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Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2001 / 13 Teves, 5761

Nat Hentoff

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Will Rice remember Rwanda? -- THE NEW PRESIDENT'S CHOICE for national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is clearly well-qualified for the post -- as was Henry Kissinger under Richard Nixon. What is troubling, however, is that she appears to share Henry Kissinger's realpolitik view of America's national interest in what happens elsewhere in the world, including human rights.

She put it plainly in an article last year for Foreign Affairs magazine. In emphasizing the paramount priority of our national interest in American foreign involvements, Rice said: "There is nothing wrong with doing something that benefits all humanity, but that is, in a sense, a second-order effect."

I ask Condoleezza Rice a non-hypothetical question about President Clinton -- and America's -- appalling failure to act against genocide.

During one month in 1994, an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and their sympathizers were slaughtered by Hutus in Rwanda. Before the killings began, an urgent message was sent by a United Nations official in Rwanda to Kofi Annan, then in charge of the UN's peacekeeping office. He refused to do anything. Our State Department was also aware of the genocide as it began, and word from the White House was to do nothing to stop the massacre.

Madeleine Albright, who was then our ambassador to the United Nations, delayed action by the UN -- when it considered intervening -- on orders from President Clinton. Spokespeople for the administration were ordered not to call what was happening in Rwanda genocide because congressional elections were coming up, and if that word were used, the president might be expected to do something about it.

All of this has been documented in a "Frontline" program, "The Triumph of Evil," on the Public Broadcasting System, in collaboration with the British Broadcasting Company, on Jan. 26, 1999. It was also exposed in an extensive report in New Yorker magazine, and later in a book published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families." (Hardcover) (Paperback) The author of both is Philip Gourevitch.

If the president and his national security adviser at the time had spoken out and not blocked UN action, it would have taken only about 5,000 UN troops to stop the genocide in Rwanda because the killers were armed primarily with machetes and various blunt instruments.

This decision by the Clinton administration not to get involved happened a year after Clinton dedicated the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. At the time, the vice president, Al Gore, spoke of the need to remember the Holocaust, especially in Washington, "to remind those who make the agonizing decisions of foreign policy of the consequences of their decisions."

In March 1988, President Clinton spoke in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and apologized to the survivors. Finally, he did use the word "genocide" -- 11 times -- in that speech. "We did not act quickly enough after the killing began," he said. That was the extent of his acceptance of the blame for all of those deaths, including the deaths of children.

In a Dec. 22 letter to Newsday -- with regard to Condoleezza Rice's appointment as national security adviser -- Randall Bosch asked whether the Bush administration would have refused "to intervene to stop the genocide, wholesale rape, torture and slaughter of innocent civilians in Bosnia? Will national self-interest be the touchstone of America's foreign policy excluding all humanitarian missions? Will the cries of pain and suffering around the world find a deaf ear in America now that the 'tough-minded' people are in charge?"

In the "Frontline" television documentary "The Triumph of Evil," James Wood, deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Defense at the time of the genocide, said of people in the Clinton administration that "they didn't want to really grasp and admit that they knew and understood what was happening because they didn't want to bear the consequences then of dealing with it."

That's not tough-mindedness. That's cowardice.

In his speech in Rwanda, Clinton, who could have saved so many lives, said of the mass murders in 1994: "All over the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after day, who did not appreciate the depth and speed with which you were being engulfed by this unimaginable terror."

He knew exactly what was going on then. Will Condoleezza Rice -- and Colin Powell -- be sitting in their offices, silent, during the next "unimaginable terror" somewhere in the world?

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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