The "comprehensive strategy to confront the serious and urgent situation in Sudan" President Obama outlined yesterday was far from anything new in American diplomatic affairs, which is not to say ineffective. Actually, the shift in policy marks a sharp return to diplomatic tactics the U.S. perfected during its expansionist phase in the 19th and early 20th centuries: 'big stick' and 'dollar' diplomacy. Here is how the two policies worked then and are intended to now.
Dollar diplomacy works like dangling a carrot on a stick in front of a donkey, providing a motivation to move in any direction the dangler sees fit. The U.S. did this with Caribbean and South American nations throughout the 19th century to great effect, and is generally associated with Theodore Roosevelt, who also won a Nobel Peace Prize. The Sudan plan outlined by Obama will hold out "incentives" for Khartoum if it improves its record on human rights and the advancement of peace. Dollar diplomacy incentives generally include generous aid packages and industrial development. Sudanese President Ghazi Salahadin calls this a policy of "engagement not isolation," euphemisms about which he would do well to seek critical historical scrutiny.
Big stick diplomacy generally tends to be used after dollar diplomacy fails, and its effectiveness lies in a threat and/or its actualization: do what we tell you to, or we'll beat you with our bigger stick. The U.S. has done this numerous times, most recently in Iraq under the pretext of eliminating weapons of mass destruction that were never found. While Obama did not explicitly mention the big stick diplomatic tactic, it is implied in affirmation that "Our conscience and our interests in peace and security call upon the United States and the international community to act with a sense of urgency and purpose." These words are remarkably similar to those uttered by George W. Bush and his father before attacking Iraq.
The original U.S. big stick and dollar diplomacies were put into effect because American could not, at the time, dictate terms to other countries because the global empires of the British, French and Spanish were still too strong. In our stage of globalization, the same holds true for different reasons. This is why Alex de Waal, Sudan expert at the Social Science Research Council, rightly states that "It is not as if the US can dictate the terms, let alone bring along Russia, China, and the Arab world." As current events, President Salahadin is right to think these diplomatic moves are "new" in terms of U.S.-Sudan relations, but they are far from it as historical forces that have shaped the future in which we live.