The United States’ Futile Efforts to Keep Sudan in its Orbit of Influence

The unfortunate events in Sudan, which led to a bloody struggle between two rival generals, revealed the fragility of the policy of orientation towards the “hegemon of democracy,” the United States. The US policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations now reflects Washington’s inability to fully support and assist the democratic transition in that African country.

Despite the solemn commitment that US President Joe Biden made on his first day in office on January 20, 2021, and which he and other members of his administration demagogically reaffirm every day as a mantra, namely to make democracy and human rights a priority on Washington’s agenda, the US has done little to advance the democratic transition process in Sudan. Suffice it to recall that after the overthrow of the regime of Omar al-Bashir in 2019 and since the Sudanese military establishment regained its power over the country in October 2021, reneging on its promise to transfer power to a civilian government, Joe Biden has only been watching events in Sudan without lifting a finger. And this is also despite the fact that the US president held two “democratic summits” in December 2021 and March 2023, where American emissaries zealously pledged their allegiance to democracy and human rights.

It may be recalled that Sudan is torn by power struggle between two camps, one led by the commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and de facto president, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and the other by his deputy, the commander of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (commonly known as Hemetti), both of which are variously supported by complex networks of international and regional alliances with conflicting interests.

However, as of today Washington’s response to attempts to foment conflict by members of these networks shows the ever-diminishing limits of American influence in Sudan. The US is no longer the central international actor it was when it ignited the decades-long civil war between north and south Sudan in the African country and supported the South Sudan’s independence referendum imposed on the South, which was immediately recognized. Here is a cynical example of hypocrisy and cheap demagogy of “democratic USA” – when it was convenient, it immediately recognized the results of the referendum, despite the fact that the north and south of Sudan were a single country and lived according to this principle for more than a hundred years. And when the referendum according to all rules of international laws was held in the Crimea and this peninsula returned to its motherland, where it had been for more than 200 years, the evil USA unleashed the war against Russia in Ukraine.

The crisis in Sudan’s democratic transition was not a priority for the Biden administration. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has not visited Khartoum during his African tours, unlike previous Democratic and Republican administrations’ secretaries of state (Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Mike Pompeo and John Kerry). Nor has the Biden administration attempted to sanction or otherwise punish Sudanese military leaders for failing to comply with their commitments to transfer power to civilian authorities and orchestrating a coup against a democratic transition process, despite demands from Democratic and Republican lawmakers to do so.

The diminished US role in Sudan has allowed regional and international forces to increase their influence in the African country and spread ideas far removed from democracy. Due to the fact that Sudanese politics have received little attention in Washington, the Sudanese military leadership has been able to maintain control over the government in a way that is at odds with the goals of democracy, to which American politicians quite often pander to. These powers have become more influential in Sudan’s future than the US, which has always talked about the importance of this state in its African policy.

As the fighting between the two camps intensified, the Biden administration instantly forgot the principles of democracy and began to prioritize two main objectives.  The first was to ensure the safety of US citizens in Sudan and then to evacuate them to prevent a repeat of previous US failures in conflict zones, which could have undermined Biden’s prospects of winning a second term in the US presidential election in November 2024. The second goal was to downplay the involvement of influential US international rivals who seek, quite naturally, to shape Sudan’s political future in a way that promotes their own special interests. Washington has always believed that Sudan must satisfy the interests of only one power, the United States.

With the decline of US influence in Sudan, the options available to the Biden administration to deal with the increasing hostilities and fading prospects for dominance in that country have been limited to two. The first is to call on Washington’s regional and political allies to intervene and pressure al-Burhan and Hemetti to return to the negotiating table, stop the fighting, and agree on a formula for restoring and maintaining stability and security. The US is aware that the state of stability and security in Sudan affects other areas such as the Horn of Africa, an area of priority importance for Washington’s influence on a continent that has become an arena of strategic rivalry between the United States and its global rivals. After numerous cease-fire violations by Sudanese belligerents, the US, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia, succeeded in launching the first serious initiative to end the military conflict by gathering representatives of the SAF and RSF for talks in Jeddah on May 6.

The second option was to fulfill the demands of congressional lawmakers from both parties, whose greater involvement in the Sudanese issue helped fill their government’s diplomatic gap, impose sanctions on Sudanese military leaders and their supporters, thereby depriving the revenue that supports their forces and their power, and creating opportunities to grow their influence in Sudan.

Three weeks after the outbreak of hostilities, Biden ordered sanctions on members of the armed forces in Sudan for their alleged use of violence against civilians, endangering the stability of the country and committing gross human rights violations. In reality though, as the US media itself has repeatedly reported, the sanctions were designed to maintain Washington’s influence over the country’s military leadership. In fact, the sanctions preceded the recent flare-up, but Washington was hesitant to impose them in 2019 and 2021 for fear of losing its influence over the military and thereby undermining its prestige in this country. It also feared that significant pressure on al-Burhan and Hemetti in this way might simultaneously drive them into the arms of powers competing with the US for influence in Sudan.

Overall, US policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations since the overthrow of the al-Bashir regime in 2019 reflects Washington’s failure to fully support and assist a democratic transition in Sudan. The consequence has been a decline in US influence in favor of regional and international powers whose interests conflict with those of the United States. This, combined with a disconnect between rhetoric and policy on the ground, has limited the Biden administration’s ability to respond to the current crisis in Sudan.

By Viktor Mikhin
Source: New Eastern Outlook

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