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Susan Rice, America's "See No Evil" Ambassador

Forget about Benghazi. The whole imbroglio was little more than an election gambit gone sour. Republican leaders, frustrated that their charges failed to wound Obama in November, have vented their fury on his choice for Secretary of State.

But Susan Rice's record as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. raises other more serious concerns. The New York Times published two articles today, a news story and an op-ed, which question Rice's judgment concerning several African dictators.

Effective foreign policy requires a certain amount of flexibility. Overweening idealism may imperil American security and even the lives of the people we hope to protect. It is worth letting a brutal dictator escape prosecution, for example, to avoid a bloody civil war. Moreover, endless American moralizing tends to diminish our global influence. The Bush Administration repeatedly bolstered the popularity of anti-American despots, like Hugo Chavez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by ham-handedly denouncing them at the slightest provocation.

But the business of realpolitik can be dangerously seductive. When a diplomat begins to see the silver lining in every dictatorship, when she calculates every move according to its strategic value, when she goes out of her way defend autocrats who deserve prosecution, then we need to worry.

There are troubling signs that Rice has these tendencies.

The late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia was not the worst dictator in Africa. He left his country in much better shape than when he came to power in 1991. But his 21-year reign was also marred by political repression, police massacres, press crackdowns, election violations, and international aggression. At his funeral, Rice called him "brilliant," "a son of Ethiopia and a father to its rebirth," and "a true friend to me."

Rice has also been kind to Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, one of her former clients when she worked for a strategic analysis firm in Washington. According to a former New York Times correspondent, she tacitly approved their invasions of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s, arguing that the two leaders would be able to protect the region from genocide.

"They know how to deal with that," the journalist reported her as having said, "The only thing we have to do is look the other way."

Rice has denied supporting the invasion, yet she continues to shield Kagame from criticism. When her French and British counterparts at the U.N. sought to condemn Rwanda for supporting the M23 rebels who have brutalized eastern Congo, she reportedly objected to "naming and shaming" Kagame.

"Listen Gerard," she said, according to the French diplomat, "This is the D.R.C. If it weren't the M23 doing this, it would be some other group."

A few weeks later, she successfully pushed the U.N. to remove direct references to Kagame and Rwanda from a resolution condemning M23.

Eastern Africa is a hard place, one of the hardest in the world. We should not harbor any illusion that moral proclamations--what Rice called "naming and shaming"--will do much to resolve its enduring crises or free its people from seemingly endless repression.

But it is one thing to recognize the limits of American grandstanding. It is quite another to refuse to acknowledge the presence of evil--or worse to defend and rationalize it.

President Obama should take a hard look at his chosen nominee for Secretary of State. We all should.

Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual

To be cynical, isn't our whole foreign policy about finding complacent dictators to take our drones and let us set up bases in the war on terror? We're starting to hopscotch around Africa like we did Latin America 3-4 decades ago, only press reporting isn't as good. The new CIA, better than the old CIA? Now that Petraeus is gone, perhaps some reality-based evaluation will return, even at the star-struck NY Times.

There has always been a push-pull conflict between "realists" and "idealists" that causes American foreign policy to vacillate. I agree that we tend to err more on the realist side (though relative to other historic military powers, we lean idealist).

I'm referring more to a real-politik shift over the last 12 years that might have made Kissinger blush. It seems all about picking winners now rather than running a core policy and working off of exceptions. I couldn't fathom what our economic & trade foreign policy is if we're even running one, and for military/security it seems about a couple dozen bilateral anti-terror and base agreements in the Mideast, a bit of regime change here and there, and the rest of the world be damned.

I think the neocons had a core strategy. Misguided and dangerous, sure, but I believe some of them had an honest, idealistic vision for a new world order. The extent to which GW and Cheney bought into that vision or exploited it for their purposes, I'm not sure.

 

 I only disagree with limiting that belief by use of the past tense. And, misguided and dangerous as their strategy was proven to be, it lives on whether self-acknowledged neocons are still at the levers or not.

Okay, got me, yes, they had their own domino theory and picked the countries to knock down in order.

When Rice was taking so much heat over her Benghazi statements on the Sunday talk shows   I did take a closer look at her Wikipedia bio and found several direct quotes there very disturbing.

The inability or failure of the Clinton administration to do anything about the [Rwandan] genocide would inform her later views on possible military interventions.[19] She would later say of the experience: "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required."[20]

Not exactly the measured response of a career diplomat and definitely not a sentiment I would want from an ambassador let alone a Secretary of State.

I intended to take a harder look if and when she was actually nominated.  Thanks for  reminding me and providing the links to do so.  

 

I remember that quote. At first blush, it looks like a idealistic sentiment. That's how the media presents it, and that's how I first read it. But in the context of her responses to Kagame, I see it now as a fierce commitment to stability because stability, even at the cost of political repression, is better than genocide. In other words, Kagame is no saint, but at least he hasn't tried to murder all the Hutus. This is a realist outlook couched in moralism.

Seems more like the "lesson learned" CYA statement. Of course no one ever expects the Spanish Inquisition - twice.

I thought it sounded like the overreaction of an idealist mugged by reality.  

I really do not know enough about the Rwandan genocide to know what, if anything, the Clinton Administration could have done to prevent it.  It was busy dealing with its own talk-radio-induced hysteria that would only get worse.  

Idealists always think that not only can something always be done but that something always should be done.  I do not get the sense that Rice has changed.  She only changed how she thinks something can and should be done by going to the polar opposite.  Not really that realistic when you think of the history of strong men everywhere.  I wonder how disappointed Rice will be when she realizes she has about as much chance of controlling her pets as Hindenburg had with Hitler.*

 

*(Godwin's Law?)

At the time, it seemed like just having a few armed police units around was effective in slowing or stopping the roving bands with machetes only.

However, considering the grief Clinton got for 1 Blackhawk down in Somalia, the chance that we'd put down groundtroops and risk them being hacked to death, taken hostage, etc., is pretty unlikely, whatever Rice thinks she learned. If it were a police force of African countries, maybe, but then the Congo "African World War" has been made up of many nations grabbing spoils, and hard to find a level-headed country to lead a peace-keeping force

As I recall it, no one was asking Clinton to put U.S. troops into Rwanda -- just to allow the United Nations to recognize that mass murder was taking place, and authorize member states to help stop it. Instead, the U.S. -- with the complicity of future secretary-general Kofi Annan -- actively blocked any UN response. The tiny peacekeeping force that was already on the ground wasn't even authorized to fire its guns to stop the killings.

And today, as if to make up for that shameful past inaction, we have many of the same actors perverting the world body's "Responsibility to Protect" into a licence for the crudest form of regime change. The West is about to intervene militarily in Syria, allegedly to "stop the killing," this time without even bothering to get a UN stamp of approval.

Yeah, and what? After we held the UN hostage in the 90's and hosed it with the Iraq invasion and made it our bitch with Libya and unceasing threats against Iran, we're going to play nicely "Mother may I"? As Wolraich points out, the Neocons had a plan, and it's our job to finish it. (okay, maybe that's not exactly what he pointed out, but .....)

My comment was initially to counter the notion that Bill Clinton couldn't have done more. Totally untrue (see my further comment below).

But I had just read the Independent article I cited on In the News (West persuades itself to bomb Syria), so I ended up digressing on Western hypocrisy.

Yes, the UN has been somewhat toothless and pointless in recent decades, but I don't see a mad rush for the exits. Everybody wants international law around so they can cite it when it agrees with them. It also gives countries a place they can look good backing down rather than just caving in to their enemies' superior might.

Russia and China have played a constructive role in saving the West from even worse Mideast follies than its current ones, and the General Assembly reasserted its limited power in the Palestine vote. The UN is a flawed institution, but it's the only game in town. A checkered past, but it is the future.

I think my comment was supposed to come out more playful & sarcastically humorous than it did. Memo to self: drink more before blogging.

This is a good discussion.  I have to admit, I was mostly concerned about Rice because of her Rwanda guilt, as you guys have already discussed. The Rwanda genocide is a terrible atrocity, yes.  Rwanda was also Hell on Earth at the time.  That Clinton, who had already inherited the Somalia debacle from George HW Bush was reluctant to interfere still shows, to my mind, some wise caution for which he gets no credit.  This was not Bosnia, where power could be wielded from high altitude with our soldiers largely (but not entirely) safe from harm.

The criticism that Rice has tolerated dictators seems valid.  But on the same day that a Times guest columnist criticizes Rice for this, former editor in chief Bill Keller can be seen arguing in favor of letting Assad escape justice and living a life of (presumably wealthy) exile in Russia.  Keller baldly asserts that it is an unfair and unjust outcome. But, he supports it.

Rice is hardly alone in supporting the "stability" supplied by certain tolerable tyrants.  But one thing that gives me some confidence is Obama.  Dictators have not fared as well on his watch and I don't see that changing in his second term.

If this is who he wants advising him, if this is who he trusts, I can live with it.  And, maybe it isn't safe to give the post to Kerry.  While it'd be funny to see Elizabeth Warren so quickly elevated to the senior senator role, I'd hate to see Scott Brown jump back in and nab his seat (or would there be an appointment rather than a special election?)

Michael, I don't know if you noticed my caveat: It is worth letting a brutal dictator escape prosecution, for example, to avoid a bloody civil war.

I agree with Keller about Assad, and I firmly believe that a secretary of state has to be willing to compromise principles for sake of the greater good. But the point is that such sacrifices have to be careful, deliberate, and most importantly, reluctant.

If you calculate that you can save thousands or tens of thousands by allowing a dictator to escape justice, then you should certainly do it. Assad's just desert is not worth those peoples' lives.

But in the East Africa examples, it's not clear what the U.S. gains by sheltering Kagame from criticism. His goodwill? I think it has to something far more concrete. Once you start trying to curry favors with despots or rationalizing that the next guy will be worse, then you've gone down a perilous road.

Bill Clinton continues to spin the excuse that it took time to realize what was happening in Rwanda was genocide. It's simply a lie. Romeo Dallaire, Canadian commander of the tiny peacekeeping force, instantly informed the UN of the facts on the ground. He had witnessed from afar his own Belgian troops being slaughtered.

Clinton's intelligence staff privately called it genocide, but declined to do so publicly and, worse, pressured the UN into taking that stance. Clinton's desire to avoid pressure to intervene prevented anyone else from intervening. The world simply let the murders run their course. And this has been public knowledge for nearly a decade:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/mar/31/usa.rwanda

Yeah, lots of dirty secrets in those bottom drawers. Easier to pretend.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/14/torture-mau-mau-camp...

I forgot about this blog.

I did not weigh in because I felt less than knowledgeable to comment.

But Susan Rice caved in as I indicated in my news item.

This is a sad state of affairs to me anyway.

Susan Rice is a fine stateswoman.

McCain will never receive any kudos from me for anything ever again!

The closet gay Senator from SC will never receive any bona fides from me ever again!

Susan Rice is a great stateswoman and I see good things in her future regardless of the misogynists who say otherwise.

That is all I got!

 

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