U.S. nation-building in South Sudan: A foreign policy of ignorant arrogance

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On Nov. 28, 2016, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, declared that she would soon introduce a resolution in the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan; and, to place travel restrictions and freeze the assets of certain persons deemed responsible for the grisly violence convulsing the new nation. South Sudan was midwifed by the United States from Sudan five years ago.

The United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, after a recent visit to South Sudan, discerned the “potential for genocide.” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned in a report that United Nations peacekeepers deployed to South Sudan could not diminish “a very real risk of mass atrocities.

Thereby hangs another tale of the United States foreign policy of ignorant arrogance in nation-building.

It is a task for political geniuses, who can be counted on one hand with fingers left over. Republics cannot be summoned into being with copies of the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They require a threshold of common culture, language, religion, customs, ethnicity, history, and education. They require a dispersal of power to prevent any political faction from acquiring sufficient power to oppress or persecute rival factions. They require institutional checks against limitless executive power—which is the earmark of all primitive political societies. And they require time to evolve.

A Republic, like a woman, must be courted, not taken by storm. Great Britain needed six centuries from Magna Carta in 1215 to the Great Reform Act of 1832 to embrace popular government. The United States needed nearly two centuries from the 1620 Mayflower Compact and the 1619 Virginia House of Burgesses to the 1787 United States Constitution for a Republic to take root. The 1789 French Revolution created a Republic by storm, but ended with the self-coronation of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte exercising power dwarfing the executive prerogatives of the Bourbons which had provoked the storming of the Bastille.

The United States orchestrated the secession of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011 by a combination of military pressure and economic sanctions. It was the de facto senior partner with South Sudanese military strongmen in negotiating an agreement with Sudan to hold a referendum on South Sudanese independence. It passed by 99 percent.

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