Huffpost WorldPost
Rebecca Tinsley Headshot

Why Is America Turning a Blind Eye to al Qaeda?

Posted: Updated:

If we wish to take the high moral ground in world affairs, we must be consistent. Failure to practice what we preach reveals our hypocrisy and inflames our critics.

This week the outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said America has "a responsibility to go after al Qaeda wherever they are." He was referring to U.S. efforts to assist the French as they battle al Qaeda in Mali.

Yet, not that far away, in another African nation, the U.S. turns a blind eye to extreme Islamist policies and actions that threaten America's security, never mind its credibility.

Sudan gave shelter to Osama bin Laden for five crucial years as he assembled al Qaeda; Sudan's leaders count Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah as their closest ideological friends; Sudan is manufacturing weapons for Iran which are promptly smuggled into Gaza to be fired at Israeli civilians; an American diplomat was assassinated in Khartoum and his killers escaped from prison under suspicious circumstances. And just last week al Qaeda formed a student group at Khartoum University.

Why is Sudan treated differently from Mali or Somalia or Yemen, where the West is trying to contain and defeat al Qaeda's local franchises?

There are plenty of other reasons to find the Khartoum regime repellant. For decades the Islamists who rule Sudan have waged a brutal war of ethnic cleansing against their black African citizens, killing 1.5 million in the south, and at least 300,000 in Darfur. They want a Sudan that is as Arab and Muslim as possible, despite the fact that intermarriage makes nonsense of such a fascistic goal. To achieve this aim, Khartoum bombs its own civilians, and arms poor Arab tribes to do their killing, assuring the international community that the massacres are due to "ancient ethnic rivalries."

They also use starvation to erase ethnic groups such as the Nuba in South Kordofan state and other non-Arab people in Blue Nile. Civilians are also being bombed indiscriminately (Human Rights Watch estimates 230 bombs fell between October and mid-November 2012), preventing people reaching their fields. In addition the UN has just warned that almost a million people (out of a population of 2.2 million) have been forced to flee their homes, surviving by eating leaves because their government refuses to allow aid convoys access.

Such racist policies and human rights abuses alone should give America pause for thought. Added to this Sudan is ranked in the second most corrupt country by Transparency International, and in the ten least free countries by Freedom House). There is a growing and systematic repression of media and civil society, including the humiliating targeting of young women on their way to and from college: 42,000 women were convicted of public decency offenses in Khartoum state alone in 2008, code for wearing jeans and trying to get an education.

Yet, U.S. officials continue to mildly urge the architects of Sudan's ethnic cleansing policies to desist and to stand by the myriad 'peace agreements' the Sudanese have signed and disregarded before our diplomats' planes have left Sudanese airspace. Khartoum's track record of manipulating its foreign 'partners in the search for peace' should have taught us they will promise anything to keep us quiet, until we lose interest.

Time and again, we fail to enforce sundry UN Security Council resolutions, demanding that Khartoum stands by its commitments under international law, conventions and treaties it has signed, not to mention its own constitution. So long as we fail to make good on our threats to impose targeted smart sanctions on the regime's leaders, we signal that Khartoum can continue killing and repressing its own people with impunity.

Sudan's ideological sympathy with, and support for, extremist groups alone should put it alongside Iran: my point is not to approve or disapprove of U.S. foreign policy toward Iran and Palestine -- it is merely a plea for consistency.

Sudan remains on the U.S.' list of state sponsors of terror, so why the muted response when four local men assassinated a U.S. diplomat, John Granville, and his driver in the streets of Khartoum in 2008? Belatedly, the State Department is now offering a reward for the capture of those of Granville's killers who remain at large. Compare this to the reaction to the murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

What explains this appeasement? For years anonymous voices within the U.S. intelligence community have claimed Sudan provides them with help. Yet a former official admitted last week that Khartoum's assistance was only between 2002 and 2004, and was of little consequence, moving from 'nothing to something."

In any case, why would U.S. intelligence treat seriously anything provided by a regime that aligns itself with Iran and sheltered bin Laden?

As the Nuba people are bombed and starved, and as genocide continues in Darfur in a media vacuum, it is time to enforce all the outstanding UN resolutions, including smart, targeted sanctions against Sudan's leaders.