Can US successes in Sudan be replicated in Iraq? Ask China

Apr 17, 2004 02:00 AM

by Franz Schurmann

As the United States struggles to establish order and credibility in Iraq, it could learn from its own successes in Sudan, as well as from the role of the Chinese played there.
It's well known that the Iraq War has been largely waged over who will dominate global oil. The United States already dominates a good part of global oil, along with its junior partner Britain. But it's not widely known that China, step by step, is becoming as much a global player in the efforts to ensure a consistent oil supply.
Even a decade ago, Beijing's streets were clogged by heavy traffic -- but it was bicycles, not cars. However, as the London Financial Times reports, now "drivers may find petrol [gasoline] prices remaining stubbornly high this spring, as surging demand from China continues to surprise analysts." China is hurtling into the car, truck and plane age. And that requires several millions of bpd of oil to keep on moving its 1.3 bn population.

With Vice President Dick Cheney's recent visit to China, it's now clear that US-China relations are closer than they have been since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. But it's also not widely known that China and the United States have been silently working together for many years to bring oil and natural gas from Sudan, Africa's biggest country by area, onto the global markets.
Cheney, it would seem, is the high US official Bush would least likely send to China to discuss perilous issues. Cheney was a staunch proponent of the "China threat" theory. But when he was not serving in the two Bush administrations, he led Halliburton, which makes the world's top oil lifting equipment. He has long railed against conservation and defended Americans' penchant for cars. He is first and foremost an oilman, and Chinese leaders can relate to that.

Cheney certainly knows that large numbers of Chinese workers have been operating in Sudan over many years. Last December Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir spoke highly of Sudan-Chinaties.
He said, "In the past China helped gratuitously to build roads and bridges for the Sudan, but now China is engaged in petroleum projects and dam construction." Because the Clinton administration branded Sudan a "rogue state," only a few Canadian and British firms were able to move crude oil and LNG to Port Sudan on the Red Sea and then onto world markets.
Yet now the US Agency for International Development, in a detailed plan for "Sudan's development 2004-2006," wrote: "The prospects have never been better for national peace and a transition to recovery and development [in Sudan]."

America's relations with Sudan had been through several ups and downs. In 1994, after the Saudis revoked his passport, Osama bin Laden fled to Sudan and launched philanthropic projects there through his organization Al Qaeda. In 1996, under presumed American pressure, Khartoum deported Osama bin Laden. When the Clinton administration absorbed the shock of the Taliban's coming to power in Afghanistan in 1996, they abandoned Sudan.
On Sept. 6, 2001, President Bush sent former senator and Episcopalian bishop John Danforth as his personal envoy to Sudan and then in May 2002 elevated his mission to "Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan." Even though Danforth left Sudan before the signing of a final peace treaty, the negotiations in Kenya have turned into haggling over who gets how much from the huge pile of oil royalties. However, greed can be a road to peace!
Mbendi, a South African oil Web site, describes Sudan's oil reserves as "vast." Iraq, as is widely known, has oil reserves second only to those of Saudi Arabia. If peace should come to Iraq by June 30, then Bush and Cheney can relax and let others do the haggling. But if peace doesn't come, oil prices will shoot up, thereby endangering America's culture of cars, trucks and planes.

Why have Sudan peace talks come close to succeeding while the Iraqi ones don't even exist? The simplest explanation is that Bush did not send troops to Sudan but did so to Iraq. Another key difference is that Bush reappointed Danforth in Sudan but sacked General Jay Garner hardly a month after he was in office and brought in L. Paul Bremer. Danforth's methods were shrewdness, patience and moving step by step. But the two American pro-consuls in Iraq had very different approaches, thereby confusing Iraqis and leading to much bloodshed.
But one of the biggest boosts to the peace process was the presence of Chinese workers, who kept building roads and pipelines, demonstrating to the warring parties that jobs would come with peace. Some Sudanese even thought they were soldiers and one newspaper headline read "700,000 Chinese troops in the Sudan."

America, China and the world have a common interest in maintaining the culture of cars, trucks and planes. The world needs African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian oil. Wars destroy oil and LNG pipelines. The way Bush handled the Sudan issue was correct. The way he handled Iraq was wrong.
It's not too late to get some advice and support from the Chinese. In Sudan many Chinese were killed, but the roads and pipelines were built. If China is asked by the United Nations to send in troops, chances are they will see themselves first as workers and only second as soldiers.

PNS Editor Franz Schurmann ( is emeritus professor of history and sociology at UC Berkeley and the author of numerous books.

Source: Pacific News Service
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