By Zach Vertin—Foreign Affairs—January 30, 2017—
On a bitterly cold Washington morning eight years ago, a newly sworn-in president took to the inaugural podium and leveled a challenge to the world’s worst governments. “Know that you are on the wrong side of history,” a resolute Barack Obama said, “but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” In the years that followed, Obama followed through on his pledge by initiating strategic openings to both Iran and Cuba. In the final weeks of his presidency, he likewise announced a shift in policy on Sudan—another country with which the United States has long had hostile relations—including the easing of sanctions. He was right to do so, and now President Donald Trump should carry forward what his predecessor started.
Although the move came conspicuously late in Obama’s tenure, it is in fact the culmination of an initiative that began nearly two years ago through a series of bilateral talks. The initiative marked a recognition that Washington stood a better chance to achieve its goals in Sudan through a smarter, more flexible diplomacy—one that combines both pressure and engagement.