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.