President Donald Trump announced by tweet last week yet another Middle East peace achievement. Building off of the historic deals between Israel and the Persian Gulf nations of Bahrain the United Arab Emirates, Sudan has followed suit. But this is more than just a diplomatic breakthrough. It marks a crucial milestone for the people of Sudan, and for the United States.
For the Sudanese people, it is the end of a three-decades long saga during which their country was controlled war criminals and terrorists. The saga began in 1989, when strongman Omar al-Bashir rose to power. Sudan became a Muslim Brotherhood state, advised by Hassan al-Turabi, a jihadist ideologue who hosted annual Islamist conferences attended by myriad terrorist groups — Hamas, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda to name a few. The State Department justifiably added Sudan on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list in 1993. Sudan, in fact, was the early headquarters of Osama bin Laden before he moved his operation to Afghanistan in 1996.
The attacks of 9/11 forced the Bashir government to purge its Sunni jihadists. But, the country’s problems did not end. In 2003, a war in the Darfur region erupted, with rebel groups challenging the central government in Khartoum. Mr. Bashir responded with brutality, leading to charges of war crimes against him at the International Criminal Court.
Mr. Bashir also aided abetted the activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran — also a state sponsor of terrorism — granting it a safe haven in Africa to distribute arms to violent nonstate actors, including the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas. In 2012, the Israeli warplanes screamed across the skies of Sudan and destroyed a warehouse in Khartoum filled with lethal Iranian rockets. Soon after, the Bashir government began to usher the departure of Iranian agents.
But it was not until 2019 that the terrorists were finally purged. After five months of protests reminiscent of the Arab Spring, the Sudanese people ousted Omar al-Bashir. A new, transitional government took over. And while it is far from a liberal democracy, it has enacted reforms like separating mosque and state, and outlawing female genital mutilation. In short, it’s on the right path.
Earlier this year, Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, the chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council held a surprise meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, raising the specter of normalization between Israel and Sudan, which viewed Israel as an enemy since the 1950s, and officially declared war against it in 1967. The Trump administration, already at work on several other peace agreements in the region, took notice.
Throughout the spring and summer, Sudan pushed the United States to remove it from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. The Trump administration, in turn, pushed Sudan to normalize ties with Israel. It was a tough negotiation. But in the end, both sides got what they wanted.
For Sudan, the nightmare is over. One can only hope the new government continues to move in the right direction. Perhaps the United States and Israel, along with some Gulf states, can help that process along with technical, humanitarian and other assistance.
For the United States, the story of Sudan is no less impressive. Sure, it is another diplomatic victory for the Trump administration and its “outside in” approach to negotiating peace with peripheral Arab states while de-prioritizing the demands of the intransigent Palestinian leadership.
But there is more to celebrate. This was a victory for American foreign policy. Under American sanctions, Sudan was an international pariah. It was blocked from the U.S.-led banking system and shunned by the West for nearly 30 years. With the limited remaining resources, the Bashir government fed itself first, while casting the population into poverty.
Having reached their limit, the Sudanese people took matters into their own hands and won back their country. In other words, the Sudanese people earned their de-listing, and the United States did the right thing by removing the sanctions. In so doing, the United States sent an important message to the people of other countries ruled by war criminals and terrorists: you will be rewarded for winning your freedom.
Here’s looking at you, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.
Equally important was the lesson learned at home. Democrats and Republicans, while differing on the margins, did not accommodate Sudan until it truly turned a corner. There were no grand bargains involving billions of dollars in sanctions relief. There was no appeasement. We upheld our principles and won. And we did so without firing a shot.
Here’s looking at you again, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.
• Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the United States Department of the Treasury, is vice president for research at the nonpartisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C.
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