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Left, Right & Center
Jewish World Review / April 1, 1998 / 3 Nisan, 5758

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

Bill Clinton's African Adventure

Biting his lower lip in trademark fashion, President Clinton told a group of confused Ugandans that "the United States has not always done the right thing by Africa. European-Americans received the benefits of the slave trade, and we were wrong in that." Slavery is not a hot-button issue in Africa, perhaps because it is still practiced in several countries.

The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, swept Clinton's false penitence aside. He noted that "African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them."

That intrusion of historical truth must not have gone down well with the black mayors, members of Congress and self-styled civil-rights leaders along for the ride with Clinton. (Jesse Jackson is the "spiritual guide" for this trip.) They have imbibed a lot of romantic fiction about the Mother Continent and tend to see history in black (good) and white (bad).

It is the worst kind of moral preening to apologize for slavery. We abolished slavery 133 years ago through a war that took more American lives than any other in our history. If John Brown was correct that the sin of slavery could only be washed clean in blood, it was done. Hundreds of thousands paid the ultimate price for the principle that slavery is wrong. It requires truly transporting arrogance to announce this as though it were a new moral insight.

The president was just warming up. "The worst sin" the United States had committed, he said, was "the sin of neglect and ignorance." Let's see, is that worse than benefiting from slavery? The president does have a little trouble with moral calculus. And speaking of calculus, we've donated $60 billion to Africa since 1945. Some -- yet not the president -- would call that generous.

The whole notion of "neglect" between nations smacks of colonialism, a sin for which he forgot to apologize. Is it possible for one nation to neglect another? Are we the parents and they the children? Aren't we equals?

The president began his trip by announcing, "I am here to listen and to learn." What does he suppose the United States has to learn from Africa? We can all join in celebrating the smooth transition to majority rule in South Africa. But there are no lessons there for us. It was for them to learn from our bitter experience -- and they did -- rather than the other way around.

There is no need to be undiplomatic, but really, the continent is desperately poor, backward and corrupt. Some nations are worse than others. Yes, there are pockets of economic growth and some sprigs of freedom and dignity. But the outlook for most African babies born today is terribly bleak.

The best book of 1997 was "Out of America," Keith Richburg's chronicle of his three-year stay in Africa. As a black American, he saw the embarrassing kowtowing of American "civil rights" leaders to every African potentate, the routine theft and corruption that characterizes life in major cities, the squalor of rural poverty, and the stomach-turning cruelty and massacres that bloodied Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi. After witnessing what modern Africa is like, Richburg came away thankful that his ancestors had been captured as slaves and sent to America.

Surely, the most cynical moment of this terrible trip was the president's apology for not intervening to stop the genocide in Rwanda. He claimed that in 1994, leaders like himself "did not fully appreciate the depth and the speed with which you were becoming engulfed by this unimaginable horror."

Really? I saw it on television. Did the National Security Council neglect to brief him on this? More lies.

He did nothing because the United States had just endured a bad experience with humanitarian aid to Somalia. He even instructed the State Department to avoid the word "genocide" -- as it would tend to impel a response.

If he were truly contrite about Rwanda, he could have added Sudan to his itinerary -- a nation in the grips of a terrible civil war that includes child enslavement and genocide. But this administration's foreign policy has been marked from the outset by purely commercial priorities. There's an argument for that. But to lead poor, suffering Africa to expect anything different when the next humanitarian crisis erupts (namely now) is cruel -- and indulged for no nobler purpose than to enhance Bill Clinton's own self-righteousness.


3/27/98: Understanding Arkansas
3/24/98: Jerry Springer's America
3/20/98: A small step for persecuted minorities
3/17/98: Skeletons in every closet?
3/13/98: Clinton's idea of a fine judge
3/10/98: Better than nothing?
3/6/98: Of fingernails and freedom
3/3/98: Read JWR! :0)
2/27/98: Dumb and Dumber
2/24/98: Reagan reduced poverty more than Clinton
2/20/98: Rally Round the United Nations?
2/17/98: In Denial
2/13/98: Reconsidering Theism
2/10/98: Waiting for the facts?
2/8/98: Cat got the GOP's tongue?
2/2/98: Does America care about immorality?
1/30/98: How to judge Clinton's denials
1/27/98: What If It's Just the Sex?
1/23/98: Bill Clinton, Acting Guilty
1/20/98: Arafat and the Holocaust Museum
1/16/98: Child Care or Feminist Agenda?
1/13/98: What We Really Think of Abortion
1/9/98: The Dead Era of Budget Deficits Rises Again?
1/6/98: "Understandable" Murder and Child Custody
1/2/98: Majoring in Sex
12/30/97: The Spirit of Kwanzaa
12/26/97: Food fights (Games children play)
12/23/97: Does Clinton's race panel listen to facts?
12/19/97: Welcome to the Judgeocracy, where the law school elite overrules majority rule
12/16/97: Do America's Jews support Netanyahu?

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.