Violence in Sudan and the Decline of U.S. Hegemony

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Yves here. Below is a useful backgrounder in Sudan. These tweets give a 50,000 foot view, but please read the entire piece.

This tweet tells pretty much the same story, save the inclusion on appearance of the Cookie Monster:

Note that the French evacuated French civilian, while the Biden left 16,000 Americans to find their way out. Faced with criticism, even by CNN, the Administration relented….getting “hundreds” out.

But since Biden is now Doing Something, the public is supposed to believe America is once again acting on principle….other than maintaining our dominance.

By Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books including: “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (2019), “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (2010) and “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” (2006). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is Cross posted from Common Dreams

The world is changing. In fact, it has been undergoing seismic change that long preceded the Russian-Ukraine war, and the recent U.S.-Chinese tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

The U.S. debacle in Iraq and the Middle East, and the humiliating retreat from Afghanistan, were only signs of the decline in U.S. power.

Leading U.S. neoconservative strategists once argued in Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources For a New Century that aggressive intervention policies were meant to keep emerging great powers, like China, out of areas designated as U.S. geopolitical domains. They sought to “preserve and extend (U.S.) position of global leadership (through) maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces.”

A whole new world order is emerging, one that is hardly centered round U.S.-Western priorities alone.

They failed, and the future seems to head in a different direction than what the likes of Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfowitz had hoped for.

Instead, a whole new world order is emerging, one that is hardly centered round U.S.-Western priorities alone.

Indeed, what has taken place since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war in February 2022, and the provocative visit by then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taipei in August of the same year, are an acceleration of an existing momentum of global shifts, that ranged from the emergence of new economic alliances, geopolitical formations, turf wars, and, of course, competing political discourses.

These changes are currently on full display in the Middle East, Africa, and, indeed, much of the Global South.

While this can be considered a positive development, in the sense that a bipolar or multipolar world can offer alternatives to countries that have been at the receiving end of U.S.-Western exploitation and violence, it can—and will—have negative manifestations as well.

More Than a Power Struggle

Though the current war in Sudan is understood to be a power struggle between two rival generals or, more accurately, corrupt warlords, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, or Hemedti, it is also partly the outcome of a regional, and, increasingly, global power struggle as well. The regional and global dimension of the conflict in Sudan is itself an expression of the changing world order and the intense fight over resources and critical geographies.

Sudan is one of the richest African countries in terms of raw material, much of which remains un-exploited due to the country’s multifront and multilayered conflicts, starting in the South—which has led to the secession of the Republic of South Sudan—then West, namely Darfur, and, as of now, everywhere else.

The North-South civil war and the Darfur crisis, too, were sustained and prolonged by outside parties, whether Sudan’s own neighbors or global powers. Sadly, in all these cases, the outcome was horrific in terms of human and material losses.

Sudan, however, was not the exception. Proxy wars in the Global South were one of the main features of the Cold War between Washington and Moscow, until the collapse of the Soviet Union from 1989 to 92. The dismantlement of the USSR, however, only exacerbated violence, this time channeled mostly through U.S.-led or championed wars in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Now that global rivalry is back with a vengeance, global conflicts, especially in resource-rich and strategic regions with no clear political allegiances, are also back.

Sudan will not be the last of such conflicts.

What complicates the picture in Sudan now is the involvement of other regional actors, each with a specific set of interests, as they take advantage of the quickly dwindling U.S. leadership, which, until recently, was the Middle East’s primary political and military hegemon.

The current shifts in power relations in the Middle East—as in other parts of the world—are also significant within historical, not merely current, political contexts.

History Reversed

Since the Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed in 1916 between old colonial powers France and Britain—with a minor, but still important involvement of Tsarist Russia—the Middle East and North Africa, along with Central Asia, were divided into various spheres of influence. Global priorities then were almost entirely Western.

The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was a watershed moment in world history, as it sowed the seeds for a possibility of a new global bloc to rival Western domination.

It took decades for that new bloc to emerge. In 1955, the Warsaw Pact was born, unifying the Soviet Union and its allies against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a Western military alliance that saw the light six years earlier.

The rivalry between both camps was expressed in fierce economic competition, a political Cold War, a low-grade military conflict, proxy wars, and two distinctly ideological discourses that defined our understanding of world politics for much of the 20th Century.

All of this came to a bitter end in the early 1990s. NATO won, while the Warsaw Pact, along with the USSR, disintegrated rapidly and in the most humiliating fashion. It was “the end of history,” Francis Fukuyama declared. It was the age of Western triumphalism and, by extension, more colonial wars, starting in Panama, then Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq again, and elsewhere.

China factored in all of this, not as a major global political player, yet, but as a worthy adversary and prized ally. The historic visit by U.S. President Richard Nixon to Beijing in 1972 thwarted efforts to unify the East against U.S.-Western imperialism. That trip, which supposedly “changed the world” per the assessment of then-Ambassador Nicholas Platt, was indeed consequential. It was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union as it gave Washington a massive advantage and strategic boost over its rivals.

But history is now being reversed in ways that only a few geopoliticians could have possibly predicted.

The New Powers

The road ahead is not entirely clear. But numerous signs, accompanied by tangible changes, suggest that the world is transforming. However, this metamorphosis is more visible in some regions than others. The geopolitical tug-of-war between old and new global rivals is most visible in the Middle East and Africa, in addition, of course, to South America, East Asia, and Pacific regions. Each of these regions is undergoing its own re-ordering of power relations and dynamics.

In the Middle East, for example, Iran seems to be breaking away from its West-imposed isolation, while Saudi Arabia is challenging its old client regime status.

The latter move is particularly troubling for Washington, as it challenges two layers of Western domination of the Middle East: one which followed the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916—thus dividing the region into subregions under Western “protection” and influence—and the other which resulted from the U.S.-NATO invasion of Iraq. With massive political sway, an ever-growing military presence, and a weaponized U.S. currency, Washington had dominated the Middle East with no serious competition for many years. This is no longer the case.

For years, Russia and China have been staking claims in the region, though using mechanisms that are wholly removed from the Western style of old colonialism and neocolonialism. While the Russians tapped into their long Soviet tradition of cooperation, the Chinese resorted to a more ancient history of friendly trade and cultural exchanges.

Now that Beijing has developed a more candid and unapologetic approach to foreign policy, China’s status as a new superpower shall demonstrate its effectiveness in the Middle East in unprecedented ways. In fact, it already has. The recent Iran-Saudi Accords was a tremendous achievement for the new politically oriented China, but the road ahead is still very challenging, as the region is rife with foreign contenders and old and new conflicts. For China to succeed, it must present itself as a new and better model, to be contrasted with Western exploitation and violence.

But China does not hold all the keys, as the U.S. and its Western and regional allies continue to hold significant influence. For example, the UAE is emerging as a powerful player in the current war in Sudan.

What is certain is that the consequences of the current fight for resources, influence, and domination are likely to lead to smaller, though bloody, conflicts, especially in countries that are politically and socially unstable. Sudan fits perfectly into this category, which makes its current war particularly alarming.

Although much has been said and written about Sudan’s gold, agriculture potential, and massive wealth of raw materials, the fight over Sudan by outside parties is essentially a turf war due to Sudan’s unparalleled geopolitical location. Egypt, Ethiopia, UAE, Israel, and others are all keen to emerge winners in the ongoing war. Russia is monitoring the situation closely from its various African bases. The U.S., Britain, and France are wary of the dire consequences of direct intervention and the equally costly price of no intervention at all. China is still gauging the challenges and opportunities.

The outcome of the bloody Sudan war is likely to redefine not only Sudan’s own political balances but the power relations of the whole region as well.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Being a bit of a cynic, I can see two developments arising here in the Sudan. The first is that the Ukraine will find themselves with a new market for all those arms that they are selling on the black market. A lot of the excess arms in the world have been mopped up by the war in the Ukraine already so time to cash in. The second will be the appearance of ISIS soon. Those in Yemen were just complaining bitterly of how the Saudis and the Iranians have made peace with each other leaving them to be the only ones left fighting the Houthis. How long before they are ‘mysteriously’ transported to the Sudan for a new war and being supported by unmarked helicopters? It has happened before.

  2. Aurelien

    It always intrigues me how even the fiercest critics of the US tend to be in thrall to the idea of American Exceptionalism, just turned round the other way. The present crisis has little to do with the US (or China for that matter, which has been in Sudan for twenty years). If you want to know about the background, read books by Douglas Johnson, Mahmoud Mamdani, or Alex de Waal, who know the country intimately (it’s not clear the writer has ever been there.) More recently, there is an excellent article by the Sudanese journalist Nasrine Malik, in, of all places, the Guardian, which explains the background very well.

    This latest round of violence is just a continuation of the civil wars that have characterised the country since independence in 1956. A huge territory, previously loosely administered by Egypt, was taken over but not really run by the British, and hustled into independence (as Nigeria was) with a state apparatus completely inadequate to control the vast expanse of the country. Political power was taken by the Muslim elites from the region to the North of Khartoum, who had been the traditional colonial ruling class, and conflict between the centre and the periphery began almost at once. The main Civil War (1958-2005 with a pause in the middle) was not, as the writer seems to think about North vs. South, but about Khartoum vs the regions, just as the Darfur conflict was a little later. It’s a constant struggle for power and influence between groups in different regions (including now a fratricidal struggle in the “Christian” South) in which foreigners (notably Ethiopia) have been involved, but where the West and the Russians and Chinese have played only minor roles.

    Because of the impossibility of controlling the whole of this enormous territory with the resources available, Khartoum early on developed a policy of sub-contracting security in distant parts of the country to militia groups. What we are seeing here is both of these things happening at once: militia groups trying to take power, and regional forces in conflict with each other. The West (the UK and US) has been attempting to find a solution, and with Saudi Arabia and the UAE did persuade the two sides to stop fighting and share power. But like all such truces it failed eventually, because of the inherent dynamics of the country: too big, too disparate, and beyond the ability of any one force to control for very long.

    1. Thuto

      I don’t know about this, that’s not what my cousin who worked and lived in Sudan for twelve years is hearing from contacts on the ground. This comes across as hunkering down in a defensive posture to absolve the west of (part) responsibility in this mess. It seems to me you’re using historical facts, which you’re supremely well versed in, to construct an analysis that dismisses or underplays the possibility that nefarious state actors like the US, and individual operators within them like Nuland, may be just as well versed in the ethnic/cultural tensions prevalent in these countries and can use them as cover for their dirty deeds and to make things unintelligible for those not familiar with the political situation in said countries. The criminal underworld knows this tactic of obfuscation through confusion built on top of facts all too well, that’s why the elimination of rival “bosses” with lots of enemies is never easy to solve, after all the motive, means and perhaps opportunity are distributed more or less evenly across the cast of enemies, whodunnit is a tough question to answer under those circumstances. In places where simmering tensions abound, people like Nuland come in and light the fuse and watch the explosion from a safe distance while invoking all sorts of historical facts about why the explosion they caused is just the latest in a long line of explosions this region of the world is known to have from time to time.

      1. Aurelien

        You know Africa very well, so you will be familiar with the tendency in certain quarters of the continent to ascribe everything that happens to foreign interference: I’ve heard details of more dastardly western plots in different African countries over the last thirty years than I can count. I don’t know Sudan as well as your cousin obviously does, but I’ve heard the same sort of accusations there periodically, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that lots of people on the ground see nefarious actors at work now. This isn’t to say, of course, that there aren’t nefarious actors at work, and I should not be surprised if the US is up to no good, although trying to sabotage a peace agreement that you yourself have helped to facilitate does seem a bit extreme, even by their standards.

        But my real irritation was with the article itself, which is poorly informed (the author seems to think the Sykes-Picot agreement had something to do with Sudan) and is trying to shoehorn a complex series of events into a prefabricated conceptual framework. The problem, in my view, is that the Washington strategic ego is so enormous and so powerful that both government and the media-NGO complex are unable to imagine any event anywhere in the world where the US is not taking a preponderant role. Ironically, critics of the US tend to accept the egotistical fantasy at face value.

        But there are plenty of better sources available, for example, the ICG, which now has a very good page on Sudan:

        And it’s also worth reading Alex de Wall’s latest analysis, in which he argues (convincingly in my view) that the problem is not too much US involvement but too little: that Sudan has not been a priority for the Biden administration, and diplomacy has faltered. The conclusion is worth highlighting:

        “Each of the outside power brokers has its own preferences. Egypt backs al-Burhan. The UAE leans towards Hemedti. But none of them want a war that will cause millions of refugees, destroy their investments and cause mayhem in their backyard. Russia has ties to the RSF but it has a bigger stake in keeping Egypt onside. Ten years ago, China and the U.S. agreed that they had complementary interests in Sudan, and that reality should not have changed.

        There’s no doubt that the U.S. has lost a lot of leverage over the last decade. What’s tragic is that it seems to have rationed its diplomacy as well, and left Africa adrift.”

        1. Thuto

          I’m familiar with the tendency you reference of ascribing to foreign interference every less than desirable outcome on the continent. To a degree, I tend to be forgiving of it because laying the blame for contemporary suffering at the feet of those who oppressed you for generations is a reflexive heuristic and a protective mechanism borne of emotional/psychological scar tissue built up over a long period of time. This tendency has a close cousin in the west of ascribing every undesirable thing that happens in Africa to bad governance, corrupt leaders, underdevelopment, poverty, sectarian divisions etc, a rather naive tendency which skilled bad actors use to shield their nefarious activities from unwanted scrutiny. I’d say when in doubt, one should err on the side of assuming the US had a hand in a destabilizing event, doubly so in a hotly contested region where great powers are jostling for position, whether they succeeded or not is a separate issue. It’s the analyst whose analysis is somewhere in the middle of these two tendencies who untangles the web of complexity that wraps itself around most events of geopolitical import in Africa most convincingly in my view.

          When the incentives of local players align with the political objectives of foreign actors, things move, for good or ill. In the case of Sudan, the US sees a Russian naval base in Africa as an inflection point in the erosion of its influence on the continent, and has no aversion as we know from interventions in other parts of the world to stoking pre-existing tensions and then aligning itself with one side of the warring factions to achieve its objectives when conflict breaks out. This in my view is the Occam’s razor argument and it’s at least as credible as any in explaining why this conflict broke out when it did and the events leading up to it only serve to strengthen it (lest we forget, the US has taken to repeating ad nauseam the “counter Russia’s growing influence in Africa” mantra).

          I think De Wall’s analysis presents a lucid perspective well worth reading and makes a lot of sense, but, it’s written for a world where the US isn’t flailing about in a desperate attempt to maintain its position as a hegemon, as such I struggle with its conclusions for this reason. The first thing people like Nuland and the governments they serve jettison in times like these is reason, pragmatism and a logical view of the world, and perhaps what’s happening now in Sudan is the result of the country popping up on their diplomatic radar again after a period of neglect.

          1. some guy

            The two separate thinker-groups’ two separate thought-heuristics should perhaps both and separately be offered a chance to answer the ” Dr. Phil” question . . .

            ” So . . . how’s that working out for you?”

            ( Its even become a meme, viz . . . )

    2. ron paul rEVOLution

      >The main Civil War (1958-2005 with a pause in the middle) was not, as the writer seems to think about North vs. South, but about Khartoum vs the regions, just as the Darfur conflict was a little later. It’s a constant struggle for power and influence between groups in different regions (including now a fratricidal struggle in the “Christian” South) in which foreigners (notably Ethiopia) have been involved, but where the West and the Russians and Chinese have played only minor roles.

      Joshua Craze, writing for New Left Review, made very similar points on Radio War Nerd a few weeks back, for members of the commentariat with long commutes. The episode was unlocked:

      Thank you for linking the Malik piece, going to read that now.

    3. hk

      I tend to think that one can go too far downplaying the role played by foreign powers in volatile regions as much as to blame US for everything. While I know very little about about Sudan, I’ve had experience going both ways. On one hand, I’ve run into people in various parts of the world–East Asia, Middle East, and Latin America who were insistent that without US intrigues, nothing would have happened; on the other hand, I’ve run into people who believed that they were doomed to have problems one way or another all by themselves because they were a mess. I tend to lean towards the latter myself most of the time (and having seen the bizarro universe of the alleged “Russian election meddling” that presumes almost superhuman ability of the Russians to manipulate American electorate rather than there being a serious political rot in US, it’s hard not to downplay the power of omnipotent outsiders), it does need to be noted that unstable polities in strategic locales do present the most attractive targets for foreign interventions if only because it takes very little to tip them over in the short term as the internal balancing mechanisms are very fragile. In the long run, Sudan probably will have had problems one way or another, but, in the short term it does seem quite plausible that the present crisis had a recent helping hand from the West. How decisive was it? Who knows, but it wouldn’t have taken much.

    4. some guy

      I’ve read and heard that there are deep Islamist embeds and left-behinds from the former al-Bashir government of Sudan who quietly worked to get a Civil War going so that Sudan can be disorganized enough to where Mr. al-Bashir can re-emerge from his undisclosed secret location and re-assume control of government.

      Hey! It’s a theory . . . .

  3. digi_owl

    While the cliff notes look nice, i have seen some issues raised about them. One particular one that stuck with me was that the author confused Sudan and South Sudan, with the latter supposedly being the recipient of the 288 million aid package.

    But the timeline is compelling, and i have already seen some gallows humor about taking a Nuland visit as a sign that one best leave the nation as things are about to blow.

  4. Thuto

    The chronology of events is the proverbial smoking gun. The US ambassador’s “advice” to scrap the naval base agreement with Russia was going unheeded and for optical and geostrategic reasons, the US couldn’t allow their number one (or number two depending on who you listen to and what day it is) adversary to put such points on the geopolitical scoreboard so this quickly became a situation requiring prompt resolution. The pilot of Miss Victoria “fcuk the EU” Nuland was told to warm up the jet and they were wheels up in no time bound for Khartoum where she was to give the Sudanese leadership, in classic Nuland style, a dressing down and remind them who’s in charge. Except she was told the deal was going ahead, to which she likely responded “over my dead body” by which she meant over the dead bodies of innocent Sudanese people is this deal going ahead, and poof, as if by magic, conflict breaks out. Of course Sudan has always been a flashpoint and has gotten even more so since the fall of Omar Al Bashir, but regions beset by tensions are where she does her “best” work as her body of work in other such places, most notably Ukraine, reveals.

    The hegemon isn’t going to go quietly into the night, on the contrary I suspect Nuland and her ilk will be in the ascendancy in the US and across the West as the “democracy vs autocracy” spiel rockets to the top of the political soundbite leaderboard over the next few years to justify all sorts of crazy things we are going to see these sociopaths come up with to cling on to power and help the US maintain dominance in a world that no longer wants to be dominated.

    1. spud

      this is the guy that supercharged regime change. anyone who starts out with bush jr. should re-examine their information.

      Syria Emerging Victorious

The anti-imperialist camp: splintered in thought

By Thierry Meyssan

      An additional step has been taken with military preparations against Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador following Mexico, Colombia and British Guyana. The team responsible for co-ordinating these measures is from the former Office of Global Democracy Strategy.

      This was a unit established by President Bill Clinton, then continued by Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz. Mike Pompeo, the current director of the CIA, has confirmed that this unit exists. This has led to rumours in the press, followed up by President Trump, of a US military option.

      When Iraq Was Clinton’s War
      Chip Gibbons
      Bill Clinton’s “quiet war” on Iraq set the stage for George W. Bush’s bloody invasion.

      “And our understanding of the Clinton years is the worse for it. Omitting the decade leading up to the 2003 invasion distorts the roots of the war, which wasn’t just a product of post–9/11 hysteria or the creation of various Bush administration personalities.”

      “Clinton’s determined parrying underscores the fact that while Bush set the sanctions in motion, Clinton not only embraced them but used them as a tool of regime change. It is he who bears the lion’s share of responsibility for the death and suffering of countless Iraqis.”

      “Five years later, Clinton signed the “Iraq Liberation Act” into law, formalizing the US’s demand for regime change. The legislation, which also appropriated $97 million to fund Iraqi opposition groups, was followed up with yet more military action: Operation Desert Fox.”
      we now know yugoslavia and milosivic were found innocent: Bill’s deeds have lessons for Americans. Had we learned them, maybe no U.S. forces would be fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere.

      By ben Avram MacJean
      Friday Oct 14, 2016 · 12:53 PM CDT

    2. alfred venison

      Thuto : double plus good comment! very nicely written, especially the last paragraph: “political soundbite leaderboard” & “maintain dominance in a world that no longer wants to be dominated” are superb. great use of “ilk”, too, imo. bravo & thankyou. -regards, a.v.

      1. Hickory

        No, it’s deeply wrong. “The world” never wanted to be dominated. What has changed is others’ capacity to resist domination.

  5. john

    What is the African Union doing to resolve the Sudan civil war? The elitist Saudis and UAE only care about resources and keeping refugees out. The US and Russians only care about humiliating each other, the Israelis want the gold, the UN just talks and does nothing, Egypt only cares about northern Sudan…The AU must step up or it and its client states are doomed forever…

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