Now that the elections are over, it’s time to catch up on foreign policy and what’s been going on in the rest of the world. In the last few months of the campaign season, thousands of Syrians have died, ethnic cleansing has taken place in Burma, and the number of people newly displaced or severely affected by violence in Sudan has reached over 1 million.
With the campaign over, President Obama can fully pay attention to the challenges in the rest of the world, here are five major foreign policy crises that demand immediate action:
Over 30,000 Syrians have been killed since the Assad regime began its brutal crackdown against protesters 19 months ago. The latest UN peace envoy has warned that Syria may become the new Somalia, destabilizing the Middle East and bringing years of bloody violence in the future.
With a divided opposition and three vetoes by Russia and China in the UN Security Council, international response has been limited, officially, to sanctions and provision of communications equipment, and, unofficially, to illegal weapons flows that are too often getting into the hands of extremists within the opposition. The Obama administration has pushed for a more unified opposition with a meeting taking place in Qatar in recent days but greater action is needed for civilian protection, humanitarian assistance, and a political settlement.
President Obama touted Burma as a key example of the success of his open hand approach in Burma, pointing to the release and election to parliament of Noble Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and the freeing of hundreds of political prisoners. Seeking to reward these reforms, the United States has lifted sanctions on Burma, sent Secretary Clinton to meet with the Burmese President, and it is rumored that President Obama himself may travel to Burma in the coming days on his way to an economic summit in East Asia.
But the new reforms, while remarkable, have also served to blind the administration to severe human rights abuses that continue in ethnic minority areas of Burma. There are strong indications of tacit, if not outright, government security involvement in an ethnic cleansing campaign against Muslim Rohingya in Burma with over 100 killed and thousands of houses destroyed in the last few weeks. Obama must take immediate action to let the Burmese government know this is not acceptable and be prepared to lead an international coalition to secure the safety of minorities in Burma.
Sudan’s President Bashir who is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur continues his record of abuses in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where nearly 1 million people have now been displaced or severely affected by fighting between the government and rebels. As Darfur nears a decade since the beginning of the genocide there, some 2 million people remain displaced with an increase in violence in recent months.
Obama’s leadership (particularly with a China with mutual interests in security in Sudan for the sake of oil flows and other economic investments) can go a long way toward addressing the continuing violence in Sudan. Bashir’s travel to Saudi Arabia, a supposed key U.S. ally, for minor surgery this week is the latest slap in the face to the victims of Bashir. President Obama should increase pressure on the Bashir regime by setting clear consequences for countries that allow him to visit and being clear that bombing civilians and using food as a weapon of war is unacceptable and will lead to serious consequences.
DR Congo, an area caught up in a tragic recent history from the Rwandan genocide to the so-called African world war continues to see widespread violence with devastating effects on civilians from child soldiers to women in what has been called the “rape capital of the world”. Various militia factions with ethnic allegiances and even government soldiers and UN peacekeepers have been implicated in abuses in the region. The most recent violence has involved the M23 rebel group with reported links to the governments of Rwanda and Uganda. The implication of these U.S. allies greatly complicates things for the U.S. administration, but it was right in suspending some military aid to Rwanda to send a message that support for groups that commit atrocities is unacceptable. With the upcoming official release of the UN Group of Experts report and the recent election of Rwanda to the UN Security Council, the Obama administration will have a fine line to walk between the interests of Rwandan and Ugandan support in efforts in Somalia and in chasing Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, and the need to condemn any support for atrocities.
One of the greatest, if not largely publicized, accomplishments of President Obama’s first term was the release of a Presidential Study Directive on atrocities prevention and the establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board. More than sixty years after the Holocaust, this was, incredibly, the first time the U.S. government had put together a government strategy for preventing genocide and mass atrocities. The way in which this new strategy and structure will function, however, remains to be seen. In April, President Obama promised that he would release an Executive Order formalizing the role of the Atrocities Prevention Board, but that has yet to be seen. Join STAND, our student-led division, and take action to urge Obama to move forward on genocide prevention.
Throughout the presidential campaign, foreign policy was largely overlooked in the interest of addressing our own national issues. With the election over, now is the time for President Obama to reiterate his commitment to the prevention of genocide and mass atrocities as a national security priority and to address these critical foreign policy crises.