Presidential Silence in Beijing

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Less than a month after his Administration proclaimed in its new strategy for Sudan that "American leadership is essential to a more effective multilateral approach," President Obama left China early this morning without any public reference to having brought up Sudan with his hosts. There were background statements to journalists that it was on a list of things discussed. Such low-key treatment was a huge missed opportunity to enlist the support for the new strategy from a crucial country. It also was a rejection of the recent, bipartisan plea by 44 Members of Congress:

As you prepare to visit China, we strongly urge you to make Sudan a priority in your bilateral discussions. As you are well aware, China is a major arms supplier and source of economic strength to the regime in Khartoum, and has a vital role to play in any ultimate resolution of the multiple crises in Sudan.

The Congressional letter echoed a petition signed by tens of thousands of citizen-activists who asked for President Obama to call on the Chinese to work with the U.S. and:

Use their economic and political influence with Sudan to support the Darfur peace process, full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), and significant structural, political and judicial reforms to Sudan.

The President's public silence on Sudan in Beijing follows on a similar silence by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on her recent visit to Egypt - another country that is crucial to bringing peace to Sudan. Their failure to raise Sudan publicly in bilateral meetings with key countries sends an unfortunate message to the Sudanese government and other key actors: The United States is not leading for peace in Sudan.

Michael Gerson recently summed up the urgent need for leadership:

Only a president and his secretary of state can insist on boldness.

Absent that insistence, America's Sudan policy is in a holding pattern, waiting for the next crisis to refocus global attention. Meanwhile, women are raped, with impunity. Weapons are illegally imported, with impunity. Civilians are attacked, with impunity. And at some point, impunity becomes permission.

The "unstinting resolve" that Candidates Obama and Clinton pledged last year is needed now more than ever.

Jerry Fowler is the president of the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of more than 180 faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations committed to raising public awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

Cross posted on Save Darfur's blog.