Posts Tagged ‘Samantha Power’
Deciding that calling Samantha Power the new version of Bill Kristol (I eagerly await Kristol’s version of this article) and glossing over all the differences between the two (Power opposed the war in Iraq and wanted to get out quickly)
Juan Cole gets at the silliness of this sort of comparison:
Allowing the Neoconservatives to brand humanitarian intervention as always their sort of project does a grave disservice to international law and institutions, and gives them credit that they do not deserve, for things in which they do not actually believe.
Sullivan quotes two objections from OTB: first that there is inconsistency in when responsibility to protect is applied (well no shit, Sherlock); secondly, that “there is an absolute sense of certainty that causes people to ignore the facts on the ground.” Regarding Libya, this is because “it’s absolutely certainty that merely being guided by the desire to “help” people is sufficient to accomplish their goals, meaning that there’s no need to worry about the fact that the rebels you’re protecting are allied with a terrorist group.”
Well of course both those facts are true. No one says that they are not.
There is not a single person in the world claiming the United States is being perfectly consistent. Not one. But there are other facts: that Gaddafi’s actions were reasonably threatening to be worse than just about anywhere; that there was a regional buy in for action, and third that it was easy to do. There’s certainly terrorist elements among the rebels. And there’s terrorist elements among Gaddafi’s forces too (I think the history speaks for itself, or maybe his behavior at least does). But we can quantify who that is, not just speculate wildly.
Secondly, there’s people out there saying (re: this) that this might fail, but it’s a worthwhile chance to take. Obama wants to give the rebels a chance to take Gaddafi down, not to guarantee he will. To quote Tom Ricks from Sunday’s Meet the Press: Give war a chance. There are real costs to inaction on Libya. Sullivan ignores them all.
What Sullivan is doing is trolling for any anti-intervention article, no matter how poorly written, excerpting whatever he first sees that he emotionally agrees with, and then running it along side outrageous accusations in headlines; he augments that with poorly researched screeds calling supporters glib when he doesn’t even mention the rationales for this intervention. If someone had made this poor a case against the Iraq war, 2003 Andrew Sullivan would take it apart instead of resorting to cheap parlor tricks of calling the writer a fifth columnist.
There’s a tendency to say there are three groups of foreign policy actors in American politics: cruise missile liberals, neoconservatives, and isolationists. But in the last decade, Samantha Power has tried to carve out a niche between the people reluctant to use any force and the cruise missile liberals like Michael O’Hanlon and some people at TNR who have dreams of intervening militarily literally everywhere.
McClatchy had a good summary of Power’s position on foreign policy:
Yet to dub Power an interventionist is to miss the nuance of the mission she began as a 22-year-old war correspondent in Yugoslavia, then nurtured through Harvard Law School and turns in think tanks, academia and as an author and columnist.
“The United States should not frame its policy options in terms of doing nothing or unilaterally sending in the Marines,” Power wrote in her book “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” for which she won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize. “America’s leadership will be indispensable in encouraging U.S. allies and regional and international institutions to step up their commitments and capacities.”
Power called Clinton administration officials to account for not doing more to save lives in Bosnia and Rwanda in the mid-1990s. She didn’t support the 2003 invasion of Iraq, criticizing the unilateral U.S. approach and questioning the Bush administration’s concern for Iraqis’ welfare.
In a 2006 commencement speech for Santa Clara University School of Law, Power said her life’s work was driven by a sense of obligation “to demand that our representatives are attentive to the human consequences of their decision making.” She advised the students to “let reason be your tool, but let justice be your cause.”
I was in college during the run up to the Iraq war and I’ve constantly regretted not being more informed (my own version of Iraq war guilt, I suppose, those I would characterize mine as a sin of omission rather than commission). The clearest and most persusaive theory I identified in since then was Samantha Power’s, adequately summarized here.
As a tentative supporter of actions in Libya, I’ve felt caught in the crossfire between those who would want to go in harder and those that are (in my opinion) overly reluctant to use military force. It’s clear the nation-building plan hasn’t worked in Iraq and Afghanistan. If this intervention leads to a stalemate, sending in the Army to do COIN will not be cost effective. But that doesn’t mean the world has to have let Gaddafi’s army have his way with Benghazi either. (Tom Ricks’ post today was good on along those lines).
I’d like to point out one other inconsistency in critics of any action in Libya: that we are simultaneously involved in a Libyan civil war (16.5 million results on google) and also that the Libyan rebels only have 1,000 trained soldiers and some of them are less than savory characters. My favorite such phrasing was during his press briefing today by US Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz saying ““But I don’t think we’re at a point where we can make a judgment that this is a 100 percent kosher, so to speak, group.”
Moreover, doesn’t that this is a civil war with one side drastically under armed and out manned make this worse? Tienanmen Square was a human tragedy, but I would add that the reign of the Khmer Rouge was worse. There are real humanitarian crises going on across the Arab world. It seems pretty clear none are as of yet rising to what Gaddafi credibly threatened against Benghazi. That does not take away the serious, humanitarian suffering of those in Bahrain, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, and elsewhere. But the constant arguing that the responses are uneven ignores that geopolitical circumstances really are different in those countries. Maybe the US could say or do more elsewhere; that’s certainly possible (even probable in the case of action in the Ivory Coast). But that’s not a compelling argument against US action in Libya (even if this particular version of action isn’t the wisest course – I’m no military specialist here).
I don’t find this persuasive – does anyone think the tragedy of the Rwandan genocide is implicated in any way by what ideology the Tutsis slaughtered had. It’s easy to highlight the pro-peace Tutsis, but I’m sure there were less than savory factions too. The people being murdered by the governments of Yemen and Syria to date are not all adherents to western liberal thought.
Benghazi has roughly 750,ooo to one million people, making it the size of roughly Portland Oregon. Gaddafi had pledged no mercy shortly before the no fly zone has been implemented; since then all he has done is do things like shell a hospital.
Is the US intervention perfect? No, and there are real ways it could go seriously awry. Will the west basically have to leave Libya before everything is settled? Sure. Will post-intervention aide to Libya be underfunded? Sadly, there’s no doubt. Should the US be making more efficient interventions overseas (the omnipresent example of anti-malaria tents)? Absolutely. It’s a mark against us that we don’t.
But are things at least somewhat better than they would have been? I think so. To use a domestic analogy, we are willing to have police intervene domestically to stop a murderer, but we’re less willing to spend as much to intervene against more pernicious but endemic harms such as high-fructose corn syrup, asthma in the inner city, or accidents while driving (not to directly compare any of them – just that they are somewhat endemic). And this is (in theory) the kind of intervention the US should be doing, as Power laid out.
The same Washington, of course, is a place of defeatism, inertia, selfishness and cowardice. Warnings pass up the chain and disappear. Intelligence is gathered and then ignored or denied. The will of the executive remains steadfastly opposed to intervention; its guiding assumption is that the cost of stopping genocide is great, while the political cost of ignoring it is next to nil. President Bush the elder comes off as a stone-hearted prisoner to business interests, President Clinton as an amoral narcissist. Perhaps nobody looks worse than former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, on whose watch both Bosnia and Rwanda self-destructed. ”When innocent life is being taken on such a scale and the United States has the power to stop the killing at reasonable risk,” Power writes, ”it has a duty to act.” She objects not only to the fact that the United States declines to intervene militarily in genocidal conflicts, but also that frequently it declines to do anything — even to rebuke perpetrators publicly.
This does not mean the United States should fix everything wrong with a country, or that being at the nexus of an access of evil justifies lies about the war. It means that protecting Benghazi through international institutions is a legitimate US interest.
In short, I wish that more critics would be aware Power was a critic of the Iraq invasion and is not some cruise missile liberal. I know a lot of those type of liberals are really annoying. And they’re predictably bandwagon-ing here. That doesn’t mean everyone involved thinks that way.
Greg Sargant quotes Obama en route to drawing a silly conclusion:
Rather, the more important part of Obama’s 2007 quote is this one:
“In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent. History has shown us time and again, however, that military action is most successful when it is authorized and supported by the Legislative branch. It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”
Putting aside the legal questions here, Obama is acting in violation of the lessons he once took from history. Along these lines, Dem Rep. John Larson of Connecticut, who added his voice to the criticism of Obama’s decision, made an important point today. Larson noted that even if Obama technically is in compliance with the War Powers Resolution, he is violating its spirit: “To insure that the collective judgment of both the Congress and the President will apply to the introduction of United States Armed Forces into hostilities.”
Obama very well may have had his reasons for not consulting Congress as extensively as he might have — time was of the essence; the president expects this to be wrapped up quickly; he doesn’t envision this as a full-scale war; etc. But it’s very obvious that Obama’s approach is at odds with his own instincts and his own reading of history, at least as it stood when he was the reader and other presidents were the lead actors.
I would certainly say that the current debate (outside of this post) proves that it’s better to have the informed consent of Congress too! Obama is getting pilloried for his actions, and he’s not receiving the bump Presidents normally do from using military action.
But saying that it makes Obama “in violation of the lessons he once took from history” is over the top and incorrect. It implies a Manichean view of history – either you follow the best possible procedure or you are in violation. That’s an incorrect method of appraising Presidential action. Using an extreme example, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War without prior Congressional authorization in a way that was almost certainly unconstitutional. But facts on the ground demanded it, Congress later ratified it, and in the end historians have almost universally hailed the move. Now, this is far less serious a situation than that. But there’s a lot of precedence to Presidents being forced to take actions that might be objectively bad, but are necessary given the circumstances. There’s even precedence for it going too far (the Steel Seizure case). In short, Obama didn’t violate a lesson of history. He took an action that he felt was the best course of action but was in an ideal world sub-optimal.
He simply felt the costs of getting authorization subsequently (while real) were more palatable to him than the costs of waiting – which Sargant makes an informed guess at.
This is just a continuation of people who want to make some sort of philosophical or legal point against the intervention in Libya because they don’t know enough of the facts on the ground to criticize it on the merits. And that is a result of a stunning lack of transparency coming from the White House. The easiest way to stop these sorts of silly arguments would be for reputed major proponents such as Amb. Rice, Sec. Clinton, and Samantha Power to do rounds on talk shows instead of the the military. I’ve seen them all on talk shows previously, they communicate well. Get them out there!
On a side note, Larson’s comment of the spirit of the War Powers Resolution is hogwash: It was passed over a veto in the wake of a President lying the Congress into war and every President since has felt it partially unconstitutional. And as a matter of practice since it was passed, Congress has not always had prior consent to actions. I don’t think what’s even legal in the law itself is clear, much less that there’s uncontested “spirit” which just so happens to contradict the plain text that gives a President 60 days.)
Samantha Power, now a key advisor to Barack Obama,was a strong advocate for the military action in Libya. In September 2001, she wrote a long article for the Atlantic regarding the inaction of the Clinton Administration in Rwanda. Certain parts are revealing in regards to potential Obama thinking now.
She identifies three key problems with the Clinton administration approach. The first is a threaten to disengage peacekeepers – which in the end only helped the Tutsi who wanted them gone. This isn’t worth spending too much time on – everyone knows now disengaging in Libya would would help Gaddafi. A key difference between Libya and Rwanda is that everyone knows who the aggressor is in Libya (even if the ultimate composition of the rebels is not as well known).
The second concern has a tangential connection, but not more. Power:
Second, before and during the massacres U.S. diplomacy revealed its natural bias toward states and toward negotiations. Because most official contact occurs between representatives of states, U.S. officials were predisposed to trust the assurances of Rwandan officials, several of whom were plotting genocide behind the scenes. Those in the U.S. government who knew Rwanda best viewed the escalating violence with a diplomatic prejudice that left them both institutionally oriented toward the Rwandan government and reluctant to do anything to disrupt the peace process.
If anything, there’s an institutional bias towards not trusting Gaddafi here – he’s earned that reputation through decades of his actions. The international community never really pushed for negotiations blindly. And if anything, the extent of social media has made such institutional bias harder to have. We now know almost immediately when cities or citizens are under attack. This doesn’t really explain or justify the actions of the U.S. here, but it is an interesting footnote, I think.
The third criticism by Power is more directly relevant:
The third problematic feature of U.S. diplomacy before and during the genocide was a tendency toward blindness bred by familiarity: the few people in Washington who were paying attention to Rwanda before Habyarimana’s plane was shot down were those who had been tracking Rwanda for some time and had thus come to expect a certain level of ethnic violence from the region. And because the U.S. government had done little when some 40,000 people had been killed in Hutu-Tutsi violence in Burundi in October of 1993, these officials also knew that Washington was prepared to tolerate substantial bloodshed. When the massacres began in April, some U.S. regional specialists initially suspected that Rwanda was undergoing “another flare-up” that would involve another “acceptable” (if tragic) round of ethnic murder.
Isn’t this exactly what is going on in the Middle East? That we’ve seen from Afghanistan to Algeria people revolting and facing violence or death for doing so.
Now, maybe there’s still no way this can end well or the military mission is muddled, but that doesn’t mean a dictator threatening to go all Sodom and Gomorrah on the opposition should be ignored.
More accurately, isn’t a lot of the opposition to action specifically driven by fear of Libya becoming another Afghanistan or Iraq? That’s as much as a form of entrenched tunnel vision as ignorance to the possibility of genocide was then. There’s a reason the slippery slope is such a prominent argument now: protecting citizens is by definition endless, so the assumption is it has to escalate. The way to guard against that is simple: do not escalate. There’s powerful incentives for everyone in the administration to resist at this level of involvement (indeed, the only way I see American boots on the ground is if Obama loses in 2012 or if peacekeepers are needed).
Power also tells a story of how American interests were calculated at the time. Sound familiar?
Warren Christopher appeared on the NBC news program Meet the Press the morning the evacuation was completed. “In the great tradition, the ambassador was in the last car,” Christopher said proudly. “So that evacuation has gone very well.” Christopher stressed that although U.S. Marines had been dispatched to Burundi, there were no plans to send them into Rwanda to restore order: they were in the region as a safety net, in case they were needed to assist in the evacuation. “It’s always a sad moment when the Americans have to leave,” he said, “but it was the prudent thing to do.” The Republican Senate minority leader, Bob Dole, a spirited defender of Bosnia’s besieged Muslims at the time, agreed. “I don’t think we have any national interest there,” Dole said on April 10. “The Americans are out, and as far as I’m concerned, in Rwanda, that ought to be the end of it.”
Worse, is there were readily available forces to stop the killing:
If the soldiers ferried in for the evacuation had teamed up with UNAMIR, Dallaire would have had a sizable deterrent force. At that point he commanded 440 Belgians, 942 Bangladeshis, 843 Ghanaians, 60 Tunisians, and 255 others from twenty countries. He could also call on a reserve of 800 Belgians in Nairobi. If the major powers had reconfigured the thousand-man European evacuation force and the U.S. Marines on standby in Burundi—who numbered 300—and contributed them to his mission, he would finally have had the numbers on his side. “Mass slaughter was happening, and suddenly there in Kigali we had the forces we needed to contain it, and maybe even to stop it,” he recalls. “Yet they picked up their people and turned and walked away.”
There was also an institutional reluctance to avoid legal findings that would commit the US to do something (as well as an odd anecdote about Susan Rice:
Even after the reality of genocide in Rwanda had become irrefutable, when bodies were shown choking the Kagera River on the nightly news, the brute fact of the slaughter failed to influence U.S. policy except in a negative way. American officials, for a variety of reasons, shunned the use of what became known as “the g-word.” They felt that using it would have obliged the United States to act, under the terms of the 1948 Genocide Convention. They also believed, understandably, that it would harm U.S. credibility to name the crime and then do nothing to stop it. A discussion paper on Rwanda, prepared by an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and dated May 1, testifies to the nature of official thinking. Regarding issues that might be brought up at the next interagency working group, it stated,
1. Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention. Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday—Genocide finding could commit [the U.S. government] to actually “do something.” [Emphasis added.] At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”
We’re seeing the same reluctance to act today, only it’s outside of the administration and occasionally for valid reasons.
What’s truly odd is that such reluctance is coming from someone like Andrew Sullivan, who 1) obsessively chronicles everything in the region and 2) is rightfully upset the Obama refuses an investigation into torture practices under George W. Bush. Illegality under international and humanitarian law is serious, and Obama should investigate it and be prepared to take action whenever possible. He should have done a lot more on torture. But he should also be prepared to do as much on international humanitarian situations as well.
Also worth noting: Power cites Donald Steinberg as the primary advocate for intervention in Rwanda. Steinberg is now the Deputy Director of USAID.
There was apparently more concern about the gorillas than the people within the government:
During the entire three months of the genocide Clinton never assembled his top policy advisers to discuss the killings. Anthony Lake likewise never gathered the “principals”—the Cabinet-level members of the foreign-policy team. Rwanda was never thought to warrant its own top-level meeting. When the subject came up, it did so along with, and subordinate to, discussions of Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia. Whereas these crises involved U.S. personnel and stirred some public interest, Rwanda generated no sense of urgency and could safely be avoided by Clinton at no political cost. The editorial boards of the major American newspapers discouraged U.S. intervention during the genocide. They, like the Administration, lamented the killings but believed, in the words of an April 17 Washington Post editorial, “The United States has no recognizable national interest in taking a role, certainly not a leading role.” Capitol Hill was quiet. Some in Congress were glad to be free of the expense of another flawed UN mission. Others, including a few members of the Africa subcommittees and the Congressional Black Caucus, eventually appealed tamely for the United States to play a role in ending the violence—but again, they did not dare urge U.S. involvement on the ground, and they did not kick up a public fuss. Members of Congress weren’t hearing from their constituents. Pat Schroeder, of Colorado, said on April 30, “There are some groups terribly concerned about the gorillas … But—it sounds terrible—people just don’t know what can be done about the people.” Randall Robinson, of the nongovernmental organization TransAfrica, was preoccupied, staging a hunger strike to protest the U.S. repatriation of Haitian refugees. Human Rights Watch supplied exemplary intelligence and established important one-on-one contacts in the Administration, but the organization lacks a grassroots base from which to mobilize a broader segment of American society.
Powers is most amazed that no one ever considered any intervention because of Somalia:
One senior U.S. official remembers, “When the reports of the deaths of the ten Belgians came in, it was clear that it was Somalia redux, and the sense was that there would be an expectation everywhere that the U.S. would get involved. We thought leaving the peacekeepers in Rwanda and having them confront the violence would take us where we’d been before. It was a foregone conclusion that the United States wouldn’t intervene and that the concept of UN peacekeeping could not be sacrificed again.”
A foregone conclusion. What is most remarkable about the American response to the Rwandan genocide is not so much the absence of U.S. military action as that during the entire genocide the possibility of U.S. military intervention was never even debated. Indeed, the United States resisted intervention of any kind.
Power continues, making the argument that even a limited UN presence can have a significant deterrent effect:
But Clarke underestimated the deterrent effect that Dallaire’s very few peacekeepers were having. Although some soldiers hunkered down, terrified, others scoured Kigali, rescuing Tutsi, and later established defensive positions in the city, opening their doors to the fortunate Tutsi who made it through roadblocks to reach them. One Senegalese captain saved a hundred or so lives single-handedly. Some 25,000 Rwandans eventually assembled at positions manned by UNAMIR personnel. The Hutu were generally reluctant to massacre large groups of Tutsi if foreigners (armed or unarmed) were present. It did not take many UN soldiers to dissuade the Hutu from attacking. At the Hotel des Mille Collines ten peacekeepers and four UN military observers helped to protect the several hundred civilians sheltered there for the duration of the crisis. About 10,000 Rwandans gathered at the Amohoro Stadium under light UN cover. Brent Beardsley, Dallaire’s executive assistant, remembers, “If there was any determined resistance at close quarters, the government guys tended to back off.” Kevin Aiston, the Rwanda desk officer at the State Department, was keeping track of Rwandan civilians under UN protection. When Prudence Bushnell told him of the U.S. decision to demand a UNAMIR withdrawal, he turned pale. “We can’t,” he said. Bushnell replied, “The train has already left the station.”
Power was also outraged by attempts of the US and UN to look like it cared while it really left people to die:
After the UN vote Clarke sent a memorandum to Lake reporting that language about “the safety and security of Rwandans under UN protection had been inserted by US/UN at the end of the day to prevent an otherwise unanimous UNSC from walking away from the at-risk Rwandans under UN protection as the peacekeepers drew down to 270.” In other words, the memorandum suggested that the United States was leading efforts to ensure that the Rwandans under UN protection were not abandoned. The opposite was true.
Power highlights how little America even said regarding Rwanda:
Throughout this period the Clinton Administration was largely silent. The closest it came to a public denunciation of the Rwandan government occurred after personal lobbying by Human Rights Watch, when Anthony Lake issued a statement calling on Rwandan military leaders by name to “do everything in their power to end the violence immediately.” When I spoke with Lake six years later, and informed him that human-rights groups and U.S. officials point to this statement as the sum total of official public attempts to shame the Rwandan government in this period, he seemed stunned. “You’re kidding,” he said. “That’s truly pathetic.”
The Department of Defense was strongly against any type of intervention, finding any reason to even stop radio broadcasts imploring genocide. Read the page here.
But Power doesn’t blame the Pentagon for that, she blames the White House:
However significant and obstructionist the role of the Pentagon in April and May, Defense Department officials were stepping into a vacuum. As one U.S. official put it, “Look, nobody senior was paying any attention to this mess. And in the absence of any political leadership from the top, when you have one group that feels pretty strongly about what shouldn’t be done, it is extremely likely they are going to end up shaping U.S. policy.” Lieutenant General Wesley Clark looked to the White House for leadership. “The Pentagon is always going to be the last to want to intervene,” he says. “It is up to the civilians to tell us they want to do something and we’ll figure out how to do it.”
But with no powerful personalities or high-ranking officials arguing forcefully for meaningful action, mid-level Pentagon officials held sway, vetoing or stalling on hesitant proposals put forward by mid-level State Department or NSC officials. If Pentagon objections were to be overcome, the President, Secretary Christopher, Secretary Perry, or Anthony Lake would have to step forward to “own” the problem, which did not happen.
That’s exactly what did happen regarding Libya – Clinton, Rice, and Power herself stepped forward and owned the problem. Obama backed them, and the Pentagon is finding a way to achieve the goals set forth in the UN Resolution.
Power mentions the peacekeeping strategy of Richard Clarke, who opposed meaningful intervention in Libya. Does this sound familiar?
America’s new peacekeeping doctrine, of which Clarke was the primary architect, was unveiled on May 3, and U.S. officials applied its criteria zealously. PDD-25 did not merely circumscribe U.S. participation in UN missions; it also limited U.S. support for other states that hoped to carry out UN missions. Before such missions could garner U.S. approval, policymakers had to answer certain questions: 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?
Samantha Power on what could have been done:
A more serious challenge comes from the U.S. officials who argue that no amount of leadership from the White House would have overcome congressional opposition to sending U.S. troops to Africa. But even if that highly debatable point was true, the United States still had a variety of options. Instead of leaving it to mid-level officials to communicate with the Rwandan leadership behind the scenes, senior officials in the Administration could have taken control of the process. They could have publicly and frequently denounced the slaughter. They could have branded the crimes “genocide” at a far earlier stage. They could have called for the expulsion of the Rwandan delegation from the Security Council. On the telephone, at the UN, and on the Voice of America they could have threatened to prosecute those complicit in the genocide, naming names when possible. They could have deployed Pentagon assets to jam—even temporarily—the crucial, deadly radio broadcasts.
Instead of demanding a UN withdrawal, quibbling over costs, and coming forward (belatedly) with a plan better suited to caring for refugees than to stopping massacres, U.S. officials could have worked to make UNAMIR a force to contend with. They could have urged their Belgian allies to stay and protect Rwandan civilians. If the Belgians insisted on withdrawing, the White House could have done everything within its power to make sure that Dallaire was immediately reinforced. Senior officials could have spent U.S. political capital rallying troops from other nations and could have supplied strategic airlift and logistic support to a coalition that it had helped to create. In short, the United States could have led the world.
It’s worth noting that a lot of these things have been done in Libya already.
Power concludes with three direct criticisms of the Clinton Administration in the matter:
Strikingly, most officials involved in shaping U.S. policy were able to define the decision not to stop genocide as ethical and moral. The Administration employed several devices to keep down enthusiasm for action and to preserve the public’s sense—and, more important, its own—that U.S. policy choices were not merely politically astute but also morally acceptable. First, Administration officials exaggerated the extremity of the possible responses. Time and again U.S. leaders posed the choice as between staying out of Rwanda and “getting involved everywhere.” In addition, they often presented the choice as one between doing nothing and sending in the Marines. On May 25, at the Naval Academy graduation ceremony, Clinton described America’s relationship to ethnic trouble spots: “We cannot turn away from them, but our interests are not sufficiently at stake in so many of them to justify a commitment of our folks.”
We’re seeing this same response from critics, who either fear or, worse, want boots on the ground.
Second, the future of the UN is at stake. Maybe this might not work, but it’s better to try than allow the UN to become irrelevant:
Second, Administration policymakers appealed to notions of the greater good. They did not simply frame U.S. policy as one contrived in order to advance the national interest or avoid U.S. casualties. Rather, they often argued against intervention from the standpoint of people committed to protecting human life. Owing to recent failures in UN peacekeeping, many humanitarian interventionists in the U.S. government were concerned about the future of America’s relationship with the United Nations generally and peacekeeping specifically. They believed that the UN and humanitarianism could not afford another Somalia. Many internalized the belief that the UN had more to lose by sending reinforcements and failing than by allowing the killings to proceed. Their chief priority, after the evacuation of the Americans, was looking after UN peacekeepers, and they justified the withdrawal of the peacekeepers on the grounds that it would ensure a future for humanitarian intervention. In other words, Dallaire’s peacekeeping mission in Rwanda had to be destroyed so that peacekeeping might be saved for use elsewhere.
Lastly, Power argues that engagement was considered a substitute for meaningful action
A third feature of the response that helped to console U.S. officials at the time was the sheer flurry of Rwanda-related activity. U.S. officials with a special concern for Rwanda took their solace from mini-victories—working on behalf of specific individuals or groups (Monique Mujawamariya; the Rwandans gathered at the hotel). Government officials involved in policy met constantly and remained “seized of the matter”; they neither appeared nor felt indifferent. Although little in the way of effective intervention emerged from mid-level meetings in Washington or New York, an abundance of memoranda and other documents did.
Lastly, Power gives a quote from Susan Rice that is certainly revealing:
Susan Rice, Clarke’s co-worker on peacekeeping at the NSC, also feels that she has a debt to repay. “There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively,” Rice says. “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.” Rice was subsequently appointed NSC Africa director and, later, assistant secretary of state for African affairs; she visited Rwanda several times and helped to launch a small program geared to train selected African armies so that they might be available to respond to the continent’s next genocide. The American appetite for troop deployments in Africa had not improved.
BTW, in context that means Rice would go down in flames arguing for force, not that she would want any mission to go down in flames.
Given that Samantha Power was a key supporter and advisor to Obama during his campaign, I’d say Sullivan should have taken the time to read this article and her other work before supporting him. He might not be shocked at UN action now.