By Andrew Quist
Since mid-December, mass protests have been occurring in Sudan opposing the rule of the murderous dictator Omar al-Bashir. On Thursday, thousands marched in the streets in 10 cities. The government has responded to the protests violently; security forces have fired on crowds, killing more than 40 people. Another 816 people have been arrested, and security forces are targeting journalists for arrest.
President Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for the crime of genocide. According to journalist Nicholas Kristof, Bashir has committed genocide three times: in Darfur, in the Nuba Mountains, and in South Sudan (Bashir is targeting non-Arab populations). Sudan is also a state sponsor of terror. Despite these facts, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations have cooperated with the Sudanese government on counterterrorism, and the Trump administration is moving towards restoring full diplomatic relations with Sudan. President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have said nothing in response to the Sudanese government’s recent crackdown on protestors.
The U.S. government’s policy towards Sudan is an example of the prominence effect operating on foreign policy decision making. The prominence effect is a decision-making bias that causes people to forgo making difficult tradeoffs and simply choose the option that is better in the most prominent or defensible attribute, ignoring effects on other important values.
In the realm of foreign policy decision making, U.S. officials have often defaulted to favoring whatever outcome is seen as better on national security to the detriment of values like human rights, democracy, and freedom. For decades now, the U.S. has turned a blind eye to Bashir’s genocides, and now, by remaining silent, President Trump makes it more likely Bashir will continue to use violence on civilians.
U.S. leaders should strongly condemn the killing and arrest of peaceful protesters in Sudan and encourage Bashir to leave power peacefully.
Photograph of Omar al-Bashir by the U.S. Navy (public domain).