New U.S. Envoy to Sudan Named

Via Enough Said, the United States has finally appointed a Special Envoy to Sudan, something that Obama had hinted would be a priority of his early presidency. The Envoy, whose name had remained curiously un-leaked as late as yesterday afternoon, will be Scott Gration, a former Air Force General and high-ranking member of Obama’s national security team during the campaign. This accomplishes two goals for Obama: naming a Special Envoy, and finding a job for Scott Gration.

This is no give-a-supporter-an-ambassadorship-to-Ireland position, though (no offense to Ireland, of course, or, begrudgingly, to the Steelers). This post will be an extremely challenging one, forcing Gration to navigate between politics and humanitarianism, hawkishness and diplomacy, and between a country with a vocal domestic constituency to pressure Sudan and one with hardened leaders willing to literally starve their own population to death.

It is interesting that Obama tapped a military official to do this job, rather than a career diplomat, as was Gration’s predecessor, Rich Williamson. This is not to say that Gration won’t necessarily bring a diplomatic verve to the gig, only that he also must be looking at Darfur through a military/national security lens, as well. And as a testament of how important Sudan is to American foreign policy, not only in a moral sense, but in a fundamentally interest-based one, this is an appreciable development.

Here‘s Gration’s speech before the Democratic National Convention last August, and here‘s an interesting snippet from a New Yorker article on American foreign policy, written last October by Nicholas Lemann:

“We’ve screwed up,” [Gration] told me. “We don’t really fix these things.” He mentioned the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, the Israel-Palestine dispute, and the tension between Russia and Georgia. “What I’d hope we learn from that is: ‘Yep, we’ve got to fix the basic issues here.’ ” He went on, “What doesn’t work, in Gration’s mind, is forcing a solution. Create an environment, give people the opportunity to air their differences, and see if they can come together. We don’t tell them what the solution is, but we do have an obligation—let’s get people in here, find out the needs, see if you can come up with a plan. Don’t try to freeze conflicts! [emphasis mine]”

Somehow, I don’t think he has to worry about Sudan’s conflicts freezing any time soon.

(image of Gration, November 2007, from flickr user Barack Obama under a Creative Commons license)