The Platform

Christopher Hubenthal

For three decades, the people of Sudan suffered from oppression, genocide, and attacks on the civilian population. And under the rule of an authoritarian dictator, the crisis undermined the lives of over 40 million residents. Even so, the demographic disaster continues to rage on, affecting the lives of countless generations to come. This is the story of Sudan, and how it reveals the true colors of American foreign policy.

In 2019, the Sudanese military and a popular pro-democracy movement joined in revolt against the nation’s dictator, Omar al-Bashir. To prevent further social unrest, the parties intended to keep the country stable till a new government could be formed in the 2023 elections. But conflicts began to emerge when party leaders prioritized different factional objectives. Before tensions spiraled out of control, the African Union stepped in to mediate the situation, establishing governmental terms to share power and appointed Abdalla Hamdok as prime minister.

The next two years went somewhat smoothly, with al-Bashir tried in the ICC, agreements between the military and pro-democratic movement, and peace deals with rebel groups. However, this fragile peace soon broke in October, when the Sudanese military carried out a coup and removed Hamdok from power. In turn, the coup sparked foreign troubles for developing Sudan.

As a democratic nation, the United States works to further the global spread of fellow democracies. For such a reason, they had agreements to send $700 million in aid to the Sudanese government led by Hamdok, who worked to democratize and liberalize the country. However, after the military coup, American aid was immediately suspended. The new military government was faced with a predicament, wanting to maintain power yet desperately needing the aid. For the next four weeks, the military (presumably) tested to see if they could survive without such aid. They then decided against it, reinstating Hamdok as prime minister on November 21.

No matter what the Sudanese government may say, there is a high possibility of the military still playing a key role in Sudanese affairs, while only reinstating Hamdok to be the face of the country. On the domestic scale, many Sudanese were protesting for civilian rule, and on the international scale, Sudan needed continuous American aid, and Hamdok’s restoration would be able to fix both concerns. However, the Sudanese people saw through this facade, and demanded that for the country to enact democratic change, the military must leave, as authoritative power through force will always overwhelm an unstable government. On the other hand, the United States hasn’t exactly looked past this front.

As a global superpower that depends on trade (especially oil), America sees the geographical location of Sudan as crucial for its national interests. Sudan lies on the Red Sea, which is a vital route for the transportation of oil from Middle Eastern countries to the rest of the world, and if anything was to endanger the stability of this region, the United States would be one of the hardest-hit countries. Additionally, America’s reputation as the “global policeman” causes them to need to maintain their constant patrol in the region to make sure the cohesion of the Middle East is intact. This can explain why the United States is acting prematurely towards reversing their punishments, and not explicitly demanding much more from the Sudanese government, as they don’t want to pursue any aggressive actions that could threaten their future influence in the region.

Even U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Khartoum that they were on the right path with the reinstatement of Hamdok to eventually reverse the aid suspension. Whether Blinken has accidentally or purposely looked past this “puppet show” of the military having more power than Hamdok, the Sudanese military has received the message that their ploy had achieved positive results. While the military will continue to carry out fake performances, the United States may continue to neglect the authenticity behind these actions.

In the coming days, more information about the process will be revealed, but this current narrative shows us a deep flaw in American international affairs: the necessity for oil, and their reputation as the global policeman.

When looking at America’s national interests, the acquisition of oil is at the top of their list, and Washington has made it clear that their foreign policy can and will revolve around their dependence on the resource. Whether it be the Iranian Revolution, the invasion of Iraq, or refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, America has always involved itself to make sure oil operations aren’t interfered with. Washington has deployed thousands of troops to key Middle Eastern nations, seeking to gain an advantage in the oil trade. In turn, this secures the stability of the American dollar, playing into safety with the global market.

Although Washington has worked to expand its energy independence, there is no doubt that its reliance on foreign oil has trapped them in a hole for the coming decades. Exerting vast influence through financial aid in Sudan, and deploying thousands of troops in the Middle East to maintain the safe passage of oil is a short-term solution, not an everlasting one.

Ever since the Paris Peace Treaties were signed at the end of World War 2, the United States has emerged as the global policeman. Whether it was Russia in the Cold War, the protection of Kuwait in the Gulf War, or with China and their South China Sea claim today, America has always been at the forefront of geopolitical disputes. And this could be seen with the Sudan crisis, as maintaining influence in the region allows the United States to continue to patrol the hostile area, making sure nothing disrupts free trade.

But why does America have to do this? Why do they have to spend billions of dollars for decades on end to protect the rest of the world? Why can’t another superpower like China share the role of the global policeman? Beijing has the financial and military capability to do so, and they wouldn’t dare disrupt the trade in the area, as the Red Sea is vital to their economy.

Although America has the resources necessary to keep this reputation, these assets could be better used elsewhere, especially for quicker domestic advancements. And there is no secret that China has been rapidly advancing these past decades, which is because they can just focus on themselves with little foreign, geopolitical entanglement.

Even though America has the financial capacity to give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, it is clear that they have given Sudan so much and are willing to overlook some differences due to its geographic significance, which thus emerges as an American flaw. The recent Sudanese crisis has revealed the hidden undercurrents within American foreign policy: economically dependent on oil-rich countries and hindered by a reputation as the “global policeman.” And it’s true. Emerging nations that aren’t as intertangled, like China, have been able to pull ahead to steer global politics. It is now up to Washington on how they want their tale to continue.

Sanjan Kanajanavar is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley pursuing a double major in Political Economy and Global Studies. Sanjan's previous roles include serving as content director of a foreign policy organization, where he oversaw the production of over 170 articles. His passion for learning more about the world is evident with his research articles and love for travel. Sanjan speaks fluent English and Kannada, has limited proficiency in Chinese, and is currently learning French at his university.