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US Policy in Sudan…Carrots, Sticks and Bells - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The carrot and the stick is a phrase that is overused in politics, and so there is no need to explain this. As for bells, this refers to a famous experiment conducted by the Russian scientist and physiologist [Ivan] Pavlov who contributed to the development of behavioral psychology. Pavlov studied the link between stimuli and the physiological response in mammals. The scientist gathered a group of dogs brought together a group of days, and each time he fed them he rang a bell. Of course, the dogs would bark and eat the food. Pavlov recorded the physiological response of the dogs by measuring the amount of saliva and gastric juices produced by the animals at that moment. After he had established this correlation [between the sound of the bell and food] in these dogs, Pavlov tried to ring the bells without providing food, and the results were amazing. The dogs barked and salivated in precisely the same manner as they had done before when food was provided. Pavlov won the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1904, and his experiment proved the existence of associative learning (conditioning) in animal behavior in general.

The weakness of US policy towards Sudan is similar in a particular manner to the weakness of US policy towards the Palestinians, and similar in a general manner to the weakness of US policies towards other nations. The similarity with the Palestinian situation can be seen in two major defects; the first one relates to the integrity of the American mediator who is completely biased towards the Israeli government, and displays the same amount of bias towards the SPLM [in the case of Sudan]. Despite this, the American government does not find anything wrong with presenting itself, or imposing itself, as a mediator. I recall how surprised I was when talking with some colleagues of the US Special Envoy [to Sudan] at the time, [John] Danforth, in 2001, I said naively assuming that what I said was simply incontestable that “you must be neutral and impartial in order to verify the results”. In response, I was told simply and frankly “we cannot be neutral.” At the time, I did not see the use in disputing with him, and I kept my opinion to myself, which is that by following this approach, the US will never succeed in providing a genuine, fair and sustainable solution to the problem of southern Sudan, which was later proven to be to be true.

As for the second defect; this is that the US always presents its offers as in the manner of being “charity.” The US alone determines what is offered, as well as the manner and timing of this offer. This is because their deals do not stem from equal involvement; they do not care about the feelings of the other party. They assume that their deal should be accepted, considering it a fair price for what they will subsequently demand. Charity, in this context, is the act of one party alone who does not recognize the principle of giving. A party that says “take what I offer you or get out of my face!” I am not going to describe at length the traditional Sudanese response to this kind of charity, but suffice it to say that it is a polite refusal. This is particularly the case when [what is offered] is something that is a principle entitlement that has nothing to do with the virtues of compassion and kindness. This is something that we also see clearly with regards to the Palestinian case.

There is a third defect that all those who deal with the United States suffers as a result of, and this is that US foreign policy is based on the principle of “exception”, or rather “the American exception.” This is something that US foreign policy has been devoted to since the 19th century, and this principle is based upon two considerations. Firstly, the strength of the American nation, and the fact that it is unlike other nations and therefore ‘exempt’ from what applies to others. As a result of this, the United States withdrew from the League of Nations in the 1920s, although this organization was established following a proposal by US President Woodrow Wilson who wanted to eliminate the “balance of power” system that prevailed in Europe at the time, which he considered responsible for centuries of internal European wars. This scenario has been repeated in a number of agreements that were first initiated by the United States but who went on to withdraw from them; this includes environmental agreements, the Ottawa Treaty [agreement preventing the spread of mines], and also the International Criminal Court [ICC]. The contradiction is that the US is urging Sudan to comply with the demands of the ICC, despite the fact that the strongest legal movement against the ICC and its politicization is coming from within the United States itself. Returning to the subject of behavioral psychology, it is necessary that this trend puts the psychology of America on a direct collision course with the psychology of Sudan. For the thing that Sudanese psychology hates the most is exceptions being taken, by which I mean the rich and powerful being favored over the weak and poor, for even Arab travelers have described the Nubian country as one where “the kings are like common people” i.e. it is a country where society values equality.

Sudanese-American dialogue has waned in recent months, which has been expressed in some official statements and reported by the media. This boils down to the following ridiculous deal [put forward by America].

That [Sudan should] establish a referendum in a timely manner without the slightest consideration for its results and core conditions, even if this leads to both war and secession, despite the fact that the referendum had initially been proposed in order to strengthen unity and avoid war. In return for this, we [the Americans] will give you six export licenses for US companies in areas such as agriculture and health, and you must continue to cooperate in combating terrorism. We will [also] consider taking Sudan off the terrorist list, and lifting economic sanctions, next year in July 2011, when separation procedures are completed. As for the ICC, the [Sudanese] President must submit to its demands, and give himself up (note that it is the President himself who is required to fulfill the last obligation).

For this reason, there is no understanding between the two parties. This reminds me of the offer that the al-Quraish tribe presented to Abu Talib, asking him to surrender his nephew Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), in return for one of the strongest members of the al-Quraish tribe, Amara Bin Walid. Abu Talib cleverly replied “This is the worst deal I have ever heard of; you give me your son for me to nurture, and I give you my son so that you can kill him!”

What is more dangerous than this for southern Sudan and the people of the south is an offer such as the one proposed by America which undermines their right to a referendum by turning the issue into a trade agreement. In other words, this proposal means that the referendum has diminished from being a matter of principle and sovereign right to becoming a bargaining chip that primarily serves US foreign policy.

When a right-wing Christian extremist was asked during the Bush era: why do you not use the concept of the carrot and the stick with your opponents, rather than just using the stick? The extremist replied, we do indeed use [the concept of] the carrot [and the stick]. When the questioner asked, how, we do not remember one occasion when you have used the carrot [rather than the stick], the extremist responded by saying, when we do not use the stick…that is the carrot! Therefore there is no carrot, and the stick has not achieved much success. As for the bell, according to Pavlov, there must be a previous connection to food in order for saliva to flow.

Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani

Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani

Dr. Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani is an adviser to the president of Sudan and leader of the parliamentary majority.

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