By Dana Milbank
Thursday, May 31, 2007
The Iraq war gave us Baghdad Bob, the Iraqi information minister who, while American troops patrolled nearby streets, held a defiant news conference to proclaim that there were no U.S. forces in the city.
Baghdad Bob, whose real name is Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, earned a place among the ranks of colorful propagandists such as Hanoi Hannah and Tokyo Rose. Now, the genocidal Sudanese government has an entry in this category. Let's call him Khartoum Karl.
Karl -- a.k.a. John Ukec Lueth Ukec, the Sudanese ambassador to Washington -- held a news conference at the National Press Club yesterday to respond to President Bush's new sanctions against his regime. In his hour-long presentation, he described a situation in his land that bore no relation to reality.
Genocide in the Darfur region? "The United States is the only country saying that what is happening in Darfur is a genocide," Ukec shouted, gesticulating wildly and perspiring from his bald crown. "I think this is a pretext."
Ah. So what about the more than 400,000 dead? "See how many people are dying in Darfur: None," he said.
And the 2 million displaced? "I am not a statistician."
Khartoum Karl went on to say that, all evidence to the contrary, his government does not support the murderous Janjaweed militia. "It cannot happen," he said, "so rule it out." As for the Sudanese regime itself: "We are the agents of peace, people like me, my colleagues who are in the central government of Sudan."
What's more, the good and peaceful leaders of Sudan were prepared to retaliate massively: They would cut off shipments of the emulsifier gum arabic, thereby depriving the world of cola.
"I want you to know that the gum arabic which runs all the soft drinks all over the world, including the United States, mainly 80 percent is imported from my country," the ambassador said after raising a bottle of Coca-Cola.
A reporter asked if Sudan was threatening to "stop the export of gum arabic and bring down the Western world."
"I can stop that gum arabic and all of us will have lost this," Khartoum Karl warned anew, beckoning to the Coke bottle. "But I don't want to go that way."
As diplomatic threats go, that one gets high points for creativity: Try to stop the killings in Darfur, and we'll take away your Coca-Cola.
But then, Ukec is a very creative man. While millions in Darfur go hungry, he suggested that the U.S. sanctions would limit "the sugar the Darfurians need seriously." He explained: "The people of Darfur, they need a lot of sugar and they are used to it."
The gems kept tumbling from his lips. "Sudan is the breadbasket of the world," he boasted, and it is setting up "the best democracy in the world." Further, "we have opened our arms to the rest of the world." All this genocide talk "is just a concocted idea." After all, "Darfur is a very small spot," he argued, and "we are not warmongers."
"We are just telling you the facts," he added.
Khartoum Karl paid about $600 for a small room at the press club and a spread of Coca-Cola products. A dozen reporters, and a similar number of Sudanese Embassy officials, watched the ambassador for an hour as he shouted into the microphone and delivered a circular and rambling complaint about the injustice of U.S. sanctions. His fingers, fists and arms flew through the air, exposing the flashy gold watch on his wrist.
Growing less lucid as the hour progressed, Ukec blamed a Darfur lobby "that has taken control of the Democratic Party," which in turn pressured Bush to take action against Sudan. "The Democrats do not want Bush to go through with the success he has made in Sudan," the ambassador reasoned.
Whenever he found himself in a rhetorical jam, which was frequently, Ukec had an all-purpose answer: Iraq. Justifying the killings in Darfur that he had just denied, he asked: "How many times have we seen on the TV civilians in Iraq have been killed? And they are said to be collateral. Why does it apply to United States and it doesn't apply to the army of Sudan?"
The ambassador's perspiration became more profuse as he answered questions about the killings. "It's Darfurians fighting among themselves," he ventured. "It's just you and your cousin fighting with you."
A reporter asked Ukec how he would describe the situation in Darfur. The ambassador compared it to the American West: "The farmers are being squeezed by the herders, just like you had here in the 18-something, when the cowboys were fighting . . . with the farmers over land for grazing."
Undoubtedly, Khartoum Karl is under a great deal of stress these days, and, toward the end, he revealed the personal nature of his complaint. "You are failing me in particular," he said. "The people of Sudan sent me here because they know I have good relationship with you guys. . . . And I come and I've been slammed with the sanctions."
It was, perhaps, the only honest thing the ambassador said all day. "I am the man with the toughest job in the world," he asserted. With Baghdad Bob out of business, that just may be the truth.
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