a U.S. foreign-policy darling welcomed onto the world stage in a burst of optimism on July 9, 2011. The new country's birth was the crowning achievement of one of Washington's most effective campaigns of the past 20 years. The campaign to support the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- a rebel movement founded in 1983 in Sudan's marginalized southern lands by John Garang, a U.S.-educated officer who wanted to transform Sudan's minority-ruled northern government into an inclusive democracy -- began with Rep. Donald Payne, an African-American Democrat from New Jersey, and Frank Wolf, a conservative evangelical Republican from Virginia.

Payne described to me on that hopeful day a year ago how he first visited southern Sudan in 1989 and met South Sudan's now-president (then rebel commander) Salva Kiir for the first time in the field in 1993. He worked across party lines ("many of the members I had very little in common with") to build the SPLM's fan base. Its ranks grew in Washington every year, expanding beyond the Congressional Black Caucus-evangelical alliance to three consecutive presidential administrations. "We were able to get a bipartisan effort. That's really what made this sustainable," said Payne, who died in March.

Without the United States' heavy-handed engagement, it is doubtful South Sudan would today be its own country. But Washington's love affair with the SPLM looks likely to end in heartbreak.

One year on, the jubilation that accompanied South Sudan's independence has vanished. Its first year as a nation has been a disaster by all but the lowest of standards. Sure, worst-case scenarios of sustained full-blown war with Sudan or a complete implosion of the state have not yet materialized. But good luck finding many other silver linings: South Sudan is already the target of a sanctions threat by the United Nations for military aggression along its border with Sudan; its internal strife has already resulted in thousands of civilian casualties; and the country's oil -- its sole source of revenue -- stopped pumping in January as part of dangerous brinkmanship in negotiations with Sudan. The country desperately needs visionary leadership: It has only one paved highway, three-quarters of its adults are illiterate, and extreme poverty is widespread.

The SPLM isn't directly to blame for the dire conditions it inherited in South Sudan, but its dismal governance has stopped most progress before it even had a chance to begin. South Sudan has been run mostly autonomously -- with its own budget revenue and standing military -- since 2005, and the SPLM used that time to loot its way to personal riches, leaving development projects penniless. In May, South Sudan's government acknowledged that South Sudanese officials had "stolen" $4 billion of missing funds that were supposed to go to developing the war-torn state -- the equivalent of roughly two entire years of official revenue. Worse, this money was looted directly under the noses of the international community, which agreed to supervise the peace process and even provided consultants to do South Sudan's own bookkeeping.

U.S. officials are quick to pay lip service to the problem of corruption, but there is so far no bite behind the muffled whimpers of protest. Unlike the tough, targeted U.S. actions against leaders in countries such as Kenya, Washington has not threatened travel bans or publicly frozen bank accounts of leading government officials, U.S. officials say. Despite providing military support -- to the tune of about $300 million in taxpayers' money -- since 2005, the United States does not seem to have a strategy in place to induce South Sudan's leaders to reform their ways.

That is true despite President Kiir's estrangement from Obama, which one source close to U.S. policymakers described as "probably irreparable." In September, Kiir kept Obama waiting for over a half-hour for their first meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session, according to several sources with knowledge of the meeting. Then, over later phone calls, Kiir personally denied to Obama that South Sudan was providing support for rebels across the border -- despite U.S. intelligence that clearly established otherwise. Relations turned even more sour in early April, when Kiir promised Obama that South Sudanese forces would not strike north and capture Heglig, a disputed Sudanese oil field, sources briefed on the conversation said. Several days later, South Sudanese forces -- working in coordination with the Sudanese rebels Kiir denied links to -- did just that, sparking international outcry.

But even if U.S. policy errors are partly to blame for the country's mishaps, don't expect the White House to take a tougher stance on South Sudan anytime soon. Why? Because Obama has little to gain from upsetting the SPLM's friends.

Amid a sea of foreign-policy realism, Sudan has survived as a foreign-policy issue grounded not in national security interests, but moral idealism. In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, Sudan became a rallying cry for religious activists and human rights proponents enraged by the Sudanese government's atrocities. But the activists made a critical mistake: They seemed to think the SPLM rebels represented a virtuous mirror image of Khartoum's evils.

This conventional wisdom has shielded the SPLM from U.S. wrath, despite its corruption and increasingly questionable decision-making. It boasts a bipartisan, election-proof lobby that not even money can buy -- a network of true believers in Congress, the White House, think tanks, and the media. This influential network of friends is all the more striking because it has stayed intact despite the 2005 death of Garang, the SPLM's U.S.-educated founder, whose personal charisma and political instincts made the SPLM the best-connected rebel group in Africa.

Two of President Bill Clinton's Africa hands, John Prendergast and Gayle Smith, who co-founded the Enough Project at the Center for American Progress, have arguably been the most effective of the SPLM's friends in Washington. By branding the organization as anti-genocide, the Enough Project often gets a free pass from the mainstream media, which frequently cites its version of events in Sudan as objective independent analysis. But the morally charged and culturally hip do-goodism helps disguise a clear political agenda: Even while it acknowledges South Sudan's poor record on human rights and "transparency," Enough's policy papers are filled with calls for punitive measures toward Khartoum and greater engagement with Juba. Last year, Prendergast and Enough publicly advocated for arming South Sudan with air defense weapons. When Enough advertised for a job opening of "Sudan policy analyst" last year, they hired one of the SPLM's legal advisors for the position.

Smith moved back into the White House in March 2009 as a special assistant to the president and a senior director of Obama's National Security Council, where she joined Rice as the key SPLM advocates in the administration. But Prendergast has turned into a media phenomenon, an activist-cum-celebrity whose specialty is recruiting celebrity-cum-activists. Prendergast's biggest catch of late is George Clooney, who has made Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir something of his own personal white whale. Clooney has swooped through Juba at least three times in the last two years to advocate for South Sudan's cause, meeting personally with Kiir, and has even invested his own money in a satellite service that publicly spies on Sudan. This sounds a lot like journalism on steroids, and there is definitely overlap. Clooney's eyes in the sky have visually confirmed several events on the ground. But, its satellites also have a clear agenda: Read through the group's reports, and while regularly publishing about Sudan's troop mobilizations near the border, it does not offer comparably critical scrutiny of South Sudan's forces, guilty of its own troop buildups, sometimes in violation of international agreements as well.

Clooney's star power provides multiple benefits: He dominates news coverage -- his visit to South Sudan during the January 2011 referendum headlined news coverage of the event -- thereby ensuring that Prendergast's narrative of events carries the day. He is also a powerful lobbying force inside Washington who can secure personal meetings with the president, and he uses those meetings to talk about Sudan. In March, Clooney and Prendergast were arrested protesting outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. It also doesn't hurt that Clooney is a major surrogate for Obama in Hollywood: This year, he hosted the largest single fundraising haul, $15 million, for the Obama campaign.

The Enough Project isn't the only effective advocate for the SPLM in Washington. Since the late 1980s, a core group of government officials worked behind the scenes to implement the policies that led to South Sudan's independence. Some have left government to advise the government directly. For instance, Roger Winter, the subject of a 2008 New York Times Magazine piece, was an official with the U.S. Agency for International Development under Clinton and the State Department's special Sudan representative under George W. Bush, and he still testifies before Congress on Sudan issues. After retiring in 2006, he stayed behind to serve as a volunteer advisor to the SPLM. "As one American that has had over 27 years of involvement in Sudan, it is my association with the SPLM and SPLA that I am most proud of," he said in a speech to the SPLM national convention in May 2008. In another example, Ted Dagne was an Africa specialist at the Congressional Research Service who forged close ties with Garang. Today, he works as an advisor to Kiir in Juba, where he labors in his prefab office and sometimes writes press releases on behalf of the South Sudanese government.

The heavy U.S. backing of the SPLM might be producing as many problems as it is resolving. "It makes them reckless," said Alex de Waal, a top Sudan scholar and an advisor to the African Union's mediation efforts between Sudan and South Sudan. "They think the rules don't apply to them." That behavior was most evident in April, when U.S. and African diplomatic officials told me South Sudan seemed genuinely blindsided by the global condemnation of its military offensive against Sudan.

Meanwhile, South Sudan's partisans in Washington keep egging on the Obama administration to take a more aggressive stance. "The Obama administration has not pursued a policy of isolating the regime in Khartoum, as some on Capitol Hill and in the NGO community have advocated. Neither has the administration been terribly pro-South Sudan," Prendergast wrote to me in an email last month. If the United States were really serious about backing South Sudan, Washington "would perhaps be aiding Sudan's own rebels," he added. With student-led protests continuing in Khartoum, expect the calls from SPLM advocates to grow louder for a regime-change policy toward Sudan, presumably involving arming South Sudan-backed rebels in the process.

No matter who wins the U.S. presidential election in November, the SPLM has its bases covered -- like it always does. If Obama loses, the SPLM has reason to hope it will receive even more slack from Mitt Romney's administration. The Romney campaign website's Africa policy page focuses disproportionately on Sudan and South Sudan, devoting more than twice as many lines to Sudan and South Sudan than all other countries combined. The words could have been written by the SPLM itself: "While the initiative begun by the previous administration to help South Sudan achieve its independence was completed during President Obama's term," reads the website, Obama "has failed to strengthen a once promising alliance with South Sudan."

Romney's backing of South Sudan should come as no surprise, since Rich Williamson and David Raad, two Bush political appointees to Sudan, are now advisors to his campaign. Williamson served as Bush's special envoy to Sudan. Raad worked on the Sudan desk at the State Department, and then -- like some of his Democratic peers -- served as an advisor to the SPLM government after the peace deal. He then launched a business consulting firm (created at the request of Kiir himself, according to its website) specializing in facilitating access to SPLM leaders. The website says Raad's clients have pursued business interests in South Sudan's mining, timber, financial, and security industries.

With the SPLM's faults becoming more and more difficult to dismiss, its advocates might begin to face a more skeptical crowd in Washington -- though there are few signs of that yet. Some of its non-American friends have already started to turn. Gérard Prunier, a leading French scholar on Africa and fierce critic of the Sudanese government, resigned as advisor to the South Sudanese government because, he told me in a phone interview last month, he didn't want to be "guilty by association," describing the country's leadership as a "government of idiots" who are "rotten to the core." Prunier is a respected author on Sudan and a frequent commentator on the region, and his words have not gone unnoticed in Washington.

By resigning, Prunier has done what U.S. opponents of Bashir have seemed unable to do -- merge their hatred of Khartoum with any sort of similar outrage toward South Sudan's leadership.

If Washington hopes to right South Sudan's sinking ship, it would do well to abandon the feel-good moralizing and consider ways to limit the damage wrought by its friends, before it is too late.

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America the Absent

Why is the U.S. afraid to lead the global economic recovery?

The release of another weak U.S. jobs report this Friday, July 6 -- which showed the economy adding only 80,000 jobs in June and the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.2 percent -- raises some serious red flags. It's just one of many signs these days that the world economy is once again on the brink of an abyss. Nearly four years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, U.S. growth is flailing, central banks are racing to cut interest rates, and several European nations have plunged back into recession. Instead of powering the 21st-century world economy, export-dependent emerging markets remain hostage to the transatlantic economic morass. We should be out of this by now. The missing ingredient? U.S. leadership.

In the 20th century, beginning with the creation of the Bretton Woods system in 1944, America's great contribution was to champion an economic paradigm and set of institutions that promoted open markets and economic stability around the world. The successive Groups of Five, Seven, and Eight, first formed in the early 1970s, helped coordinate macroeconomic policies among the world's leading economies and combat global financial imbalances that burdened U.S. trade politics. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) spread the Washington Consensus across Asia and Latin America, and shepherded economies in transition toward capitalism. Eight multilateral trade rounds brought down barriers to global commerce, culminating in the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995.

Meanwhile, a wave of bank deregulation and financial liberalization began in the United States and proliferated around the world, making credit more available and affordable while propelling consumption and entrepreneurship the world over. The U.S. dollar, the world's venerable reserve currency, economized global transactions and fueled international trade. Central bank independence spread from Washington to the world and helped usher in the Great Moderation, which has produced a quarter-century of low and steady inflation around the world.

Globalization was not wished into being: It was the U.S.-led order that generated prosperity unimaginable only a few decades ago. Since 1980, global GDP has quadrupled, world trade has grown more than sixfold, the stock of foreign direct investment has shot up by 20 times, and portfolio capital flows have surged to almost $200 trillion annually, roughly four times the size of the global economy. Economic reforms and global economic integration helped vibrant emerging markets emerge: The "Asian Tigers" (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan) that boomed in the 1980s were joined in the 1990s by the awakening giants of Brazil, China, and India.

It was the United States that quarterbacked the play, brokering differences among nations and providing the right mix of global public goods: a universal reserve currency, an open-trade regime, deep financial markets, and vigorous economic growth. Trade liberalization alone paid off handsomely, adding $1 trillion annually to the postwar U.S. economy.

Talk about American decline notwithstanding, the economic order created by the United States persists. In fact, at first blush, it appears to have only been reinforced in the past few years. New institutions such as the G-20, a forum for the world's leading economies, and the Financial Stability Board, a watchdog for the international financial system, are but sequels to U.S.-created entities: the Group of Five and the Financial Stability Forum. Investors still view America as a financial safe haven, and the dollar remains the world's lead currency. Open markets have survived, and 1930s-style protectionism has not materialized. The WTO continues to resolve trade disputes and recently welcomed Russia as its 154th member, while the mission and resources of the Bretton Woods twins -- the World Bank and IMF -- have only expanded. No country has pulled out of these institutions; instead, emerging nations such as China and India are demanding greater power at the table. Countries have opted in, not out, of the American-led order, reflecting a reality of global governance: There are no rival orders that can yet match this one's promise of mutual economic gains.

Still, while the American order is peerless, it is also imperiled. The deepening European debt crisis, discord over national policies to restore growth, and the all-but-dead Doha Development Round of WTO negotiations speak to the failures of the global economy's existing instruments to manage 21st-century challenges. Instead of coordinating policies, leading countries are trapped in a prisoner's dilemma, elbowing for an edge in world trade and jockeying for power on the world stage. Tensions simmer over issues such as exchange-rate manipulation, capital controls, creeping protectionism, and financial nationalism.

Right at the moment when we most need to shore up the troubled global economic order, America -- the architect of this very order -- is failing to lead. Even as the United States remains pivotal to global growth, U.S. corporations -- the engines of the American economy -- are stifled by taxes, regulations, and policy uncertainty. Gaping fiscal deficits in the United States are undermining the dollar, exacerbating trade deficits, and undercutting U.S. economic dynamism and credibility in world affairs, but political posturing has obstructed the country's path to solvency. Earlier this week, the IMF warned that if political deadlock takes America to the so-called fiscal cliff of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts in January 2013, it could have a devastating impact on the U.S. and world economies. No wonder America's image as the global economic superpower is receding around the world.

Europe's travails, meanwhile, are reducing U.S. companies' exports and overseas profits, threatening America's recovery. And yet Congress has balked at boosting the IMF's resources to fight the eurozone crisis while the Obama administration has deflected responsibility, framing the crisis as Europe's to manage. It has fallen to countries such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Russia to instead build the firewall that will shield the rest of the world from Europe.

The welcome momentum in negotiations between the United States and Pacific Rim countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement does not undo over three years of drift in U.S. trade policy that has jeopardized the very global trading system that the United States built and powered in the postwar era. The only trade deals that the Obama administration has passed -- with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea -- were launched and negotiated by the Bush administration.

The world is now facing a triple threat of global economic instability, divisions among top powers, and a global leadership vacuum. This perfect storm could produce a world disorder of mercurial financial markets, widening global imbalances, spreading state capitalism, and beggar-thy-neighbor protectionism -- a scenario with a sorry past and few safe exits.

In the late 1940s, a new world order arose because of American strength, vision, and leadership, not because global governance was in vogue. Leadership was never easy: Resistance from allies, protectionist pressures at home, and resource-draining wars all stood in the way. But capitalism spread, trade and financial markets were liberalized, and emerging-market crises were defeated. Global economic integration forged ahead.

Today, American leadership is again essential. China prioritizes mercantilism over multilateralism, and emerging nations have yet to fully step up to the plate when it comes to global governance, while Europe and Japan are neither able nor willing to lead. In placing their faith in multilateralism, liberal institutionalists often fail to realize that the world economic order is built on American primacy and power, and Washington's willingness to project it.

To lead abroad, the United States must reform at home by imposing ironclad fiscal discipline, cutting taxes and red tape for businesses, and locking in long-term policies -- summoning the private sector to reform schools and rebuild infrastructure, for instance -- that harness the productivity of America's future generations.

Abroad, the United States needs to focus on pre-empting instability and integrating the global economy. It should push the IMF to address financial risks before they mushroom into catastrophes, revise the multilateral trade regime to allow for fast deals among a critical mass of members rather than agonizing, decade-long talks requiring the consent of the full membership, and work toward unfettered global financial markets -- all the while deepening access to U.S. goods, services, and investment around the world. A Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and a transatlantic free trade pact are low-hanging fruits that can jump-start global growth without any new stimulus dollars.

The quintessential challenge facing U.S. policymakers is to convince other nations to buy into a rules-based order rather than respond to the siren calls of currency wars and capital controls. For example, with most emerging economies uneasy about Beijing's trade and foreign policies, Washington must incentivize others to take the high ground and strengthen investor protections, enforce intellectual property rights, and adhere to trade rules. With others playing by the rules of the game, a misbehaving China would be turned into a pariah.

A stable, integrated, and growing world economy serves our national interests. But such a world is America's to make.

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