The world is a dangerous place. One in which challenges to the United States and our allies are seemingly everywhere: Syria, Russia, Iran, not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan. As a country, we have rarely been so disengaged when engagement is so needed.
It is far better to confront the challenges that threaten us far from our shores, rather than waiting until the threat arrives on our homeland. Our forward-thinking strategy keeps threats far away from us, which is one of the reasons we have had relatively few successful terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11.
Recently, it seems as if the forces of evil have been on the march. Each day, in headlines from places as diverse as Paris, Amsterdam, Tripoli, and the ISIS “Caliphate” in Syria and Iraq, the news overwhelms us with horrific incidents of murders by terrorists espousing ethnic cleansing and religious extremism.
Usually these movements – whether ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram or the Taliban – occur in areas where a political (or power) vacuum exists. Terrorism thrives where civil society has collapsed and there are no institutions to contain and address the threat.
Such is the case today in South Sudan.
South Sudan is located in an extremely dangerous, yet key, part of Africa. To the north is Sudan, a country whose president masterminded the well-documented genocide in Darfur and gave sanctuary to a young Osama Bin Laden. To the south is Uganda, home of Joseph Kony’s notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, which shocked the civilized world through its practice of mutilation. Nearby, Nigeria is the base to the armies of Boko Haram, infamous for the kidnapping, rape and murder of young girls.
South Sudan is threatened by many of the same evil forces that have been on a killing spree, with no end in sight, unless they are stopped by functioning African nations with help from Europe and the United States.
Three successive U.S. presidents strongly supported South Sudan in its successful fight for independence from Sudan. The country became fully autonomous in 2011. However, as in many new countries including America’s 1776 birthright, conflict remains.
Today, South Sudan is wracked by a civil war. The United States to date has largely stayed on the sidelines, choosing a strategy of neutrality in a faraway part of the world.
I believe it is in our national interest to be engaged and to support the elected government of the world’s youngest nation, for two reasons.
First, the civil war represents a humanitarian crisis: 50,000 have already died, 2 million are displaced, and millions more risk famine.
Second, the reality of the world in which we live is that terrorism thrives in the type of vacuum currently present in South Sudan. If the elected government of South Sudan falls, terrorists such as ISIS and Boko Haram will be the ultimate beneficiaries.
The world is a complicated place. The choices that are on the table are usually not as clear or simplistic as what we read in retrospect in the history books. Yet, I believe it is in America’s interest to support the elected government of South Sudan. Support can funnel through normal economic channels and come in the form of diplomatic and political encouragement to ensure that the necessary reforms are enacted for peace to ultimately reign.
To isolate South Sudan is to walk away from the opportunity to help it build its future and to protect ours.
Owens served as the 40th governor of Colorado, from 1999 to 2007. He is a senior fellow at the University of Denver's Institute for Public Policy Studies.