The Magazine

Two Sudans Are Better Than One

How to end the civil war and weaken the Islamists.

Jun 15, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 37 • By ROGER KAPLAN
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By contrast, notes J. Peter Pham, an Africanist and defense expert at James Madison University, the southerners, while desperately poor and ill-equipped, held off the northerners for decades, and even the Darfuris are still standing. And this is despite absolutely fantastic crimes committed against the civilian populations in both regions. If they had antiaircraft capability, the hardened cadres of the SPLA (the [Southern] Sudan People's Liberation Army, founded by Garang and others in the 1970s) say they could handle the one asset Bashir holds that might beat them into submission, air power.

What next? Under the Bush administration, the United States did more for Africa than during any previous period. Funding for health and education resources was vastly increased. Security arrangements grew apace--notably initiatives to curb Islamist infiltration across northern Africa and the creation of an Africa Command to institutionalize military cooperation between the U.S. Army and eligible African defense establishments. There is no indication the Obama administration is taking exception to these policies, which, while relatively minor in relation to the region's problems and the rapidly growing challenges from other powers with an interest in Africa, nevertheless are widely appreciated on the continent.

The U.S. interests in Sudan are not difficult to discern. Diplomats and observers acknowledge that by every historical and sociological measure, Sudan as it is presently traced on the map has little meaning or even viability, but that two Sudans would each possess at least a certain coherence. The northern half, pro-al Qaeda and anti-Western, would be weakened; the south, pro-Western and potentially a base for sustained economic growth in east and central Africa, would be strengthened.

Of course, the emergence of two independent Sudans remains hypothetical, but a drastic geographic makeover would offer an opportunity for a fresh start.

Roger Kaplan is a writer in Washington.