• Mon
  • Sep 15, 2014
  • Updated: 2:34pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 4:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 April, 2014, 4:29am

Why the United States should take the blame over Rwanda inaction

People with great foresight who act on it to prevent disasters and save lives are far more likely to be criticised than praised.

This was pointed out by financial mathematician Nassim Nicholas Tabel in The Black Swan. He argues they would have no proof that a disaster was avoided: for all we know, they might have cried wolf. The only fact is that they wasted valuable resources on an imaginary threat.

I raise it here because an outraged reader sent me a note rounding on my column yesterday that he said unfairly singled out the US response, or lack of response, to the Rwandan genocide that started 20 years ago this week. Politicians like Bill Clinton instinctively understand Tabel's point. I agree that partly explains his inaction on Rwanda.

He and his top advisers calculated, correctly at the time, that the risks of committing substantial US/UN troops needed in Rwanda were far higher than doing nothing. They would have faced certain public criticism and congressional backlash. Suppose they had committed troops and stopped a potential genocide. Clinton would not be praised but instead would have been rounded on for risking American lives in the name of faraway tribal violence. But that's too charitable; Clinton's sins went much further.

A full account of the cynical US response can be found in A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power, the current US ambassador to the UN. Suffice to say that far from not knowing or being confused, from the first days the CIA, the State Department and a marine special forces team sent deep inside Rwanda all reported killings on an extraordinary and systematic scale.

Washington made what may be called a classic "category error". They were thinking Burundi (tribal violence) and Somalia (botched US humanitarian-military operations) instead of the Holocaust.

Like old generals, they were thinking of "the last war", a fight between the Tutsi and Hutu in Burundi in October 1993 which killed more than 50,000. Despite the implicit racism, that was an acceptable level of violence in Rwanda for the Americans.

Why blame the US? Because it was at the apex of the international system and no viable UN/African operations could have got off the ground without US support.


More on this story

For unlimited access to:

SCMP.com SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive



This article is now closed to comments

LOL, Pierce m'boy. There's a good boy. You tried to make an argument, and the result is hilarious. That's the way to do it. As I've always said, your stupidity in language is of limited amusement utility moving forward; the way to actualize your immense potential for generating laughter is to try to make an argument. You've done it here, and the results are predictably rewarding for me.
Did you just suggest the US declaration of independence, and the values espoused therein, are in fact universal? If that's the case, then let's apply those values to HK, or better yet, to China. I think Hkers and Chinese in general would benefit greatly from those values described therein, and am pleasantly surprised that you would so easily and readily agree, to the point of offering an argument that would actually demand it. That's great work. BTW, yes, if the US D of I is to be interpreted as a document that commits Americans to pursuing those values for all people the world over, then indeed, they can be "blamed" for not doing so for those victimized Rwandans. HOWEVER, you then CAN'T blame the US for trying to liberate those oppressed IRAQI's, and you further can no longer complain at all about any US pivot or interest in SE Asia, since, after all, the US supposedly has free reign to apply her D of I world wide. LOL! Seriously, Pierce m'boy, see how hilarious you are when you try to make an argument. Well done, m'boy. Ring ring...please bring us more of this good stuff...
DoI refers generally to
“the Course of human events”
“one people to assume among the powers of the earth”
“the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God”
“all men are created equal”
“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”
“Life, …”
Where in DoI can one find any reference
to differentiation between “national” or “international”
“The only obligations the US has are to its own interests”?
What are the "logical" rules for determining and differentiating
what are such national or international “obligations and interests”?
manure the nogician is nothing but trash
that’s why the fool can’t resist making parental references
blaming his parents for his pathetic and uncorrectable stupidity
Ah Pierce m'boy, our neutered dog, is back. The bell is indeed a powerful draw for our canine friend. But hark, it appears he's actually tried to formulate an argument. This should be good fun.
We'll leave international law for now, since my point is there is no such thing, and m'boy hasn't yet shown one iota of proof of its existence (which of course he can't, cuz there isn't any. He might cotton on to that eventually, but things move slowly for our little pup).
Indeed, the principle is of a logically consistent argument. AL can't criticize the US for doing something, then criticize them for NOT doing something, for exactly the same reason. I've already said as much. What "obligations" did the US have? They are a figment of AL's imagination in a woeful but failed attempt to justify his argument. The only obligations the US has are to its own interests, just as it is for any nation. "international obligations" that a nation assumes are at that nation's discretion. You can't blame the US for "not discharging obligations" when it didn't assume any. And if you focus on "national obligations", as you say, then the discussion is even more moot, since Rwandans are not US national obligations; Americans are. THe US Declaration of Independence is for Americans. It is bizarre, hilarious, idiotic, yet par for the course for you, to suggest the US owes a duty of care to Rwanda.
But hey, this is better. And funnier. You tried, at least. Good dog. Now again, ring ring
manure, given your continued obsession with parents
here’s the indisputable truth about manure’s parents
The well-received fact from the archive is that
Pierce m’boy is 321manu’s father
but according to 321manu
his father is a dog, a neutered puppy
I’ve asked 321manu to confirm what’s what with his mother
but 321manu “hasn't yet shown one iota of proof of her existence”
The only parents manure might have any knowledge is nogician’s
That are the only parents manure can meaningfully talk about
From manure’s disclosure, nogician’s parents “failed miserably”
From his inability to refute the well-received fact
it is indisputable that 321manu’s father is either Pierce m’boy or a dog
whoever is manure’s Pierce m’boy and whichever the dog
we can logically infer
that 321manu’s mother must have su&fu cked m’boy or a dog
to conceive manure
No wonder why 321manu is so sick and rubbish
son of a dog&boy su+fu cked
As for your parents, they failed miserably, as can be evidenced every time you open your mouth. The lack of principles, absence of intellectual honesty, and profound stupidity are laid bare for all to see. But their fault is mitigated by the understanding of what substandard substrate they had to work with. They probably deserve credit for their yeoman effort to get you to this point, even though you clearly have so far to go before attaining even the level of "average idiot". Miracle workers they weren't, but that's not on them.
Anyway, Pierce m'boy, the remainder of your 1255 PM comment devolves into your usual urban dictionary-inspired "evolution" of the English language whereby legitimate words are combined into incomprehensible stanzas without inspiration or purpose, rendering the reader no other possible conclusion than that you sometimes speak for the benefit of hearing your own voice. However, I don't find "humour" inspired by those who wear tin-foil hats to be all that appealing. So Pierce m'boy, you will have to do better.
As i've said before, your reach should exceed your grasp, m'boy. Try to make more "arguments". When you try to employ "logic" is when your comic potential is actualized. So please, m'boy, do more of that, and less of the silly and pointless poetry. That is when you maximize your chances of getting your doggy treat reward, and if I know puppies of your ilk (and oh, do I ever), you want it more than you know. Who's a good boy? Ring ring
manure entered the forum
with a loud proclamation
of his characteristic nonsense
“there is no international law”
a subject he knows nothing about
a factor no one else found relevant
for AL discussion of Rwanda
manure set the stage for his FIM routine
Unbeknown to him I already exposed manure
as an international fool in previous postings.
Lest the fool may mislead others,
we’d try didactic pedagogy
to illustrate his other nogical fallacies
to criticize US non action with and without UN approval
“shows a COMPLETE lack of principles”
What are the principles
that the nogician presumed and found lacking?
The principle of consistency?
Consistent to what?
AL can’t be clearer that US is blameworthy
for not discharging obligations that come with
its standing “at the apex of the international system”
We may skip “international” obligations
and focus on national obligations requiring each nation
to honor one’s own creed fairly
Life precedes liberty and happiness
in the national creed of the US
that also aims at equality
Protection and respect for life is the creed
that the US is obliged but fails to honor
Hence the US is criticized for the lack of consistency
in Rwanda the subject of AL’s discussion
“a COMPLETE lack of principles” is another foot
in the international fool’s nogician’s mouth
manure keeps making silly nogical cages
where he locks up himself and tries to lock up others
Pierce m'boy! Welcome back, my little neutered puppy. But still can't read, I see. Did you notice that IL is only mentioned in the first para of my comment here? There are 2 others, which you've ignored out of sheer stupidity. The next time you argue about anything with intelligence will be your first time.
Listen, you're the idiot who couldn't comprehend the court's ruling on "public". But I can see how people raised by lousy parents, like you evidently were, are incapable of acknowledging their own mistakes. Instead, more wishful thinking about my "ignorance". You keep telling yourself that. It's cute how a little doggy like you needs to soothe himself.
"constant defeat"? LOL. But again, you do what you need to do to salvage some sense of self-worth. Admittedly, I can't help you there. I've seen many an idiotic CCP apologist, but as I've said, you reside at the bottom of a very deep barrel. You're a "special" case, Pierce m'boy. Well done!
Anyway, your current "effort" is weak on logic, and lacks any discernible argument. As I said before, those things were funny at one time. But since that's all you've got every time, they've lost their amusement value. Realizing that your purpose in life in to amuse me, m'boy, I suggest you quickly find some new material. I know you're capable, at least of that much. So get to work. Treats await you. For starters, you can try to respond to the last 2 paras of my comment below. That should be funny. Ring ring...
I’ve taught manure to respect parents
and not to involve them
But in fear he sought parental help again:
“people raised by lousy parents”
The last time manure nogically involved parents
I stopped him from making the self proclaimation:
“A dog is my father in heaven”
and making people wonder about 321’s father
How could 321’s “m’boy” be 321’s father
the child is the father of man?
or a dog is 321’s father
perhaps 321’s mother knows
And yes, as his previous “arguments” show
321 likes to involve parents
In manure’s record,
when others cry uncle
the international fool cries “m’boy”
manure’s family background is nogical
that accounts for his obsession with parental puzzle
It’s also in his record
that “321stupid can’t prove his own existence
because nogically there is no such things as his parents”
If only manue had respect for his own parents
he’d have relied on himself without involving parents
whenever he is frightened
and manure is such a stupid chicken
And the only "lesson" I've learned from your existence thus far is that there is no limit to stupidity. But it has reaffirmed the notion that stupid people are people too. In your case, I'll happily play the role of the encouraging dog owner who will ring the bell every time so that your CCP apologist neural pathways are exercised regularly for the benefit of all around you. After all, your brand of stupidity is untreatable, so we may as well enjoy the fruits of your mindlessness. Every pet needs a purpose, and I will ensure that you get yours. However, I do hope the neutering was effective, cuz from what I've seen, your genetic lineage is not of evolutionary benefit to anybody.
AL is very clear that the US is blamed because
“it was at the apex of the international system”
Why get IL involved?
Is 666 possessed so that he is arguing with ghosts
about irrelevant existential issues of international law
manure is fixated on law because he is trying
to recover from his foolish performance
in the enraging public decency discussion
he is still angry over the exposure of his ignorance
Manure, please do us a favor:
analyze the cause of your uncontrollable anger
Is it due to its mix of hate and fear
or the smallness of your mind and heart
or your lack of sophistication
Constant defeat isn’t a license to abuse the world
screaming like manure did (April 15, 6:23am posting to AL’s April 9 article)
that “you are a dog, a neutered one, better than God”
But don’t worry, we are prepared to help you
No one can win all arguments all the times
Whether it’s deficiency in luck or intellect
you have lost all your “arguments” in this forum
It’s not my fault that fate has made me an unwilling agent
to thwart you in all your argumentative endeavors
It’s perhaps only human that you hate and fear
But you must recognize my contributions and keep some balance
In addition to teaching you how to think and argue
I’ve effectively cured your intractable handicap of inherited stammer
To you that’s a linguistic revolution
And that should even the score
First of all, there is no such thing as "international law". Inter-nation interactions are bound by treaties, where such exist. And that's it. Even the UN doesn't represent an international legal body of any form. A "UN-sanctioned" action simply means there was majority and/or consensus will. There is no stated or implied legal jurisdiction.
THe US can be criticized for its Iraq incursion not because it was legal or illegal (again, there is no such thing) but because there was no UN consensus, so the US was acting without de facto international approval.
Similarly, while there is a UN genocide convention, there was no security council resolution for increased military intervention in Rwanda at the time. IE, there was no international approval. THe convention ALLOWS use of force, but the convention does not DEMAND it in any given scenario.
To criticize the US in one instance for NOT acting in the absence of international approval, AND to criticize for US FOR acting in another in the absence of international approval, shows a complete lack of principles. It's one or the other. Can't have your cake and eat it too.
Masako Owada
The United States shouldn't take any blame over the Rwandan genocide but it must take the blame for the genocide of millions of Iraqis, Vietnamese etc. because of the US illegal wars in Iraq, Vietnam etc.
I see rwanda always playing victim here. 800 000 Rwandans massacred each other on tribal grounds! No actually I think there is much more to it than this. Kagame and his bloodletting RPK fighters slaughtered and drove Hutus from rural Rwanda (hence the mass of refugees at the end in Kigali). Once that Habyrimana plane was downed, those HUTUs must have felt their lives were in imortal danger, with the army being overpowered by the RPK, the HUTUS decided to take their revenge on Kagame's tribe. The rest is history. before anyone starts accusing me of bias and lacking sympathy, this was clearly one tribe V another over reasons the world never want to investigate. compare it with the 5million lives lost in the DRC because kagame is hunting down 'genocideries?' Are 800,000 rwandan lives more important than 5 million congolese lives?And precisey, what crime have the congolese people committed. is it criminal to live next door to a human flesh eating neighbor?
Truth about Africa is hard to discover
If my memory from speed-reading is correct
in Black Hawk Down, US force moved in
at the request of K Annan
but in the ex UN GS’ autobiography
he was unaware of the operation
In any event, the operation fully demonstrated US priorities
So AL is right that the US should and is to be blamed
For the cultural core of western democracy
as it has been manifest in Africa
heed the misdeeds of US and the British
for the latter refer to Imperial Reckoning
by Caroline Elkins
and contrast that with how Chengho
in China’s glorious imperial past
toured Africa and invited Africans to China
as guests to enjoy China’s hospitality
this reminds me of the spiderman movie "with great power, comes great responsibility".
the reality is America acts in its own interest, while portraying and wanting the world to see it as the "world's poiceman" and superpower, it only acts in self interest, ie, oil, other vested benefits.
there was no benefit and all risk to get involved in Rwanda.
so we should not blame USA for acting in it's self interest, blame your/ourselves for believing America is .... Spiderman.
A good take and dig Alex, keep at it!
It's very hard for die hard democrats to accept that their hero, Bill Clinton, failed miserably in rwanda. The US had nothing to do with the genocide in Rwanda but Clinton could have acted and reduced the carnage. Instead, he chose to do nothing. Clinotn himself publicly admitted a few years ago that Rwanda that was his greatest regret as President. Alex Lo is spot on in this regard. This is not US bashing; many in the US blamed him for his inaction. In his political astute mind, nobody in the US or West give a damn about Rwanda or conflicts in Africa
Sure, go ahead and blame the U.S. for the Rwanda genocide. Are you know ready to say that it was a good thing for the U.S. to go into Iraq and end the Saddam Hussein regime, what with the rape rooms and gassing it's own people in Basra and the Kurdish area? What about Afghanistan? Are you okay with the U.S. intervening to stop the harboring of Al Qaida and overthrowing the mysogenist Taliban regime? Let's be consistent here. You can't be against the U.S. as human civilization's policeman, but than for or against intervention only with the 20/20 hindsight.
1) There is no contradiction. The UN genocide convention unambiguously sanctions the use of outside force to stop an ongoing genocide, even if it means intervening in a sovereign state. impala is right in this regard. There were no conventional sanctions in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan. The US did it because it could. There is a strong case to be, and has been, made that both invasions were against international law.
2) No 20/20 hindsight was needed. In addition to Human Rights Watch, select Africa specialists inside the US government and the UN commander on the ground, Roméo Dallaire, were already calling the killings “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” from early to mid-April. The US actively discouraged its own officials and other countries from using the G-word. That was most unforgivable.
Alex Lo
Depending on the increasingly irrelevant United Nothing to authorize corrective actions is not a way forward for civilization. Better to constitute an international organization for countries with some commitment to combat barbarism. No need to have North Korea, Zimbabwe and other rogue states in such an organization.
To your other point I guess deploying chemical weapons against your Kurdish minority (Iraq) and compelling women to remain uneducated and confined to the home, while harboring international terrorism are okay as long as no United Nothing edicts are violated. Clinton acted correctly in Kosovo, dropped the ball in Rwanda and Bush acted appropriately in Iraq and Afghanistan. WIth the U.S. now much less assertive international the carnage in Syria continues without end.
There is no such thing as international law. The nation state is the highest legitimate repository of state power. Beyond the nation state, everything else is a matter of politically convenient, temporary, voluntary and conditional surrender of national sovereignty.
This is all about the 'Black Hawk Down' disaster in Somalia and the PDD-25 that resulted. PDD-25 basically stipulated that the US would not intervene (through peacekeeping missions or others) unless its 'vital interests' were at stake. That was clearly not the case in Rwanda, leading to the Clinton's administration hands-off approach to the events that were unfolding there.

Clinton was furthermore reluctant to call things a 'genocide,' mainly out of concerns for the lack of domestic public support for yet another boots-on-the-ground military operations with huge operational challenges and the certainty that sooner or later the body bags would be arriving.

With the benefit of hindsight, was that a cardinal error? Yes. Certainly from a humanitarian point of view.

But the deeper question remains unsolved. While 'we' (as the world) have more or less established that it is legal (in international law) to intervene when actors (state or otherwise) commit genocide or other large-scale 'crimes against humanity,' there is much less clarity on who then gets to do the dirty work.

Should we always expect American soldiers to risk their lives in such situations? And the US to pay the bill? If tomorrow, the situation in (say) Myanmar were to deteriorate a lot, and we would see Rwanda-like horrors being committed in a civil war there, are we going to see Chinese boots on the ground there as part of a peacekeeping mission? And if not, is the fault of the US again then?
This generation of HKers never take responsibility for anything, ie whether its the mainland tourists issues or the pollution issues or their own unmatched social inequality issues, its always someone elses fault. they always look for someone else to take reponsibility, it is the true servant's mentality. So do not blame poor Alex here for being so close minded and simplistic in his analysis of cultures he does not understand, he is after all, just a HKer living in a bubble where they have no reponsibility to anyone other than themselves, and often times,, do not even accept that responsibility. They are expert whiners, complainers, and blamers. The previous generations built HK into a great city. What is this current generation composed of ? What has it built ? I guess its obvious to all.
The U.S. intervenes in a country like, say, Iraq, and it is criticised. The U.S. doesn't intervene in a country like, say, Rwanda, and it is criticised. What's the point?
there is no inconsistency . in Rwanda they were expected to because a massacre was brewing. in Iraq they lied to justify their intervention. they said Sadam had WMDs. have you never heard about this lie?
Come on, there are differences. It is trigger-happy in events that is not its business, like the Middle East, Korea and Vietnam. Its intervention in Rwanda would have prevented the massacre of up to a million Tutsi people by the Hutu tribes. And its entry into WWII helped the allies defeat aggressors. I believe that Clinton himself later apologized to the Rwandans for not assisting. Why the US, you ask? Because it acts as the world's policeman whether or not it is wanted, and is busy with intrigue anyway like paying the Dalai Lama and a movement to free Tibet from China. But why raise the issue of Rwanda 20 years after the event? This is so not newsworthy now.


SCMP.com Account