Michael Maiello's picture

    I Think We Have To Get Over Rwanda Guilt

    There, I said it.  It was not an easy thing to say.  Especially not after reading this from the Atlantic 10 years ago.

    In 1994, 800,000 Rwandans died because the U.S. dithered, hemmed and hawed about the role of U.N. peacekeepers and the use of U.S. forces to stop an unfolding genocide there.  This failure has guided U.S. foreign policy ever since.  The U.N.'s "right to protect" doctrine is a direct effect of the Rwandan genocide. Our current actions in Libya spring from that.  It seems to have been decided that the U.S. should have sent its forces to Rwanda and fought a war, if necessary, to have stopped the slaughter.

    I think that people are too quick to discount the risks. The U.S. might have found itself mired in a civil war.  The fighting could have been incredibly brutal.  Rwanda was not like Serbia or more recently Libya, a situation that could be dealt with from a high altitude.  It was murder in the streets.  It was house to house fighting.  It seems to me just based on reading Power's article that it would have been more like Afghanistan had we tried to occupy it and restore order.

    People are also too quick to discount the public mood at the time which had been shaped by our presence in Somalia, a war started by a lame duck George H.W. Bush that wound up costing U.S. lives in the Black Hawk Down incident. Power dismisses those concerns as "fighting the last war," and maybe that's so.

    The U.S. not only refused to send its own forces in Rwanda, but opposed other U.N. members from acting where we would not.  The logic there, Power says, was that if a U.N. force got bogged down there, they would not doubt call on the U.S. for help.  Power doesn't deny that there's some truth to that argument.  She even cites Somalia (U.S. troops went in after Pakistani peacekeepers were ambushed and defeated by a local warlord) as evidence in favor of that point of view.

    Power is pointedly critical of Richard Clarke, who had designed a series of tests called PPD-25 that would have to be met for any situation for the U.S. to support or to participate in peacekeeping missions.  She describes some of the conditions that PPD-25 required: "Were U.S. interests at stake?  Was there a threat to world peace? A clear mission goal? Acceptable costs? Congressional, public and allied support? A working cease-fire?  A clear command-and-control arrangement? And, finally, what was the exit strategy?"

    Don't those all seem like reasonable questions to ask?  Could any of them had been answered with a "yes?" what if you applied them to Libya? Power says they're the wrong questions.  The point is debatable, I suppose.  But I have sympathy for Clarke here.

    My point here is that people who opposed sending U.S. forces into Rwanda were not callous or careless or cowardly.  They were asking serious and important questions about what risks the military should be asked to take, about what was expected and what could be accomplished.  These are particularly important questions to ask when making decisions on behalf of a volunteer military.  We have an obligation to not put our soldiers into harm's way unnecessarily, don't we?

    So maybe we shouldn't be making decisions now based on guilt about what happened then.  The U.S. didn't sanction or commit the crimes.  Nobody ever says this about our decision not to intervene but there may well be people who were serving in the military back then who are alive today because we refused to deploy them into the middle of a brutal civil conflict.  Is that worth something?





    What you're referring to as decisions "based on guilt", could also be described as "lessons learned" (as your larger point alludes to). Whether those lessons were learned correctly is debatable, but I don't think one can blame us for trying to apply what we learned from not acting in Rwanda. As to your point:

    "Were U.S. interests at stake?  Was there a threat to world peace? A clear mission goal? Acceptable costs? Congressional, public and allied support? A working cease-fire?  A clear command-and-control arrangement? And, finally, what was the exit strategy?"

    Don't those all seem like reasonable questions to ask?  Could any of them had been answered with a "yes?" what if you applied them to Libya? Power says they're the wrong questions.  The point is debatable, I suppose.  But I have sympathy for Clarke here.

    I'd say, yes they seem like reasonable questions to ask, and I'd argue that most of them could be answered with a "yes" when applied to Libya. US interests are arguably at stake and there is arguably a threat to world peace. Whether the costs are "acceptable" is a bit vague. Whether there is a clear mission goal, command-and-control arrangement, and exit strategy is very important to me, and I hope (but don't trust) that these are clearer than they seem. I'd say that there is allied support, but it's still unclear as to how much Congressional and public support there is (unclear to me, at least). I'm not sure what the "working cease-fire" question means, to be honest. (That's not an attack on the question, but an honest lack of understanding. My reading of it would seem to suggest that before we can apply a no-fly zone, which could help get us to a working cease-fire, we must first have a working cease-fire, but I suspect that's not what is really meant.)

    Well, Clarke was referring specifically to UN peacekeeping missions and I guess Libya's not really that.  But that was the mood at the time -- we'll go keep the peace so long as nobody's activiely shooting.

    Rwanda and Libya were both not really "peacekeeping missions" so much as "make the bad people stop doing bad things" missions.  But I think all of the other questions about risks, costs and will do apply.  Of course, your answers may differ from mine.  But what I got from Power, and what I get from a lot of liberal intervenionists is that these are the wrong questions.  Anne Marie Slaughter, for example, just wants to act based on principals.  For her the Responsibility To Protect outweighs concerns like military risk and the national will.

    I am okay with people coming to different conclusions than I do, but I'm not sure I'm okay with them ignoring what I think are fundamental questions.

    Never really understood the ready willingness of so many on the left to assume unearned guilt.  Glad to see you are getting over some ot it.  Maybe this will help.

    Whoever talks about and reflects upon an evil thing he has done, is thinking the vileness he has perpetrated, and what one thinks, therein is one caught--with one's whole soul one is caught utterly in what one thinks, and so he is still caught in vileness.  And he will surely not be able to turn, for his spirt will coarsen and his heart rot, and besides this, a sad mood may come upon him.  What would you?  Stir filth this way or that, and it is still filth.  To have sinned or not to have sinned--what does it profit us in heaven?  In the time I am brooding on this, I could be stringing pearls for the joy of heaven.  That is why it is written:  "Depart from evil, and do good"--turn wholly from evil, do not brood in its way, and do good.  You have done wrong?  Then balance it by doing right. -- Isaac Meier of Ger

    It's not the Rwanda guilt that pushed the US on acting in Libya, otherwise, why didn't it happen for Sudan or more recently Ivory coast?

    While we are talking about getting over the guilt, comparing the rwandan genocide and the holocost, should we also get over the guilt about that to? it's been 66 years since it ended.

    Another aspect of it is the rwandan people have come to understand that if something like the 94 genocide happens again, nobody will come to help. So, by forgetting the guilt or not, rwandan have learnt their lesson.

    While we are talking about getting over the guilt, comparing the rwandan genocide and the holocost, should we also get over the guilt about that to? it's been 66 years since it ended.

    Who is we and why is guilt necessary for anyone other than the perpetrators of the crimes? Guilt is not a prerequisite for remembering and learning from tragedies.  

     More to the point here, however, is who are you, Anonymous?

    "The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his."
    George S. Patton Jr.  

    The UN needed to intervene in Rwanda with TEETH 

    The UN should have had more MIGHT and TEETH, to protect those who sought refuge in Srebrenica......

    The Srebrenica massacre, also known as the Srebrenica genocide refers to the July 1995 killing of more than 8,000Bosniak men and boys,…. In April 1993 the United Nations had declared the besieged enclave of Srebrenica in the Drina Valley of north-eastern Bosnia a "safe area" under UN protection. However in July 1995 the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), represented on the ground by a 400-strong contingent of Dutch peacekeepers, failed to prevent the town's capture by the VRS and the subsequent massacre….The Srebrenica massacre is the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Srebrenica_massacre 


    The UN is the mighty ARM, the protector.

    The US is a protector of the will of the UN.

    UN refugee camps ARE THE SAFE REFUGE  until a tribunal can restore peace.

    No member Nation should be allowed to delay intervention OR the establishment of a safe refuge 


    Article 1    The Purposes of the United Nations are:

    To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace; 

    The US is not the enemy, it is the protector of the UN. 

    The World should not have to endure the will of the bullies.

    When will dictatorships be declared illegal? 

    Dictators, benevolent and otherwise, make up a good portion of the UN membership.  The UN is not a democracy spreading organization and that's by design. 

    Should people who volunteered to defend the United States have died in Rwanda?  What purpose would their deaths have served?  As for Srebenica, at the time of that war I was friends with two recent immigrants from Serbia.  Their family back home, Serbians who had done nothing wrong to anyone, suffered badly during the NATO bombardment.  There are multiple sides to every story.

    Should people who volunteered to defend the United States have died in Rwanda?

    Ask them? You also assume they would die.

    Any Nation that resisted the will of the UN peace keeping would find, they would bite off more than they would choose too. 

    The UN is not the savior of the world, but the UN was given the authority to rule.

    I think you’re going to see more and more;  the UN is a beast, you don’t want to mess with.   

    Dictators will have to answer, better to be benevolent. The rest of the World, after having fought Two world wars, doesn’t have to take this crap anymore; this idea of autonomy, the idea of the RIGHT TO RULE.

    The people have a right to live, without despots, ruining OUR peace and security.

    The Right to rule comes with a disclaimer;……you have the RIGHT TO RULE,  IF YOU CONFORM   

    Maybe the UN will have a mercenary Army; maybe it pays better than the US military? 

    Prophesy? Daniels Image…….. The Feet of Clay and Iron ? 

    (Daniel 2:43) 43 Whereas you beheld iron mixed with moist clay, they will come to be mixed with the offspring of mankind; but they will not prove to be sticking together, this one to that one, just as iron is not mixing with molded clay. 

    Iron rule does not mix with the people made of clay.  

    It's going to be interesting watching what the UN does.  It is a beast with teeth.

    Did Obama grab the leash?

    R2P=Responsibility to protect, not right to protect.

    My correction is not a mere linguistic quibble. A right to act, after all, implies an option not to. That said, upon whom does this responsibilty devolve?

    Here, I think, the cogent issues raised by Destor are apposite.

    The conundra implicit in action by any single UN member militate towards the formation of a standing UN army, answerable to the Security Council.

    Woo-hoo! World government, it's coming.

    Damn, I confused my rights and responsibilities.  You're right, that's way more than a linguistic quibble.  It's also interesting that the phrase "responsibility" there refers not to UN members generally, but to the local governments.  The phrase really means, "you have a responsibility to provide these minimum protections to your people.  If you don't, we can intervene."

    Which is kind of convenient for the security council.

    As for World Government... Are you ready for that?  I think the US federalist system is too unaccountable.  The whole world would only get worse.

    Anecdotally, Rwanda hasn't entered my mind once FWIW.

    Is this an obscure Democratic party Nader kind of thing?

    It is central to the thinking of Clinton, Power and Rice. Who were instrumental in changing Obama's mind. So it's an important consideration in the minds of those who are responsible for making this decision. That isn't to say that goes for every other pro-war advocate.

    I prefer pro-Libya-intervention. Unlike anti-war, which is a ideology, pro-Libya-intervention is really just for this one specific case. A majority still oppose Iraq and most oppose our current direction in Afghanistan too. Not really inverse opposites as you formulate.

    To a not-Democrat, y'all seem friggin nuts sometimes, BTW. That shit was like almost 20 years ago. Although, I suppose almost as many died because we lagged in Rwanda as died because Bush invaded Iraq if we're really doing it the way this postulate views being locked into making decisions. Quite the quandary - should we decide based on a belief the outcome will be just like Iraq (which had conditions unlike Libya) or if we think the outcome will be just like Rwanda (which had conditions unlike Libya ... or Iraq). [*Face-palm*].

    I prefer pro-Libya-intervention.

    Whatever floats your boat. Looks like a war to me.

    On the rest, I think Rwanda guilt and Iraq shame and Kosovo pride and Vietnam anger and Islamism fears and a whole bunch of other feelings should play a role in the decision making. Nothing in Geopolitical history is like anything else on close inspection, but you can learn alot about the hubris of going in unprepared, of mission-creep, of the difficulty of extracting oneself from a war without victory, of all the ways in which things never ever ever work out as planned, etc. The feelings and the past casses inform what you end up worrying about, the seriousness with which you game out the possible good or bad outcomes, and so on. It's not a matter of basing the decision on 'a belief the outcome will be just like Iraq/Rwanda' as you say. That's a deliberate misunderstanding, on your part and seemingly on Destor's part, of what is going on when people appeal to the exhortation 'never again', whatever tragedy they have in mind.

    This is not a pro-war nor an anti-war argument. It's a point about how to argue over this stuff. Saying that people are just motivated by Rwanda-guilt or (when it comes to the anti-war camp) by sanctimonious self-regard is just a way of refusing to argue the merits of the case. It's a way of dismissing the opponent as emotionally irrational or morally corrupt and so their arguments as not worthy of consideration. It's horseshit.

    I agree with you about using any and all past experiences to help with future decision making.  I'm also quite willing to argue against the merits of the US sending soldiers into Rwanda or Iraq or Libya.  But people within the Obama administration (and within the UN in 2005 when "responsibility to protect" was written into international law) have cited Rwanda and in an emotional context.  So... we need to discuss how much influence this is having on current decisionmaking.

    That said, you make an excellent point.  I hope I'm not straying into the territory of trying to dismiss the merits of what we're doing in Libya. 

    I'm glad Power has exorcised her own feelings of guilt over Rwanda. But Libya cannot even remotely compared to Libya. Rwanda was full-fledged ethnic cleansing -- genocide -- attested to by UN observers on the ground. And nobody expected the U.S. to send troops, simply to allow the UN to add 2,000 troops to the 3,000 already on the ground, and to give them authority to intervene.

    Instead, on the basis of domestic political considerations, the U.S. blocked any action. The UN force was actually reduced rather than increased. Kofi Annan, that consummate bureaucrat, had direct responsibilty for the mission, and he chose through inaction to let 800,000 fellow Africans die. He was later rewarded with the UN secretary-generalship.

    A few years after the article cited, Power wrote the foreword to Canadian Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire's first-hand account of the Rwandan genocide, Shake Hands With the Devil (also made into a movie). It won some prizes.

    But Libya cannot even remotely compared to Libya.

    Friends don't let friends blog drunk. Wink

    Insert "be" where appropriate, Atheist. FYI, I was less drunk than usual. Flu medication.

    Just so. "Libya cannot even be remotely compared to Libya."

    Not sure this makes it less problematic, my Hab-loving friend. (7-0? Really?)

    I have absurdly expensive tickets to tonight's game against Washington. Here's where we get revenge on those warmongering Americans. Washington is still missing Ovechkin and Green, and they've got their playoff spot locked up, so it's doable. But yeah, it's gutcheck time for the Canadiens. I would have put the "be" after "cannot," but whatever. 


    I'll take that as a "Go Habs!"

    Don't bogart that flu medication ...

    Dude. You're still not comparing Libya to... Libya. Izzat what you wanted?

    Lose Habs Lose!

    Look, quinn, I stand by every word I wrote: Libya is not even remotely like Libya. I'd go so far as to say it is almost exactly like Libya. In fact, I have trouble telling them apart sometimes.

    Flu medication, like I said.

    Probably too much flu medication.

    Flu medication can't remotely be compared to flu medication.

    Hey! I just had an idea!

    acanuck might want to look into the side-effects of his flu medication.

    It seems to me that from the Power article, and also my own recollections of the time, that there indeed was pressure for the US to send its own soldiers into Rwanda.  The U.S. refusal to sanction other countries acting in its absence stemmed from the legitimate fear that if those other countries got bogged down there, the U.S. would be expected to rescue them.  Considering that the Somalia intervention unfolded in that manner, that was a reasonable fear.

    Legitimate fear of pressure? So it was easier to cover U.S. ass by blocking all UN action rather than acknowledge the legitimate fear of a UN commander on the ground that hundreds of thousands of innocents were being slaughtered? Nice.

    As for the U.S. in Somalia, that was doomed from Day 1, when the U.S. chose to enter the fray with the photo op of a totally staged, totally unnecessary amphibious landing. Hubris, arrogance and stupidity. BTW, did Aidid ever get dragged before The Hague?

    Aidid not.


    What about jamming Radio RTLM. Do you know how many people died as a result of this hate radio? Did the US have to bring in troops? No, it was asked to Jam it and you know what? It refused. It also did'nt have to bring in its own troops. Many countries were willing to send them in. The US just blocked them.

    In 1914 German military theory incorporated  Clausewitz'  position on enemy civilians. Starting from iron clad rule  that every action in a war must be solely governed by the criterion of winning. he argued pro forma that if they completely refrain from opposition cvilians should not be harmed  But if there is any opposition-as was inevitable- the invaders should do whatever is useful-without restraint.

    Within a few weeks of the German invasion of Belgium  a civilian killed a german soldier. In a nearby town, 600 men women and children were brought to a plaza. They remained there for several hours. Towards the end of the day they were lined up on either side of the square. Two lines of troops, back to back  filed between them  opened fire and killed them .

    Far from keeping this secret , the Germans posted  handbills describing it.Pour encourager les autres.

    Clausewitz would have had no objection to Srebenica .I won't add , or to  the Holocaust. By 1944 the  Germans pursued the Holocaust at the expense of winning the war -Eichmann commandeered transport the army needed.

    "War crimes" is tautological.

    Applying that to whether we  might or might not intervene in any particular  war , if we feel like doing we should. If not, not. And dispense with pretending the decision is guided by any of the rules discussed above. Exit strategy ? Give me a break.

    But in the rationalization  we concoct should  we intervene  eschew the argument there's something particularly odious about a particular combatant. Sherman was right.

    "But in the rationalization  we concoct should  we intervene  eschew the argument there's something particularly odious about a particular combatant. Sherman was right."

    Could you run that by us again, please?  And on another thread, you had said that bombing Libya is clearly in US interest.  Could you explain that, too?

    Well, not only we should get over with Rwandan guilt, the rwandan genocide story is distorted! Forget hypocrite and lier Rwandan President, he did not want any country to intervene in Rwanda because he was busy taking over the country by force. He did not care about people being killed! In fact, he warned Romeo Dallaire that if any foreign or UN troups intervene, he cannot guaranty that they will not be killed! Read the testimony of Romeo Dallaire.  Forget about Clintons, they are friends and accomplice of Kagame. Read documents discovered by Prof. Peter Erlinder from International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)!

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