is cochair of Enough: The Project to End Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, at the Center for American Progress (www.americanprogress.org)
There is one job President-elect Barack Obama could take on from Day One that - if he were successful - could save billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives. And the small price tag justifies the risk. The job? Helping to bring peace to Sudan, the site of one of the world's deadliest wars and one that both he and President Bush have called genocide.
Times of deepest crisis often present the greatest opportunities. Vision and resolve are necessary to take advantage of those openings.
On Jan. 21, President Obama could first decide to stop managing the symptoms of war and genocide in Sudan and instead end the conflict. To that end, he could announce a "peace surge" for Sudan and the neighboring war-torn eastern and central African region, where the United States spends billions on humanitarian aid and peacekeeping troops but invests relative peanuts on the diplomacy required to bring peace.
Second, he could name a high-level envoy whose job it would be to work internationally to help bring peace to Sudan.
Third, he could appoint a team of foreign-service officers and country experts to deploy to the region to support the creation of a credible peace process to end the war in Darfur and ensure implementation of an earlier peace agreement in southern Sudan that now is in danger of falling apart.
Fourth, Obama could send a top official to China, which, along with the United States, is the foreign nation with the most influence in Sudan. Because of China's vast oil investments in Sudan, Beijing is at risk of exposure if war erupts again in the south. How powerful would it be if the United States and China decided to work together for peace in Sudan?
Fifth, Obama could slowly help ratchet up pressure on the warring parties to make peace by tasking his U.N. ambassador to work quietly to construct a package of targeted sanctions that would be applied to any government officials or rebels who undermined ensuing peace talks.
Sixth, his ambassador for NATO could quietly discuss plans for instituting a credible no-fly zone over Darfur, including concrete follow-up actions to counter civilian bombings or efforts by the Sudanese government to cut off access to humanitarian aid.
Seventh, he could bolster backing for the 2009 elections in Sudan, with robust support for development of political parties and army professionalization for the government of southern Sudan created by the peace deal there.
Eighth, Obama could task U.S. officials to work with the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union to develop a diplomatic strategy to address the conflict in neighboring Chad, which impacts Darfur's stability.
Ninth, he could do the same to deal with the threat to southern Sudan and the surrounding region posed by the Lord's Resistance Army, a regional militia originating in northern Uganda that specializes in abducting children to serve as soldiers and sex slaves.
Tenth, and understanding that peace is rarely possible without accountability, Obama could begin cooperating closely with the International Criminal Court, which is preparing cases against rebels, militia leaders, government officials, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. This would focus great pressure on the parties to the conflict in Sudan and lead them to support a peace deal if it would trigger the one-year suspension of their cases allowed under the ICC charter if it is in the overwhelming interest of peace.
Even against the backdrop of the global financial crisis, all of these actions are affordable and politically feasible. The payoff could be enormous if peace is secured in Sudan and billions of dollars in aid are saved in the longer run.
Rwanda was President Bill Clinton's greatest shame. Depending how Iraq ends up, Darfur may be that for President Bush. But Obama has a chance to rewrite history with real diplomatic leadership focused on ending Sudan's cycles of war. With millions of lives hanging in the balance, that is a chance worth taking.