Bystanders to Genocide [Rwanda]
by Samantha Power
I. People Sitting in Offices
In the course of a hundred days in 1994
the Hutu government of Rwanda and its extremist allies very nearly
succeeded in exterminating the country's Tutsi minority. Using
firearms, machetes, and a variety of garden implements, Hutu militiamen,
soldiers, and ordinary citizens murdered some 800,000 Tutsi and
politically moderate Hutu. It was the fastest, most efficient
killing spree of the twentieth century.
A few years later, in a series in The
New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch recounted in horrific detail the
story of the genocide and the world's failure to stop it. President
Bill Clinton, a famously avid reader, expressed shock. He sent
copies of Gourevitch's articles to his second-term national-security
adviser, Sandy Berger. The articles bore confused, angry, searching
queries in the margins. "Is what he's saying true?"
Clinton wrote with a thick black felt-tip pen beside heavily underlined
paragraphs. "How did this happen?" he asked, adding,
"I want to get to the bottom of this." The President's
urgency and outrage were oddly timed. As the terror in Rwanda
had unfolded, Clinton had shown virtually no interest in stopping
the genocide, and his Administration had stood by as the death
toll rose into the hundreds of thousands.
Why did the United States not do more
for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Did the President
really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested?
Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death
decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide
not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside
the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more?
If so, why weren't they heeded? And most crucial, what could the
United States have done to save lives?
So far people have explained the U.S.
failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide by claiming that the
United States didn't know what was happening, that it knew but
didn't care, or that regardless of what it knew there was nothing
useful to be done. The account that follows is based on a three-year
investigation involving sixty interviews with senior, mid-level,
and junior State Department, Defense Department, and National
Security Council officials who helped to shape or inform U.S.
policy. It also reflects dozens of interviews with Rwandan, European,
and United Nations officials and with peacekeepers, journalists,
and nongovernmental workers in Rwanda. Thanks to the National
Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org), a nonprofit organization
that uses the Freedom of Information Act to secure the release
of classified U.S. documents, this account also draws on hundreds
of pages of newly available government records. This material
provides a clearer picture than was previously possible of the
interplay among people, motives, and events. It reveals that the
U.S. government knew enough about the genocide early on to save
lives, but passed up countless opportunities to intervene.
In March of 1998, on a visit to Rwanda,
President Clinton issued what would later be known as the "Clinton
apology," which was actually a carefully hedged acknowledgment.
He spoke to the crowd assembled on the tarmac at Kigali Airport:
"We come here today partly in recognition of the fact that
we in the United States and the world community did not do as
much as we could have and should have done to try to limit what
occurred" in Rwanda.
This implied that the United States had
done a good deal but not quite enough. In reality the United States
did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort
to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda.
It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of
UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio
broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination
and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000
Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned
the term "genocide," for fear of being obliged to act.
The United States in fact did virtually nothing "to try to
limit what occurred." Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an
explicit U.S. policy objective.
With the grace of one grown practiced
at public remorse, the President gripped the lectern with both
hands and looked across the dais at the Rwandan officials and
survivors who surrounded him. Making eye contact and shaking his
head, he explained, "It may seem strange to you here, especially
the many of you who lost members of your family, but all over
the world there were people like me sitting in offices, day after
day after day, who did not fully appreciate [pause] the depth
[pause] and the speed [pause] with which you were being engulfed
by this unimaginable terror."
Clinton chose his words with characteristic
care. It was true that although top U.S. officials could not help
knowing the basic facts-thousands of Rwandans were dying every
day-that were being reported in the morning papers, many did not
"fully appreciate" the meaning. In the first three weeks
of the genocide the most influential American policymakers portrayed
(and, they insist, perceived) the deaths not as atrocities or
the components and symptoms of genocide but as wartime "casualties"-the
deaths of combatants or those caught between them in a civil war.
Yet this formulation avoids the critical
issue of whether Clinton and his close advisers might reasonably
have been expected to "fully appreciate" the true dimensions
and nature of the massacres. During the first three days of the
killings U.S. diplomats in Rwanda reported back to Washington
that well-armed extremists were intent on eliminating the Tutsi.
And the American press spoke of the door-to-door hunting of unarmed
civilians. By the end of the second week informed nongovernmental
groups had already begun to call on the Administration to use
the term "genocide," causing diplomats and lawyers at
the State Department to begin debating the word's applicability
soon thereafter. In order not to appreciate that genocide or something
close to it was under way, U.S. officials had to ignore public
reports and internal intelligence and debate.
The story of U.S. policy during the genocide
in Rwanda is not a story of willful complicity with evil. U.S.
officials did not sit around and conspire to allow genocide to
happen. But whatever their convictions about "never again,"
many of them did sit around, and they most certainly did allow
genocide to happen. In examining how and why the United States
failed Rwanda, we see that without strong leadership the system
will incline toward risk-averse policy choices. We also see that
with the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Rwanda taken
off the table early on-and with crises elsewhere in the world
unfolding-the slaughter never received the top-level attention
it deserved. Domestic political forces that might have pressed
for action were absent. And most U.S. officials opposed to American
involvement in Rwanda were firmly convinced that they were doing
all they could-and, most important, all they should-in light of
competing American interests and a highly circumscribed understanding
of what was "possible" for the United States to do.
One of the most thoughtful analyses of
how the American system can remain predicated on the noblest of
values while allowing the vilest of crimes was offered in 1971
by a brilliant and earnest young foreign-service officer who had
just resigned from the National Security Council to protest the
1970 U.S. invasion of Cambodia. In an article in Foreign Policy,
"The Human Reality of Realpolitik," he and a colleague
analyzed the process whereby American policymakers with moral
sensibilities could have waged a war of such immoral consequence
as the one in Vietnam. They wrote,
The answer to that question begins with
a basic intellectual approach which views foreign policy as a
lifeless, bloodless set of abstractions. "Nations,"
"interests," "influence," "prestige"-all
are disembodied and dehumanized terms which encourage easy inattention
to the real people whose lives our decisions affect or even end.
Policy analysis excluded discussion of
human consequences. "It simply is not done," the authors
wrote. "Policy-good, steady policy-is made by the 'tough-minded.'
To talk of suffering is to lose 'effectiveness,' almost to lose
one's grip. It is seen as a sign that one's 'rational' arguments
In 1994, fifty years after the Holocaust
and twenty years after America's retreat from Vietnam, it was
possible to believe that the system had changed and that talk
of human consequences had become admissible. Indeed, when the
machetes were raised in Central Africa, the White House official
primarily responsible for the shaping of U.S. foreign policy was
one of the authors of that 1971 critique: Anthony Lane, President
Clinton's first-term national-security adviser. The genocide in
Rwanda presented Lake and the rest of the Clinton team with an
opportunity to prove that "good, steady policy" could
be made in the interest of saving lives.
II. The Peacekeepers
Rwanda was a test for another man as well:
Romeo Dallaire, then a major general in the Canadian army who
at the time of the genocide was the commander of the UN Assistance
Mission in Rwanda. If ever there was a peacekeeper who believed
wholeheartedly in the promise of humanitarian action, it was Dallaire.
A broad-shouldered French-Canadian with deep-set sky-blue eyes,
Dallaire has the thick, calloused hands of one brought up in a
culture that prizes soldiering, service, and sacrifice. He saw
the United Nations as the embodiment of all three.
Before his posting to Rwanda Dallaire
had served as the commandant of an army brigade that sent peacekeeping
battalions to Cambodia and Bosnia, but he had never seen actual
combat himself. "I was like a fireman who has never been
to a fire, but has dreamed for years about how he would fare when
the fire came," the fifty-five-year-old Dallaire recalls.
When, in the summer of 1993, he received the phone call from UN
headquarters offering him the Rwanda posting, he was ecstatic.
"It was answering the aim of my life," he says. "It's
all you've been waiting for."
Dallaire was sent to command a UN force
that would help to keep the peace in Rwanda, a nation the size
of Vermont, which was known as "the land of a thousand hills"
for its rolling terrain. Before Rwanda achieved independence from
Belgium, in 1962, the Tutsi, who made up 15 percent of the populace,
had enjoyed a privileged status. But independence ushered in three
decades of Hutu rule, under which Tutsi were systematically discriminated
against and periodically subjected to waves of killing and ethnic
cleansing. In 1990 a group of armed exiles, mainly Tutsi, who
had been clustered on the Ugandan border, invaded Rwanda. Over
the next several years the rebels, known as the Rwandan Patriotic
Front, gained ground against Hutu government forces. In 1993 Tanzania
brokered peace talks, which resulted in a power-sharing agreement
known as the Arusha Accords. Under its terms the Rwandan government
agreed to share power with Hutu opposition parties and the Tutsi
minority. UN peacekeepers would be deployed to patrol a cease-fire
and assist in demilitarization and demobilization as well as to
help provide a secure environment, so that exiled Tutsi could
return. The hope among moderate Rwandans and Western observers
was that Hutu and Tutsi would at last be able to coexist in harmony.
Hutu extremists rejected these terms and
set out to terrorize Tutsi and also those Hutu politicians supportive
of the peace process. In 1993 several thousand Rwandans were killed,
and some 9,000 were detained. Guns, grenades, and machetes began
arriving by the planeload. A pair of international commissions-one
sent by the United Nations, the other by an independent collection
of human-rights organizations-warned explicitly of a possible
But Dallaire knew nothing of the precariousness
of the Arusha Accords. When he made a preliminary reconnaissance
trip to Rwanda, in August of 1993, he was told that the country
was committed to peace and that a UN presence was essential. A
visit with extremists, who preferred to eradicate Tutsi rather
than cede power, was not on Dallaire's itinerary. Remarkably,
no UN officials in New York thought to give Dallaire copies of
the alarming reports from the international investigators.
The sum total of Dallaire's intelligence
data before that first trip to Rwanda consisted of one encyclopedia's
summary of Rwandan history, which Major Brent Beardsley, Dallaire's
executive assistant, had snatched at the last minute from his
local public library. Beardsley says, "We flew to Rwanda
with a Michelin road map, a copy of the Arusha agreement, and
that was it. We were under the impression that the situation was
quite straightforward: there was one cohesive government side
and one cohesive rebel side, and they had come together to sign
the peace agreement and had then requested that we come in to
help them implement it."
Though Dallaire gravely underestimated
the tensions brewing in Rwanda, he still felt that he would need
a force of 5,000 to help the parties implement the terms of the
Arusha Accords. But when his superiors warned him that the United
States would never agree to pay for such a large deployment, Dallaire
reluctantly trimmed his written request to 2,500. He remembers,
"I was told, 'Don't ask for a brigade, because it ain't there.'"
Once he was actually posted to Rwanda,
in October of 1993, Dallaire lacked not merely intelligence data
and manpower but also institutional support. The small Department
of Peacekeeping Operations in New York, run by the Ghanaian diplomat
Kofi Annan, now the UN secretary general, was overwhelmed. Madeleine
Albright, then the U.S. ambassador to the UN, recalls, "The
global nine-one-one was always either busy or nobody was there."
At the time of the Rwanda deployment, with a staff of a few hundred,
the UN was posting 70,000 peacekeepers on seventeen missions around
the world. Amid these widespread crises and logistical headaches
the Rwanda mission had a very low status.
Life was not made easier for Dallaire
or the UN peacekeeping office by the fact that American patience
for peacekeeping was thinning. Congress owed half a billion dollars
in UN dues and peacekeeping costs. It had tired of its obligation
to foot a third of the bill for what had come to feel like an
insatiable global appetite for mischief and an equally insatiable
UN appetite for missions. The Clinton Administration had taken
office better disposed toward peacekeeping than any other Administration
in U.S. history. But it felt that the Department of Peacekeeping
Operations needed fixing and demanded that the UN "learn
to say no" to chancy or costly missions.
Every aspect of the UN Assistance Mission
in Rwanda was run on a shoestring. UNAMIR (the acronym by which
it was known) was equipped with hand-me-down vehicles from the
UN's Cambodia mission, and only eighty of the 300 that turned
up were usable. When the medical supplies ran out, in March of
1994, New York said there was no cash for resupply. Very little
could be procured locally, given that Rwanda was one of Africa's
poorest nations. Replacement spare parts, batteries, and even
ammunition could rarely be found. Dallaire spent some 70 percent
of his time battling UN logistics.
Dallaire had major problems with his personnel,
as well. He commanded troops, military observers, and civilian
personnel from twenty-six countries. Though multinationality is
meant to be a virtue of UN missions, the diversity yielded grave
discrepancies in resources. Whereas Belgian troops turned up well
armed and ready to perform the tasks assigned to them, the poorer
contingents showed up "bare-assed," in Dallaire's words,
and demanded that the United Nations suit them up. "Since
nobody else was offering to send troops, we had to take what we
could get," he says. When Dallaire expressed concern, he
was instructed by a senior UN official to lower his expectations.
He recalls, "I was told, 'Listen, General, you are NATO-trained.
This is not NATO.'" Although some 2,500 UNAMIR personnel
had arrived by early April of 1994, few of the soldiers had the
kit they needed to perform even basic tasks.
The signs of militarization in Rwanda
were so widespread that even without much of an intelligence-gathering
capacity, Dallaire was able to learn of the extremists' sinister
intentions. In January of 1994 an anonymous Hutu informant, said
to be high up in the inner circles of the Rwandan government,
had come forward to describe the rapid arming and training of
local militias. In what is now referred to as the "Dallaire
fax," Dallaire relayed to New York the informant's claim
that Hutu extremists "had been ordered to register all the
Tutsi in Kigali." "He suspects it is for their extermination,"
Dallaire wrote. "Example he gave was that in 20 minutes his
personnel could kill up to 1000 Tutsis." "Jean-Pierre,"
as the informant became known, had said that the militia planned
first to provoke and murder a number of Belgian peacekeepers,
to "thus guarantee Belgian withdrawal from Rwanda."
When Dallaire notified Kofi Annan's office that UNAMIR was poised
to raid Hutu arms caches, Annan's deputy forbade him to do so.
Instead Dallaire was instructed to notify the Rwandan President,
Juvénal Habyarimana, and the Western ambassadors of the
informant's claims. Though Dallaire battled by phone with New
York, and confirmed the reliability of the informant, his political
masters told him plainly and consistently that the United States
in particular would not support aggressive peacekeeping. (A request
by the Belgians for reinforcements was also turned down.) In Washington,
Dallaire's alarm was discounted. Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley,
the U.S. military liaison to the Arusha process, respected Dallaire
but knew he was operating in Africa for the first time. "I
thought that the neophyte meant well, but I questioned whether
he knew what he was talking about," Marley recalls.
III. The Early Killings
On the evening of April 6, 1994, Romeo
Dallaire was sitting on the couch in his bungalow residence in
Kigali, watching CNN with Brent Beardsley. Beardsley was preparing
plans for a national Sports Day that would match Tutsi rebel soldiers
against Hutu government soldiers in a soccer game. Dallaire said,
"You know, Brent, if the shit ever hit the fan here, none
of this stuff would really matter, would it?" The next instant
the phone rang. Rwandan President Habyarimana's Mystère
Falcon jet, a gift from French President François Mitterrand,
had just been shot down, with Habyarimana and Burundian President
Cyprien Ntaryamira aboard. Dallaire and Beardsley raced in their
UN jeep to Rwandan army headquarters, where a crisis meeting was
Back in Washington, Kevin Aiston, the
Rwanda desk officer, knocked on the door of Deputy Assistant Secretary
of State Prudence Bushnell and told her that the Presidents of
Rwanda and Burundi had gone down in a plane crash. "Oh, shit,"
she said. "Are you sure?" In fact nobody was sure at
first, but Dallaire's forces supplied confirmation within the
hour. The Rwandan authorities quickly announced a curfew, and
Hutu militias and government soldiers erected roadblocks around
Bushnell drafted an urgent memo to Secretary
of State Warren Christopher. She was concerned about a probable
outbreak of killing in both Rwanda and its neighbor Burundi. The
If, as it appears, both Presidents have
been killed, there is a strong likelihood that widespread violence
could break out in either or both countries, particularly if it
is confirmed that the plane was shot down. Our strategy is to
appeal for calm in both countries, both through public statements
and in other ways.
A few public statements proved to be virtually
the only strategy that Washington would muster in the weeks ahead.
Lieutenant General Wesley Clark, who later
commanded the NATO air war in Kosovo, was the director of strategic
plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.
On learning of the crash, Clark remembers, staff officers asked,
"Is it Hutu and Tutsi or Tutu and Hutsi?" He frantically
called for insight into the ethnic dimension of events in Rwanda.
Unfortunately, Rwanda had never been of more than marginal concern
to Washington's most influential planners.
America's best-informed Rwanda observer
was not a government official but a private citizen, Alison Des
Forges, a historian and a board member of Human Rights Watch,
who lived in Buffalo, New York. Des Forges had been visiting Rwanda
since 1963. She had received a Ph.D. from Yale in African history,
specializing in Rwanda, and she could speak the Rwandan language,
Kinyarwanda. Half an hour after the plane crash Des Forges got
a phone call from a close friend in Kigali, the human-rights activist
Monique Mujawamariya. Des Forges had been worried about Mujawamariya
for weeks, because the Hutu extremist radio station, Radio Mille
Collines, had branded her "a bad patriot who deserves to
die." Mujawamariya had sent Human Rights Watch a chilling
warning a week earlier: "For the last two weeks, all of Kigali
has lived under the threat of an instantaneous, carefully prepared
operation to eliminate all those who give trouble to President
Now Habyarimana was dead, and Mujawamariya
knew instantly that the hard-line Hutu would use the crash as
a pretext to begin mass killing. "This is it," she told
Des Forges on the phone. For the next twenty-four hours Des Forges
called her friend's home every half hour. With each conversation
Des Forges could hear the gunfire grow louder as the militia drew
closer. Finally the gunmen entered Mujawamariya's home. "I
don't want you to hear this," Mujawamariya said softly. "Take
care of my children." She hung up the phone.
Mujawamariya's instincts were correct.
Within hours of the plane crash Hutu militiamen took command of
the streets of Kigali. Dallaire quickly grasped that supporters
of the Arusha peace process were being targeted. His phone at
UNAMIR headquarters rang constantly as Rwandans around the capital
pleaded for help. Dallaire was especially concerned about Prime
Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a reformer who with the President's
death had become the titular head of state. Just after dawn on
April 7 five Ghanaian and ten Belgian peacekeepers arrived at
the Prime Minister's home in order to deliver her to Radio Rwanda,
so that she could broadcast an emergency appeal for calm.
Joyce Leader, the second-in-command at
the U.S. embassy, lived next door to Uwilingiyimana. She spent
the early hours of the morning behind the steel-barred gates of
her embassy-owned house as Hutu killers hunted and dispatched
their first victims. Leader's phone rang. Uwilingiyimana was on
the other end. "Please hide me," she begged.
Minutes after the phone call a UN peacekeeper
attempted to hike the Prime Minister over the wall separating
their compounds. When Leader heard shots fired, she urged the
peacekeeper to abandon the effort. "They can see you!"
she shouted. Uwilingiyimana managed to slip with her husband and
children into another compound, which was occupied by the UN Development
Program. But the militiamen hunted them down in the yard, where
the couple surrendered. There were more shots. Leader recalls,
"We heard her screaming and then, suddenly, after the gunfire
the screaming stopped, and we heard people cheering." Hutu
gunmen in the Presidential Guard that day systematically tracked
down and eliminated Rwanda's moderate leadership.
The raid on Uwilingiyimana's compound
not only cost Rwanda a prominent supporter of the Arusha Accords;
it also triggered the collapse of Dallaire's mission. In keeping
with the plan to target the Belgians which the informant Jean-Pierre
had relayed to UNAMIR in January, Hutu soldiers rounded up the
peacekeepers at Uwilingiyimana's home, took them to a military
camp, led the Ghanaians to safety, and then killed and savagely
mutilated the ten Belgians. In Belgium the cry for either expanding
UNAMIR's mandate or immediately withdrawing was prompt and loud.
In response to the initial killings by
the Hutu government, Tutsi rebels of the Rwandan Patriotic Front-stationed
in Kigali under the terms of the Arusha Accords-surged out of
their barracks and resumed their civil war against the Hutu regime.
But under the cover of that war were early and strong indications
that systematic genocide was taking place. From April 7 onward
the Hutu-controlled army, the gendarmerie, and the militias worked
together to wipe out Rwanda's Tutsi. Many of the early Tutsi victims
found themselves specifically, not spontaneously, pursued: lists
of targets had been prepared in advance, and Radio Mille Collines
broadcast names, addresses, and even license-plate numbers. Killers
often carried a machete in one hand and a transistor radio in
the other. Tens of thousands of Tutsi fled their homes in panic
and were snared and butchered at checkpoints. Little care was
given to their disposal. Some were shoveled into landfills. Human
flesh rotted in the sunshine. In churches bodies mingled with
scattered hosts. If the killers had taken the time to tend to
sanitation, it would have slowed their "sanitization"
IV. The "Last War"
The two tracks of events in Rwanda-simultaneous
war and genocide-confused policymakers who had scant prior understanding
of the country. Atrocities are often carried out in places that
are not commonly visited, where outside expertise is limited.
When country-specific knowledge is lacking, foreign governments
become all the more likely to employ faulty analogies and to "fight
the last war." The analogy employed by many of those who
confronted the outbreak of killing in Rwanda was a peacekeeping
intervention that had gone horribly wrong in Somalia.
On October 3, 1993, ten months after President
Bush had sent U.S. troops to Somalia as part of what had seemed
a low-risk humanitarian mission, U.S. Army Rangers and Delta special
forces in Somalia attempted to seize several top advisers to the
warlord Mohammed Farah Aideed. Aideed's faction had ambushed and
killed two dozen Pakistani peacekeepers, and the United States
was striking back. But in the firefight that ensued the Somali
militia killed eighteen Americans, wounded seventy-three, and
captured one Black Hawk helicopter pilot. Somali television broadcast
both a video interview with the trembling, disoriented pilot and
a gory procession in which the corpse of a U.S. Ranger was dragged
through a Mogadishu street.
On receiving word of these events, President
Clinton cut short a trip to California and convened an urgent
crisis-management meeting at the White House. When an aide began
recapping the situation, an angry President interrupted him. "Cut
the bullshit," Clinton snapped. "Let's work this out."
"Work it out" meant walk out. Republican Congressional
pressure was intense. Clinton appeared on American television
the next day, called off the manhunt for Aideed, temporarily reinforced
the troop presence, and announced that all U.S. forces would be
home within six months. The Pentagon leadership concluded that
peacekeeping in Africa meant trouble and that neither the White
House nor Congress would stand by it when the chips were down.
Even before the deadly blowup in Somalia
the United States had resisted deploying a UN mission to Rwanda.
"Anytime you mentioned peacekeeping in Africa," one
U.S. official remembers, "the crucifixes and garlic would
come up on every door." Having lost much of its early enthusiasm
for peacekeeping and for the United Nations itself, Washington
was nervous that the Rwanda mission would sour like so many others.
But President Habyarimana had traveled to Washington in 1993 to
offer assurances that his government was committed to carrying
out the terms of the Arusha Accords. In the end, after strenuous
lobbying by France (Rwanda's chief diplomatic and military patron),
U.S. officials accepted the proposition that UNAMIR could be the
rare "UN winner." On October 5, 1993, two days after
the Somalia firefight, the United States reluctantly voted in
the Security Council to authorize Dallaire's mission. Even so,
U.S. officials made it clear that Washington would give no consideration
to sending U.S. troops to Rwanda. Somalia and another recent embarrassment
in Haiti indicated that multilateral initiatives for humanitarian
purposes would likely bring the United States all loss and no
Against this backdrop, and under the leadership
of Anthony Lake, the national-security adviser, the Clinton Administration
accelerated the development of a formal U.S. peacekeeping doctrine.
The job was given to Richard Clarke, of the National Security
Council, a special assistant to the President who was known as
one of the most effective bureaucrats in Washington. In an interagency
process that lasted more than a year, Clarke managed the production
of a presidential decision directive, PDD-25, which listed sixteen
factors that policymakers needed to consider when deciding whether
to support peacekeeping activities: seven factors if the United
States was to vote in the UN Security Council on peace operations
carried out by non-American soldiers, six additional and more
stringent factors if U.S. forces were to participate in UN peacekeeping
missions, and three final factors if U.S. troops were likely to
engage in actual combat. In the words of Representative David
Obey, of Wisconsin, the restrictive checklist tried to satisfy
the American desire for "zero degree of involvement, and
zero degree of risk, and zero degree of pain and confusion."
The architects of the doctrine remain its strongest defenders.
"Many say PDD-25 was some evil thing designed to kill peacekeeping,
when in fact it was there to save peacekeeping," Clarke says.
"Peacekeeping was almost dead. There was no support for it
in the U.S. government, and the peacekeepers were not effective
in the field." Although the directive was not publicly released
until May 3, 1994, a month into the genocide, the considerations
encapsulated in the doctrine and the Administration's frustration
with peacekeeping greatly influenced the thinking of U.S. officials
involved in shaping Rwanda policy.
V. The Peace Processors
Each of the American actors dealing with
Rwanda brought particular institutional interests and biases to
his or her handling of the crisis. Secretary of State Warren Christopher
knew little about Africa. At one meeting with his top advisers,
several weeks after the plane crash, he pulled an atlas off his
shelf to help him locate the country. Belgian Foreign Minister
Willie Claes recalls trying to discuss Rwanda with his American
counterpart and being told, "I have other responsibilities."
Officials in the State Department's Africa Bureau were, of course,
better informed. Prudence Bushnell, the deputy assistant secretary,
was one of them. The daughter of a diplomat, Bushnell had joined
the foreign service in 1981, at the age of thirty-five. With her
agile mind and sharp tongue, she had earned the attention of George
Moose when she served under him at the U.S. embassy in Senegal.
When Moose was named the assistant secretary of state for African
affairs, in 1993, he made Bushnell his deputy. Just two weeks
before the plane crash the State Department had dispatched Bushnell
and a colleague to Rwanda in an effort to contain the escalating
violence and to spur the stalled peace process.
Unfortunately, for all the concern of
the Americans familiar with Rwanda, their diplomacy suffered from
three weaknesses. First, ahead of the plane crash diplomats had
repeatedly threatened to pull out UN peacekeepers in retaliation
for the parties' failure to implement Arusha. These threats were
of course counterproductive, because the very Hutu who opposed
power-sharing wanted nothing more than a UN withdrawal. One senior
U.S. official remembers, "The first response to trouble is
'Let's yank the peacekeepers.' But that is like believing that
when children are misbehaving, the proper response is 'Let's send
the baby-sitter home.'"
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. An
examination of the cable traffic from the U.S. embassy in Kigali
to Washington between the signing of the Arusha agreement and
the downing of the presidential plane reveals that setbacks were
perceived as "dangers to the peace process" more than
as "dangers to Rwandans." American criticisms were deliberately
and steadfastly leveled at "both sides," though Hutu
government and militia forces were usually responsible.
The U.S. ambassador in Kigali, David Rawson,
proved especially vulnerable to such bias. Rawson had grown up
in Burundi, where his father, an American missionary, had set
up a Quaker hospital. He entered the foreign service in 1971.
When, in 1993, at age fifty-two, he was given the embassy in Rwanda,
his first, he could not have been more intimate with the region,
the culture, or the peril. He spoke the local language-almost
unprecedented for an ambassador in Central Africa. But Rawson
found it difficult to imagine the Rwandans who surrounded the
President as conspirators in genocide. He issued pro forma demarches
over Habyarimana's obstruction of power-sharing, but the cable
traffic shows that he accepted the President's assurances that
he was doing all he could. The U.S. investment in the peace process
gave rise to a wishful tendency to see peace "around the
corner." Rawson remembers, "We were naive policy optimists,
I suppose. The fact that negotiations can't work is almost not
one of the options open to people who care about peace. We were
looking for the hopeful signs, not the dark signs. In fact, we
were looking away from the dark signs ... One of the things I
learned and should have already known is that once you launch
a process, it takes on its own momentum. I had said, 'Let's try
this, and then if it doesn't work, we can back away.' But bureaucracies
don't allow that. Once the Washington side buys into a process,
it gets pursued, almost blindly." Even after the Hutu government
began exterminating Tutsi, U.S. diplomats focused most of their
efforts on "re-establishing a cease-fire" and "getting
Arusha back on track."
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.
Rawson had read up on genocide before
his posting to Rwanda, surveying what had become a relatively
extensive scholarly literature on its causes. But although he
expected internecine killing, he did not anticipate the scale
at which it occurred. "Nothing in Rwandan culture or history
could have led a person to that forecast," he says. "Most
of us thought that if a war broke out, it would be quick, that
these poor people didn't have the resources, the means, to fight
a sophisticated war. I couldn't have known that they would do
each other in with the most economic means." George Moose
agrees: "We were psychologically and imaginatively too limited."
VI. Foreigners First
David Rawson was sitting with his wife
in their residence watching a taped broadcast of The MacNeil/Lehrer
NewsHour when he heard the back-to-back explosions that signaled
the destruction of President Habyarimana's plane. As the American
ambassador, he was concerned primarily for American citizens,
who, he feared, could be killed or injured in any outbreak of
fighting. The United States made the decision to withdraw its
personnel and nationals on April 7. Penned into his house, Rawson
did not feel that his presence was of any use. Looking back, he
says, "Did we have a moral responsibility to stay there?
Would it have made a difference? I don't know, but the killings
were taking place in broad daylight while we were there. I didn't
feel that we were achieving much."
Still, about 300 Rwandans from the neighborhood
had gathered at Rawson's residence seeking refuge, and when the
Americans cleared out, the local people were left to their fates.
Rawson recalls, "I told the people who were there that we
were leaving and the flag was coming down, and they would have
to make their own choice about what to do ... Nobody really asked
us to take them with us." Rawson says he could not help even
those who worked closest to him. His chief steward, who served
dinner and washed dishes at the house, called the ambassador from
his home and pleaded, "We're in terrible danger. Please come
and get us." Rawson says, "I had to tell him, 'We can't
move. We can't come.'" The steward and his wife were killed.
Assistant Secretary Moose was away from
Washington, so Prudence Bushnell, the acting assistant secretary,
was made the director of the task force that managed the Rwanda
evacuation. Her focus, like Rawson's, was on the fate of U.S.
citizens. "I felt very strongly that my first obligation
was to the Americans," she recalls. "I was sorry about
the Rwandans, of course, but my job was to get our folks out ...
Then again, people didn't know that it was a genocide. What I
was told was 'Look, Pru, these people do this from time to time.'
We thought we'd be right back."
At a State Department press conference
on April 8 Bushnell made an appearance and spoke gravely about
the mounting violence in Rwanda and the status of Americans there.
After she left the podium, Michael McCurry, the department spokesman,
took her place and criticized foreign governments for preventing
the screening of the Steven Spielberg film Schindler's List. "This
film movingly portrays ... the twentieth century's most horrible
catastrophe," he said. "And it shows that even in the
midst of genocide, one individual can make a difference."
No one made any connection between Bushnell's remarks and McCurry's.
Neither journalists nor officials in the United States were focused
on the Tutsi.
On April 9 and 10, in five different convoys,
Ambassador Rawson and 250 Americans were evacuated from Kigali
and other points. "When we left, the cars were stopped and
searched," Rawson says. "It would have been impossible
to get Tutsi through." All told, thirty-five local employees
of the embassy were killed in the genocide.
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."
Dallaire, too, had been ordered to make
the evacuation of foreigners his priority. The UN Department of
Peacekeeping Operations, which had rejected the field commander's
proposed raid on arms caches in January, sent an explicit cable:
"You should make every effort not to compromise your impartiality
or to act beyond your mandate, but [you] may exercise your discretion
to do [so] should this be essential for the evacuation of foreign
nationals. This should not, repeat not, extend to participating
in possible combat except in self-defense." Neutrality was
essential. Avoiding combat was paramount, but Dallaire could make
an exception for non-Rwandans.
While the United States evacuated overland
without an American military escort, the Europeans sent troops
to Rwanda so that their personnel could exit by air. On April
9 Dallaire watched covetously as just over a thousand French,
Belgian, and Italian soldiers descended on Kigali Airport to begin
evacuating their expatriates. These commandos were clean-shaven,
well fed, and heavily armed, in marked contrast to Dallaire's
exhausted, hungry, ragtag peacekeeping force. Within three days
of the plane crash estimates of the number of dead in the capital
already exceeded 10,000.
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."
The consequences of the exclusive attention
to foreigners were felt immediately. In the days after the plane
crash some 2,000 Rwandans, including 400 children, had grouped
at the Ecole Technique Officielle, under the protection of about
ninety Belgian soldiers. Many of them were already suffering from
machete wounds. They gathered in the classrooms and on the playing
field outside the school. Rwandan government and militia forces
lay in wait nearby, drinking beer and chanting, "Pawa, pawa,"
for "Hutu power." On April 11 the Belgians were ordered
to regroup at the airport to aid the evacuation of European civilians.
Knowing they were trapped, several Rwandans pursued the jeeps,
shouting, "Do not abandon us!" The UN soldiers shooed
them away from their vehicles and fired warning shots over their
heads. When the peacekeepers had gone out through one gate, Hutu
militiamen entered through another, firing machine guns and throwing
grenades. Most of the 2,000 gathered there were killed.
In the three days during which some 4,000
foreigners were evacuated, about 20,000 Rwandans were killed.
After the American evacuees were safely out and the U.S. embassy
had been closed, Bill and Hillary Clinton visited the people who
had manned the emergency-operations room at the State Department
and offered congratulations on a "job well done."
VII. Genocide? What Genocide?
Just when did Washington know of the sinister
Hutu designs on Rwanda's Tutsi? Writing in Foreign Affairs last
year, Alan Kuperman argued that President Clinton "could
not have known that a nationwide genocide was under way"
until about two weeks into the killing. It is true that the precise
nature and extent of the slaughter was obscured by the civil war,
the withdrawal of U.S. diplomatic sources, some confused press
reporting, and the lies of the Rwandan government. Nonetheless,
both the testimony of U.S. officials who worked the issue day
to day and the declassified documents indicate that plenty was
known about the killers' intentions.
A determination of genocide turns not
on the numbers killed, which is always difficult to ascertain
at a time of crisis, but on the perpetrators' intent: Were Hutu
forces attempting to destroy Rwanda's Tutsi? The answer to this
question was available early on. "By eight A.M. the morning
after the plane crash we knew what was happening, that there was
systematic killing of Tutsi," Joyce Leader recalls. "People
were calling me and telling me who was getting killed. I knew
they were going door to door." Back at the State Department
she explained to her colleagues that three kinds of killing were
going on: war, politically motivated murder, and genocide. Dallaire's
early cables to New York likewise described the armed conflict
that had resumed between rebels and government forces, and also
stated plainly that savage "ethnic cleansing" of Tutsi
was occurring. U.S. analysts warned that mass killings would increase.
In an April 11 memo prepared for Frank Wisner, the undersecretary
of defense for policy, in advance of a dinner with Henry Kissinger,
a key talking point was "Unless both sides can be convinced
to return to the peace process, a massive (hundreds of thousands
of deaths) bloodbath will ensue."
Whatever the inevitable imperfections
of U.S. intelligence early on, the reports from Rwanda were severe
enough to distinguish Hutu killers from ordinary combatants in
civil war. And they certainly warranted directing additional U.S.
intelligence assets toward the region-to snap satellite photos
of large gatherings of Rwandan civilians or of mass graves, to
intercept military communications, or to infiltrate the country
in person. Though there is no evidence that senior policymakers
deployed such assets, routine intelligence continued to pour in.
On April 26 an unattributed intelligence memo titled "Responsibility
for Massacres in Rwanda" reported that the ringleaders of
the genocide, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora and his crisis
committee, were determined to liquidate their opposition and exterminate
the Tutsi populace. A May 9 Defense Intelligence Agency report
stated plainly that the Rwandan violence was not spontaneous but
was directed by the government, with lists of victims prepared
well in advance. The DIA observed that an "organized parallel
effort of genocide [was] being implemented by the army to destroy
the leadership of the Tutsi community."
From April 8 onward media coverage featured
eyewitness accounts describing the widespread targeting of Tutsi
and the corpses piling up on Kigali's streets. American reporters
relayed stories of missionaries and embassy officials who had
been unable to save their Rwandan friends and neighbors from death.
On April 9 a front-page Washington Post story quoted reports that
the Rwandan employees of the major international relief agencies
had been executed "in front of horrified expatriate staffers."
On April 10 a New York Times front-page article quoted the Red
Cross claim that "tens of thousands" were dead, 8,000
in Kigali alone, and that corpses were "in the houses, in
the streets, everywhere." The Post the same day led its front-page
story with a description of "a pile of corpses six feet high"
outside the main hospital. On April 14 The New York Times reported
the shooting and hacking to death of nearly 1,200 men, women,
and children in the church where they had sought refuge. On April
19 Human Rights Watch, which had excellent sources on the ground
in Rwanda, estimated the number of dead at 100,000 and called
for use of the term "genocide." The 100,000 figure (which
proved to be a gross underestimate) was picked up immediately
by the Western media, endorsed by the Red Cross, and featured
on the front page of The Washington Post. On April 24 the Post
reported how "the heads and limbs of victims were sorted
and piled neatly, a bone-chilling order in the midst of chaos
that harked back to the Holocaust." President Clinton certainly
could have known that a genocide was under way, if he had wanted
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."
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."
The genocide debate in U.S. government
circles began the last week of April, but it was not until May
21, six weeks after the killing began, that Secretary Christopher
gave his diplomats permission to use the term "genocide"-sort
of. The UN Human Rights Commission was about to meet in special
session, and the U.S. representative, Geraldine Ferraro, needed
guidance on whether to join a resolution stating that genocide
had occurred. The stubborn U.S. stand had become untenable internationally.
The case for a label of genocide was straightforward,
according to a May 18 confidential analysis prepared by the State
Department's assistant secretary for intelligence and research,
Toby Gati: lists of Tutsi victims' names and addresses had reportedly
been prepared; Rwandan government troops and Hutu militia and
youth squads were the main perpetrators; massacres were reported
all over the country; humanitarian agencies were now "claiming
from 200,000 to 500,000 lives" lost. Gati offered the intelligence
bureau's view: "We believe 500,000 may be an exaggerated
estimate, but no accurate figures are available. Systematic killings
began within hours of Habyarimana's death. Most of those killed
have been Tutsi civilians, including women and children."
The terms of the Genocide Convention had been met. "We weren't
quibbling about these numbers," Gati says. "We can never
know precise figures, but our analysts had been reporting huge
numbers of deaths for weeks. We were basically saying, 'A rose
by any other name ...'"
Despite this straightforward assessment,
Christopher remained reluctant to speak the obvious truth. When
he issued his guidance, on May 21, fully a month after Human Rights
Watch had put a name to the tragedy, Christopher's instructions
were hopelessly muddied.
The delegation is authorized to agree
to a resolution that states that "acts of genocide"
have occurred in Rwanda or that "genocide has occurred in
Rwanda." Other formulations that suggest that some, but not
all of the killings in Rwanda are genocide ... e.g. "genocide
is taking place in Rwanda"-are authorized. Delegation is
not authorized to agree to the characterization of any specific
incident as genocide or to agree to any formulation that indicates
that all killings in Rwanda are genocide.
Notably, Christopher confined permission
to acknowledge full-fledged genocide to the upcoming session of
the Human Rights Commission. Outside that venue State Department
officials were authorized to state publicly only that acts of
genocide had occurred.
Christine Shelly, a State Department spokesperson,
had long been charged with publicly articulating the U.S. position
on whether events in Rwanda counted as genocide. For two months
she had avoided the term, and as her June 10 exchange with the
Reuters correspondent Alan Elsner reveals, her semantic dance
Elsner: How would you describe the events
taking place in Rwanda?
Shelly: Based on the evidence we have
seen from observations on the ground, we have every reason to
believe that acts of genocide have occurred in Rwanda.
Elsner: What's the difference between
"acts of genocide" and "genocide"?
Shelly: Well, I think the-as you know,
there's a legal definition of this ... clearly not all of the
killings that have taken place in Rwanda are killings to which
you might apply that label ... But as to the distinctions between
the words, we're trying to call what we have seen so far as best
as we can; and based, again, on the evidence, we have every reason
to believe that acts of genocide have occurred.
Elsner: How many acts of genocide does
it take to make genocide?
Shelly: Alan, that's just not a question
that I'm in a position to answer.
The same day, in Istanbul, Warren Christopher,
by then under severe internal and external pressure, relented:
"If there is any particular magic in calling it genocide,
I have no hesitancy in saying that."
VIII. "Not Even a Sideshow"
Once the Americans had been evacuated,
Rwanda largely dropped off the radar of most senior Clinton Administration
officials. In the situation room on the seventh floor of the State
Department a map of Rwanda had been hurriedly pinned to the wall
in the aftermath of the plane crash, and eight banks of phones
had rung off the hook. Now, with U.S. citizens safely home, the
State Department chaired a daily interagency meeting, often by
teleconference, designed to coordinate mid-level diplomatic and
humanitarian responses. Cabinet-level officials focused on crises
elsewhere. Anthony Lake recalls, "I was obsessed with Haiti
and Bosnia during that period, so Rwanda was, in William Shawcross's
words, a 'sideshow,' but not even a sideshow-a no-show."
At the NSC the person who managed Rwanda policy was not Lake,
the national-security adviser, who happened to know Africa, but
Richard Clarke, who oversaw peacekeeping policy, and for whom
the news from Rwanda only confirmed a deep skepticism about the
viability of UN deployments. Clarke believed that another UN failure
could doom relations between Congress and the United Nations.
He also sought to shield the President from congressional and
public criticism. Donald Steinberg managed the Africa portfolio
at the NSC and tried to look out for the dying Rwandans, but he
was not an experienced infighter and, colleagues say, he "never
won a single argument" with Clarke.
The Americans who wanted the United States
to do the most were those who knew Rwanda best. Joyce Leader,
Rawson's deputy in Rwanda, had been the one to close and lock
the doors to the U.S. embassy. When she returned to Washington,
she was given a small room in a back office and told to prepare
the State Department's daily Rwanda summaries, drawing on press
and U.S. intelligence reports. Incredibly, despite her expertise
and her contacts in Rwanda, she was rarely consulted and was instructed
not to deal directly with her sources in Kigali. Once, an NSC
staffer did call to ask, "Short of sending in the troops,
what is to be done?" Leader's response, unwelcome, was "Send
in the troops." Throughout the U.S. government Africa specialists
had the least clout of all regional specialists and the smallest
chance of effecting policy outcomes. In contrast, those with the
most pull in the bureaucracy had never visited Rwanda or met any
Rwandans. They spoke analytically of "national interests"
or even "humanitarian consequences" without appearing
gripped by the unfolding human tragedy. The dearth of country
or regional expertise in the senior circles of government not
only reduces the capacity of officers to assess the "news."
It also increases the likelihood-a dynamic identified by Lake
in his 1971 Foreign Policy article-that killings will become abstractions.
"Ethnic bloodshed" in Africa was thought to be regrettable
but not particularly unusual.
As it happened, when the crisis began,
President Clinton himself had a coincidental and personal connection
with the country. At a coffee at the White House in December of
1993 Clinton had met Monique Mujawamariya, the Rwandan human-rights
activist. He had been struck by the courage of a woman who still
bore facial scars from an automobile accident that had been arranged
to curb her activities. Clinton had singled her out, saying, "Your
courage is an inspiration to all of us." On April 8, two
days after the onset of the killing, The Washington Post published
a letter that Alison Des Forges had sent to Human Rights Watch
after Mujawamariya had hung up the phone to face her fate. "I
believe Monique was killed at 6:30 this morning," Des Forges
had written. "I have virtually no hope that she is still
alive, but will continue to try for more information. In the meantime
... please inform everyone who will care." Word of Mujawamariya's
disappearance got the President's attention, and he inquired about
her whereabouts repeatedly. "I can't tell you how much time
we spent trying to find Monique," one U.S. official remembers.
"Sometimes it felt as though she was the only Rwandan in
danger." Miraculously, Mujawamariya had not been killed-she
had hidden in the rafters of her home after hanging up with Des
Forges, and eventually managed to talk and bribe her way to safety.
She was evacuated to Belgium, and on April 18 she joined Des Forges
in the United States, where the pair began lobbying the Clinton
Administration on behalf of those left behind. With Mujawamariya's
rescue, reported in detail in the Post and The New York Times,
the President apparently lost his personal interest in events
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.
IX. The UN Withdrawal
When the killing began, Romeo Dallaire
expected and appealed for reinforcements. Within hours of the
plane crash he had cabled UN headquarters in New York: "Give
me the means and I can do more." He was sending peacekeepers
on rescue missions around the city, and he felt it was essential
to increase the size and improve the quality of the UN's presence.
But the United States opposed the idea of sending reinforcements,
no matter where they were from. The fear, articulated mainly at
the Pentagon but felt throughout the bureaucracy, was that what
would start as a small engagement by foreign troops would end
as a large and costly one by Americans. This was the lesson of
Somalia, where U.S. troops had gotten into trouble in an effort
to bail out the beleaguered Pakistanis. The logical outgrowth
of this fear was an effort to steer clear of Rwanda entirely and
be sure others did the same. Only by yanking Dallaire's entire
peacekeeping force could the United States protect itself from
involvement down the road.
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
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.
The bodies of the slain Belgian soldiers
were returned to Brussels on April 14. One of the pivotal conversations
in the course of the genocide took place around that time, when
Willie Claes, the Belgian Foreign Minister, called the State Department
to request "cover." "We are pulling out, but we
don't want to be seen to be doing it alone," Claes said,
asking the Americans to support a full UN withdrawal. Dallaire
had not anticipated that Belgium would extract its soldiers, removing
the backbone of his mission and stranding Rwandans in their hour
of greatest need. "I expected the ex-colonial white countries
would stick it out even if they took casualties," he remembers.
"I thought their pride would have led them to stay to try
to sort the place out. The Belgian decision caught me totally
off guard. I was truly stunned."
Belgium did not want to leave ignominiously,
by itself. Warren Christopher agreed to back Belgian requests
for a full UN exit. Policy over the next month or so can be described
simply: no U.S. military intervention, robust demands for a withdrawal
of all of Dallaire's forces, and no support for a new UN mission
that would challenge the killers. Belgium had the cover it needed.
On April 15 Christopher sent one of the
most forceful documents to be produced in the entire three months
of the genocide to Madeleine Albright at the UN-a cable instructing
her to demand a full UN withdrawal. The cable, which was heavily
influenced by Richard Clarke at the NSC, and which bypassed Donald
Steinberg and was never seen by Anthony Lake, was unequivocal
about the next steps. Saying that he had "fully" taken
into account the "humanitarian reasons put forth for retention
of UNAMIR elements in Rwanda," Christopher wrote that there
was "insufficient justification" to retain a UN presence.
The international community must give
highest priority to full, orderly withdrawal of all UNAMIR personnel
as soon as possible ... We will oppose any effort at this time
to preserve a UNAMIR presence in Rwanda ... Our opposition to
retaining a UNAMIR presence in Rwanda is firm. It is based on
our conviction that the Security Council has an obligation to
ensure that peacekeeping operations are viable, that they are
capable of fulfilling their mandates, and that UN peacekeeping
personnel are not placed or retained, knowingly, in an untenable
"Once we knew the Belgians were leaving,
we were left with a rump mission incapable of doing anything to
help people," Clarke remembers. "They were doing nothing
to stop the killings."
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."
On April 19 the Belgian Colonel Luc Marchal
delivered his final salute and departed with the last of his soldiers.
The Belgian withdrawal reduced Dallaire's troop strength to 2,100.
More crucially, he lost his best troops. Command and control among
Dallaire's remaining forces became tenuous. Dallaire soon lost
every line of communication to the countryside. He had only a
single satellite phone link to the outside world.
The UN Security Council now made a decision
that sealed the Tutsi's fate and signaled the militia that it
would have free rein. The U.S. demand for a full UN withdrawal
had been opposed by some African nations, and even by Madeleine
Albright; so the United States lobbied instead for a dramatic
drawdown in troop strength. On April 21, amid press reports of
some 100,000 dead in Rwanda, the Security Council voted to slash
UNAMIR's forces to 270 men. Albright went along, publicly declaring
that a "small, skeletal" operation would be left in
Kigali to "show the will of the international community."
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.
Most of Dallaire's troops were evacuated
by April 25. Though he was supposed to reduce the size of his
force to 270, he ended up keeping 503 peacekeepers. By this time
Dallaire was trying to deal with a bloody frenzy. "My force
was standing knee-deep in mutilated bodies, surrounded by the
guttural moans of dying people, looking into the eyes of children
bleeding to death with their wounds burning in the sun and being
invaded by maggots and flies," he later wrote. "I found
myself walking through villages where the only sign of life was
a goat, or a chicken, or a songbird, as all the people were dead,
their bodies being eaten by voracious packs of wild dogs."
Dallaire had to work within narrow limits.
He attempted simply to keep the positions he held and to protect
the 25,000 Rwandans under UN supervision while hoping that the
member states on the Security Council would change their minds
and send him some help while it still mattered.
By coincidence Rwanda held one of the
rotating seats on the Security Council at the time of the genocide.
Neither the United States nor any other UN member state ever suggested
that the representative of the genocidal government be expelled
from the council. Nor did any Security Council country offer to
provide safe haven to Rwandan refugees who escaped the carnage.
In one instance Dallaire's forces succeeded in evacuating a group
of Rwandans by plane to Kenya. The Nairobi authorities allowed
the plane to land, sequestered it in a hangar, and, echoing the
American decision to turn back the S.S. St. Louis during the Holocaust,
then forced the plane to return to Rwanda. The fate of the passengers
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."
At the State Department the diplomacy
was conducted privately, by telephone. Prudence Bushnell regularly
set her alarm for 2:00 A.M. and phoned Rwandan government officials.
She spoke several times with Augustin Bizimungu, the Rwandan military
chief of staff. "These were the most bizarre phone calls,"
she says. "He spoke in perfectly charming French. 'Oh, it's
so nice to hear from you,' he said. I told him, 'I am calling
to tell you President Clinton is going to hold you accountable
for the killings.' He said, 'Oh, how nice it is that your President
is thinking of me.'"
X. The Pentagon "Chop"
The daily meeting of the Rwanda interagency
working group was attended, either in person or by teleconference,
by representatives from the various State Department bureaus,
the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and the intelligence
community. Any proposal that originated in the working group had
to survive the Pentagon "chop." "Hard intervention,"
meaning U.S. military action, was obviously out of the question.
But Pentagon officials routinely stymied initiatives for "soft
intervention" as well.
The Pentagon discussion paper on Rwanda,
referred to earlier, ran down a list of the working group's six
short-term policy objectives and carped at most of them. The fear
of a slippery slope was persuasive. Next to the seemingly innocuous
suggestion that the United States "support the UN and others
in attempts to achieve a cease-fire" the Pentagon official
responded, "Need to change 'attempts' to 'political efforts'-without
'political' there is a danger of signing up to troop contributions."
The one policy move the Defense Department
supported was a U.S. effort to achieve an arms embargo. But the
same discussion paper acknowledged the ineffectiveness of this
step: "We do not envision it will have a significant impact
on the killings because machetes, knives and other hand implements
have been the most common weapons."
Dallaire never spoke to Bushnell or to
Tony Marley, the U.S. military liaison to the Arusha process,
during the genocide, but they all reached the same conclusions.
Seeing that no troops were forthcoming, they turned their attention
to measures short of full-scale deployment which might alleviate
the suffering. Dallaire pleaded with New York, and Bushnell and
her team recommended in Washington, that something be done to
"neutralize" Radio Mille Collines.
The country best equipped to prevent the
genocide planners from broadcasting murderous instructions directly
to the population was the United States. Marley offered three
possibilities. The United States could destroy the antenna. It
could transmit "counter-broadcasts" urging perpetrators
to stop the genocide. Or it could jam the hate radio station's
broadcasts. This could have been done from an airborne platform
such as the Air Force's Commando Solo airplane. Anthony Lake raised
the matter with Secretary of Defense William Perry at the end
of April. Pentagon officials considered all the proposals non-starters.
On May 5 Frank Wisner, the undersecretary of defense for policy,
prepared a memo for Sandy Berger, then the deputy national-security
adviser. Wisner's memo testifies to the unwillingness of the U.S.
government to make even financial sacrifices to diminish the killing.
We have looked at options to stop the
broadcasts within the Pentagon, discussed them interagency and
concluded jamming is an ineffective and expensive mechanism that
will not accomplish the objective the NSC Advisor seeks.
International legal conventions complicate
airborne or ground based jamming and the mountainous terrain reduces
the effectiveness of either option. Commando Solo, an Air National
Guard asset, is the only suitable DOD jamming platform. It costs
approximately $8500 per flight hour and requires a semi-secure
area of operations due to its vulnerability and limited self-protection.
I believe it would be wiser to use air
to assist in Rwanda in the [food] relief effort ...
The plane would have needed to remain
in Rwandan airspace while it waited for radio transmissions to
begin. "First we would have had to figure out whether it
made sense to use Commando Solo," Wisner recalls. "Then
we had to get it from where it was already and be sure it could
be moved. Then we would have needed flight clearance from all
the countries nearby. And then we would need the political go-ahead.
By the time we got all this, weeks would have passed. And it was
not going to solve the fundamental problem, which was one that
needed to be addressed militarily." Pentagon planners understood
that stopping the genocide required a military solution. Neither
they nor the White House wanted any part in a military solution.
Yet instead of undertaking other forms of intervention that might
have at least saved some lives, they justified inaction by arguing
that a military solution was required.
Whatever the limitations of radio jamming,
which clearly would have been no panacea, most of the delays Wisner
cites could have been avoided if senior Administration officials
had followed through. But Rwanda was not their problem. Instead
justifications for standing by abounded. In early May the State
Department Legal Advisor's Office issued a finding against radio
jamming, citing international broadcasting agreements and the
American commitment to free speech. When Bushnell raised radio
jamming yet again at a meeting, one Pentagon official chided her
for naiveté: "Pru, radios don't kill people. People
The Defense Department was disdainful
both of the policy ideas being circulated at the working-group
meetings and, memos indicate, of the people circulating them.
A memo by one Defense Department aide observed that the State
Department's Africa bureau had received a phone call from a Kigali
hotel owner who said that his hotel and the civilians inside were
about to be attacked. The memo snidely reported that the Africa
bureau's proposed "solution" was "Pru Bushnell
will call the [Rwandan] military and tell them we will hold them
personally responsible if anything happens (!)." (In fact
the hotel owner, who survived the genocide, later acknowledged
that phone calls from Washington played a key role in dissuading
the killers from massacring the inhabitants of the hotel.)
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.
The deck was stacked against Rwandans
who were hiding wherever they could and praying for rescue. The
American public expressed no interest in Rwanda, and the crisis
was treated as a civil war requiring a cease-fire or as a "peacekeeping
problem" requiring a UN withdrawal. It was not treated as
a genocide demanding instant action. The top policymakers trusted
that their subordinates were doing all they could do, while the
subordinates worked with an extremely narrow understanding of
what the United States would do.
XI. PDD-25 in Action
No sooner had most of Dallaire's forces
been withdrawn, in late April, than a handful of nonpermanent
members of the Security Council, aghast at the scale of the slaughter,
pressed the major powers to send a new, beefed-up force (UNAMIR
II) to Rwanda.
When Dallaire's troops had first arrived,
in the fall of 1993, they had done so under a fairly traditional
peacekeeping mandate known as a Chapter VI deployment-a mission
that assumes a cease-fire and a desire on both sides to comply
with a peace accord. The Security Council now had to decide whether
it was prepared to move from peacekeeping to peace enforcement-that
is, to a Chapter VII mission in a hostile environment. This would
demand more peacekeepers with far greater resources, more-aggressive
rules of engagement, and an explicit recognition that the UN soldiers
were there to protect civilians.
Two proposals emerged. Dallaire submitted
a plan that called for joining his remaining peacekeepers with
about 5,000 well-armed soldiers he hoped could be gathered quickly
by the Security Council. He wanted to secure Kigali and then fan
outward to create safe havens for Rwandans who had gathered in
large numbers at churches and schools and on hillsides around
the country. The United States was one of the few countries that
could supply the rapid airlift and logistic support needed to
move reinforcements to the region. In a meeting with UN Secretary
General Boutros Boutros-Ghali on May 10, Vice President Al Gore
pledged U.S. help with transport.
Richard Clarke, at the NSC, and representatives
of the Joint Chiefs challenged Dallaire's plan. "How do you
plan to take control of the airport in Kigali so that the reinforcements
will be able to land?" Clarke asked. He argued instead for
an "outside-in" strategy, as opposed to Dallaire's "inside-out"
approach. The U.S. proposal would have created protected zones
for refugees at Rwanda's borders. It would have kept any U.S.
pilots involved in airlifting the peacekeepers safely out of Rwanda.
"Our proposal was the most feasible, doable thing that could
have been done in the short term," Clarke insists. Dallaire's
proposal, in contrast, "could not be done in the short term
and could not attract peacekeepers." The U.S. plan-which
was modeled on Operation Provide Comfort, for the Kurds of northern
Iraq-seemed to assume that the people in need were refugees fleeing
to the border, but most endangered Tutsi could not make it to
the border. The most vulnerable Rwandans were those clustered
together, awaiting salvation, deep inside Rwanda. Dallaire's plan
would have had UN soldiers move to the Tutsi in hiding. The U.S.
plan would have required civilians to move to the safe zones,
negotiating murderous roadblocks on the way. "The two plans
had very different objectives," Dallaire says. "My mission
was to save Rwandans. Their mission was to put on a show at no
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?
The United States haggled at the Security
Council and with the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations
for the first two weeks of May. U.S. officials pointed to the
flaws in Dallaire's proposal without offering the resources that
would have helped him to overcome them. On May 13 Deputy Secretary
of State Strobe Talbott sent Madeleine Albright instructions on
how the United States should respond to Dallaire's plan. Noting
the logistic hazards of airlifting troops into the capital, Talbott
wrote, "The U.S. is not prepared at this point to lift heavy
equipment and troops into Kigali." The "more manageable"
operation would be to create the protected zones at the border,
secure humanitarian-aid deliveries, and "promot[e] restoration
of a ceasefire and return to the Arusha Peace Process." Talbott
acknowledged that even the minimalist American proposal contained
"many unanswered questions":
Where will the needed forces come from;
how will they be transported ... where precisely should these
safe zones be created; ... would UN forces be authorized to move
out of the zones to assist affected populations not in the zones
... will the fighting parties in Rwanda agree to this arrangement
... what conditions would need to obtain for the operation to
Nonetheless, Talbott concluded, "We
would urge the UN to explore and refine this alternative and present
the Council with a menu of at least two options in a formal report
from the [Secretary General] along with cost estimates before
the Security Council votes on changing UNAMIR's mandate."
U.S. policymakers were asking valid questions. Dallaire's plan
certainly would have required the intervening troops to take risks
in an effort to reach the targeted Rwandans or to confront the
Hutu militia and government forces. But the business-as-usual
tone of the American inquiry did not seem appropriate to the unprecedented
and utterly unconventional crisis that was under way.
On May 17, by which time most of the Tutsi
victims of the genocide were already dead, the United States finally
acceded to a version of Dallaire's plan. However, few African
countries stepped forward to offer troops. Even if troops had
been immediately available, the lethargy of the major powers would
have hindered their use. Though the Administration had committed
the United States to provide armored support if the African nations
provided soldiers, Pentagon stalling resumed. On May 19 the UN
formally requested fifty American armored personnel carriers.
On May 31 the United States agreed to send the APCs from Germany
to Entebbe, Uganda. But squabbles between the Pentagon and UN
planners arose. Who would pay for the vehicles? Should the vehicles
be tracked or wheeled? Would the UN buy them or simply lease them?
And who would pay the shipping costs? Compounding the disputes
was the fact that Department of Defense regulations prevented
the U.S. Army from preparing the vehicles for transport until
contracts had been signed. The Defense Department demanded that
it be reimbursed $15 million for shipping spare parts and equipment
to and from Rwanda. In mid-June the White House finally intervened.
On June 19, a month after the UN request, the United States began
transporting the APCs, but they were missing the radios and heavy
machine guns that would be needed if UN troops came under fire.
By the time the APCs arrived, the genocide was over-halted by
Rwandan Patriotic Front forces under the command of the Tutsi
leader, Paul Kagame.
XII. The Stories We Tell
It is not hard to conceive of how the
United States might have done things differently. Ahead of the
plane crash, as violence escalated, it could have agreed to Belgian
pleas for UN reinforcements. Once the killing of thousands of
Rwandans a day had begun, the President could have deployed U.S.
troops to Rwanda. The United States could have joined Dallaire's
beleaguered UNAMIR forces or, if it feared associating with shoddy
UN peacekeeping, it could have intervened unilaterally with the
Security Council's backing, as France eventually did in late June.
The United States could also have acted without the UN's blessing,
as it did five years later in Kosovo. Securing congressional support
for U.S. intervention would have been extremely difficult, but
by the second week of the killing Clinton could have made the
case that something approximating genocide was under way, that
a supreme American value was imperiled by its occurrence, and
that U.S. contingents at relatively low risk could stop the extermination
of a people.
Alan Kuperman wrote in Foreign Affairs
that President Clinton was in the dark for two weeks; by the time
a large U.S. force could deploy, it would not have saved "even
half of the ultimate victims." The evidence indicates that
the killers' intentions were known by mid-level officials and
knowable by their bosses within a week of the plane crash. Any
failure to fully appreciate the genocide stemmed from political,
moral, and imaginative weaknesses, not informational ones. As
for what force could have accomplished, Kuperman's claims are
purely speculative. We cannot know how the announcement of a robust
or even a limited U.S. deployment would have affected the perpetrators'
behavior. It is worth noting that even Kuperman concedes that
belated intervention would have saved 75,000 to 125,000-no small
achievement. 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
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.
Why did none of these things happen? One
reason is that all possible sources of pressure-U.S. allies, Congress,
editorial boards, and the American people-were mute when it mattered
for Rwanda. American leaders have a circular and deliberate relationship
to public opinion. It is circular because public opinion is rarely
if ever aroused by foreign crises, even genocidal ones, in the
absence of political leadership, and yet at the same time, American
leaders continually cite the absence of public support as grounds
for inaction. The relationship is deliberate because American
leadership is not absent in such circumstances: it was present
regarding Rwanda, but devoted mainly to suppressing public outrage
and thwarting UN initiatives so as to avoid acting.
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."
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.
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
Finally, the almost willful delusion that
what was happening in Rwanda did not amount to genocide created
a nurturing ethical framework for inaction. "War" was
"tragic" but created no moral imperative.
What is most frightening about this story
is that it testifies to a system that in effect worked. President
Clinton and his advisers had several aims. First, they wanted
to avoid engagement in a conflict that posed little threat to
American interests, narrowly defined. Second, they sought to appease
a restless Congress by showing that they were cautious in their
approach to peacekeeping. And third, they hoped to contain the
political costs and avoid the moral stigma associated with allowing
genocide. By and large, they achieved all three objectives. The
normal operations of the foreign-policy bureaucracy and the international
community permitted an illusion of continual deliberation, complex
activity, and intense concern, even as Rwandans were left to die.
One U.S. official kept a journal during
the crisis. In late May, exasperated by the obstructionism pervading
the bureaucracy, the official dashed off this lament:
A military that wants to go nowhere to
do anything-or let go of their toys so someone else can do it.
A White House cowed by the brass (and we are to give lessons on
how the armed forces take orders from civilians?). An NSC that
does peacekeeping by the book-the accounting book, that is. And
an assistance program that prefers whites (Europe) to blacks.
When it comes to human rights we have no problem drawing the line
in the sand of the dark continent (just don't ask us to do anything-agonizing
is our specialty), but not China or anyplace else business looks
We have a foreign policy based on our
amoral economic interests run by amateurs who want to stand for
something-hence the agony-but ultimately don't want to exercise
any leadership that has a cost.
They say there may be as many as a million
massacred in Rwanda. The militias continue to slay the innocent
and the educated ... Has it really cost the United States nothing?
XIII. A Continuum of Guilt
Because this is a story of nondecisions
and bureaucratic business as usual, few Americans are haunted
by the memory of what they did in response to genocide in Rwanda.
Most senior officials remember only fleeting encounters with the
topic while the killings were taking place. The more reflective
among them puzzle occasionally over how developments that cast
the darkest shadow over the Clinton Administration's foreign-policy
record could have barely registered at the time. But most say
they have not talked in any detail among themselves about the
events or about the system's weaknesses (and perverse strengths).
Requests for a congressional investigation have gone ignored.
According to several advisers, toward
the end of his term of office Clinton himself snapped at members
of his foreign-policy team, angry with them for not steering him
toward a moral course. He is said to have convinced himself that
if he had known more, he would have done more. In his 1998 remarks
in Kigali he pledged to "strengthen our ability to prevent,
and if necessary to stop, genocide." "Never again,"
he declared, "must we be shy in the face of evidence."
But the incentive structures within the U.S. government have not
changed. Officials will still suffer no sanction if they do nothing
to curb atrocities. The national interest remains narrowly constructed
to exclude stopping genocide. Indeed, George W. Bush has been
open about his intention to keep U.S. troops away from any future
Rwandas. "I don't like genocide," Bush said in January
of 2000. "But I would not commit our troops." Officials
in the Bush Administration say the United States is as unprepared
and unwilling to stop genocide today as it was seven years ago.
"Genocide could happen again tomorrow," one said, "and
we wouldn't respond any differently."
Anthony Lake, who used to call himself
"the national-security adviser to the free world," today
teaches international relations at Georgetown University. He wonders,
as he should, how he and his colleagues could have done so little
at the time of the Rwandan genocide. Much of Lake's identity remains
entwined with the ideas in his 1971 Foreign Policy article. He
cannot quite understand how a White House that, he insists, was
finally sensitive to the "human reality of realpolitik"
could have stood by during one of the gravest crimes of the twentieth
century. "One scenario is that I knew what was going on and
I blocked it out in order to not deal with the human consequences,"
he says. "Here I'm absolutely convinced that I didn't do
that, but maybe I did and it was so deep that I didn't realize
it. Another scenario is that I didn't give it enough time because
I didn't give a damn about Africa, which I don't believe because
I know I do. My sin must have been in a third scenario. I didn't
own it because I was busy with Bosnia and Haiti, or because I
thought we were doing all we could ..."
Lake is further confounded by his slow
processing of the moral stakes of the genocide. After the Rwandan
Patriotic Front seized control, in July, several million Hutu
refugees, including many of those responsible for the genocide,
fled to Zaire and Tanzania. With a humanitarian crisis looming,
Lake took control, spearheading a multilateral aid effort. "There
are people dying," his colleagues remember his saying. "The
President wants to do this, and we don't care what it takes."
In December of 1994 Lake visited putrid mass graves in Rwanda.
He does not understand how, after 800,000 people were killed,
he could have felt angry but not at all responsible. "What's
so strange is that this didn't become a 'how did we screw this
up?' issue until a couple years later," he says. "The
humanitarian-aid mission did not feel like a guilt mission."
Since senior officials in the U.S. government
hadn't felt responsible when the killings were actually happening,
it should not be altogether surprising that most didn't feel responsible
after the fact. With the potential for an American military presence
dismissed out of hand, Rwanda policy was formulated and debated
heatedly by U.S. officials further down the chain. Because Lake
never took control of the policy, the sense of responsibility
he eventually acquired, although genuine, seems superimposed.
He has an academic understanding that under the principle of command
responsibility, those at the top must answer even for policies
they do not remember consciously crafting. But lurking at the
margins of Lake's consciousness seems to be an awareness that
in light of press coverage at the time, he must have simply chosen
to look away. And as disengaged as he was from the policy, he
probably qualifies as the most engaged U.S. official in the Clinton
Cabinet. "I'm not going to wallow," he says, "because
if you blew it you should not wallow or ask for public forgiveness.
But in a way I'm as guilty as anybody else, because to the degree
that I didn't care about Africa, it would be understandable, but
since I was more inclined to care, I don't know why I didn't."
Lake's guilt is of a second order-guilt
over an absence of guilt. What about the other officials involved
in Washington's Rwanda policy-how do they view their performance
in retrospect? Today they have three main options.
They can defend the U.S. policy. This
is the position of Richard Clarke, who believes, all things considered,
that he and his colleagues did everything they could and should
have done. "Would I have done the same thing again?"
Clarke asks. "Absolutely. What we offered was a peacekeeping
force that would have been effective. What [the UN] offered was
exactly what we said it would be-a force that would take months
to get there. If the UN had adopted the U.S. [outside-in] proposal,
we might have saved some lives ... The U.S. record, as compared
to everyone else's record, is not something we should run away
from ... I don't think we should be embarrassed. I think everyone
else should be embarrassed by what they did, or did not do."
Another position holds that no matter
what any one person did at the time, there were larger forces
at work: genocide would have consumed Rwanda no matter what, and
American decision-makers in the White House or on Capitol Hill
would never have countenanced the risks required to make a real
difference. Radio jamming and other technical fixes were merely
palliatives aimed at soothing guilty consciences. This is the
view adopted by many Pentagon officials who worked on the issue
The least-inviting option leaves those
involved questioning their performances and wondering what they
should have done differently: Saved even one life by pushing harder?
Chosen a telling moment for a high-profile resignation? "Maybe
the only way to draw attention to this was to run naked through
the building," Prudence Bushnell says. "I'm not sure
anybody would have noticed, but I wish I had tried."
Africa specialists are the ones most affected
by the Rwandan genocide. David Rawson, the former ambassador to
Rwanda, retired in 1999. He lives with his wife in Michigan and
has begun to write about his experiences. He still believes that
efforts to pursue a cease-fire were worthwhile, and that "both
sides" have a lot to answer for. But he acknowledges, "In
retrospect, perhaps we were-as diplomats always are, I suppose-so
focused on trying to find some agreement that we didn't look hard
enough at the darker side." Predisposed toward state actors,
trusting of negotiation and diplomacy, and courtly toward his
interlocutors, Rawson, the diplomat, was outmatched.
Donald Steinberg, the NSC staffer who
managed the NSC's Africa directorate, felt a deep emotional attachment
to the continent. He had tacked the photos of two six-year-old
African girls he had sponsored above his desk at the White House.
But when he began seeing the bodies clogging the Kagera River,
he had to take the photos down, unable to bear the reminder of
innocent lives being extinguished every minute. The directorate,
which was tiny, had little influence on policy. It was, in the
parlance, "rolled" by Richard Clarke. "Dick was
a thinker," one colleague says. "Don was a feeler. They
represented the duality of Bill Clinton and his presidency, which
was torn between the thinkers, who looked out for interests, and
the feelers, who were moved by values. As we all know, in the
end it was always going to be the thinkers who won out."
After the genocide, according to friends and colleagues, Steinberg
threw himself into the humanitarian relief effort, where at last
he might make a difference. But eventually he plummeted into depression.
He asked himself again and again, if only he had been at the White
House longer ... if only he had known how to pull the right levers
at the right time ... if only he had ... ? Now deputy director
of policy planning at the State Department, Steinberg has told
friends that his work from here on out is "repayment for
a very large bill that I owe."
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
Prudence Bushnell will carry Rwanda with
her permanently. During the genocide, when she went walking in
the woods near her home in Reston, Virginia, she would see Rwandan
mothers cowering with their children behind the trees, or stacked
in neat piles along the bike path. After the genocide, when the
new President of Rwanda visited Washington and met Bushnell and
others, he leaned across the table toward her, eyes blazing, and
said, "You, madame, are partially responsible for the genocide,
because we told you what was going to happen and you did nothing."
Haunted by these memories and admonitions, when Bushnell was later
appointed ambassador to Kenya and saw that her embassy was insecure,
she was much more assertive, and pleaded repeatedly with Washington
for security to be upgraded-requests that were, notoriously, ignored.
The bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kenya will forever be encapsulated
in American minds by the image of a bloodied Bushnell staggering
away from the explosion with a towel pressed to her wounds.
Currently serving as ambassador to Guatemala,
Bushnell can muster a black humor about the way death and killing
keep hounding her. Like Steinberg, she is trying to make peace
with her inability to have secured even the tamest commitments
from her colleagues in the bureaucracy. "For a long time
I couldn't live with it, but now I think I can look back and say,
'I knew what was happening, I tried to stop what was happening,
and I failed.' That is not a source of guilt, but it is a tremendous
source of shame and sadness."
And then, finally, there is Romeo Dallaire.
It is both paradoxical and natural that the man who probably did
the most to save Rwandans feels the worst. When he returned to
Canada, in August of 1994, he behaved initially as if he had just
completed a routine mission. As the days passed, though, he began
to show signs of distress. He carried a machete around and lectured
cadets on post-traumatic stress disorder; he slept sparingly;
and he found himself nearly retching in the supermarket, transported
back to Rwandan markets and the bodies strewn within them. When
the international war-crimes tribunal called him to testify, he
plunged back into the memories and his mental health worsened.
Dallaire was told by his superiors that he would have to choose
between leaving the "Rwanda business" behind him or
leaving his beloved armed forces. For Dallaire only one answer
was possible: "I told them I would never give up Rwanda,"
he says. "I was the force commander and I would complete
my duty, testifying and doing whatever it takes to bring these
guys to justice." In April of 2000 Dallaire was forced out
of the Canadian armed services and given a medical discharge.
Dallaire had always said, "The day
I take my uniform off will be the day that I will also respond
to my soul." But since becoming a civilian he has realized
that his soul is not readily retrievable. "My soul is in
Rwanda," he says. "It has never, ever come back, and
I'm not sure it ever will." He carries the guilt of the genocide
with him, and he feels that the eyes and the spirits of those
killed are constantly watching him. He says he can barely stand
living and has attempted suicide.
In June of last year a brief Canadian
news-wire story reported that Dallaire had been found unconscious
on a park bench in Hull, Quebec, drunk and alone. He had consumed
a bottle of scotch on top of his daily dose of pills for post-traumatic
stress disorder. He was on a death mission.
Dallaire sent a letter to the Canadian
Broadcast Corporation thanking them for their sensitive coverage
of this episode. On July 3, 2000, the letter was read on the air:
Thank you for the very kind thoughts and
There are times when the best medication
and therapist simply can't help a soldier suffering from this
new generation of peacekeeping injury. The anger, the rage, the
hurt, and the cold loneliness that separates you from your family,
friends, and society's normal daily routine are so powerful that
the option of destroying yourself is both real and attractive.
That is what happened last Monday night. It appears, it grows,
it invades, and it overpowers you.
In my current state of therapy, which
continues to show very positive results, control mechanisms have
not yet matured to always be on top of this battle. My doctors
and I are still [working to] establish the level of serenity and
productivity that I yearn so much for. The therapists agree that
the battle I waged that night was a solid example of the human
trying to come out from behind the military leader's ethos of
"My mission first, my personnel, then myself." Obviously
the venue I used last Monday night left a lot to be desired and
will be the subject of a lot of work over the next while.
Dallaire remained a true believer in Canada,
in peacekeeping, in human rights. The letter went on:
This nation, without any hesitation nor
doubt, is capable and even expected by the less fortunate of this
globe to lead the developed countries beyond self-interest, strategic
advantages, and isolationism, and raise their sights to the realm
of the pre-eminence of humanism and freedom ... Where humanitarianism
is being destroyed and the innocent are being literally trampled
into the ground ... the soldiers, sailors, and airpersons ...
supported by fellow countrymen who recognize the cost in human
sacrifice and in resources will forge in concert with our politicians
... a most unique and exemplary place for Canada in the league
of nations, united under the United Nations Charter.
I hope this is okay.
Thanks for the opportunity.