Bill Clinton claims that Hillary Clinton urged him to intervene militarily in Rwanda:
And then, using a more somber tone, he explained that she had wanted the United States to intervene in Rwanda in 1994, when hundreds of thousands of people died in a genocide that lasted just a few months.
Clinton has often said that not acting in Rwanda was one of his biggest regrets. It's a decision, he said, for which he continues to try to make amends. Had he listened to his wife, Clinton said, things might have been different.
"I believe if I had moved we might have saved at least a third of those lives," he said. "I think she clearly would have done that.""
When Hillary Clinton was asked whether this was true, she said "It is."
I have no idea whether or not this is true. But I do know a couple of related things. First, if Hillary Clinton did press for military intervention in Rwanda, her advocacy left no trace in the world. I have read quite a lot about the Rwandan genocide and the US reaction towards it, and Hillary Clinton's involvement comes as news to me. I just went through my various books on the Rwandan genocide (there are eight), and she is not mentioned in any of them. And according to the Chicago Tribune, I'm not alone:
"Whatever her private conversations with the president may have been, key foreign policy officials say that a U.S. military intervention in Rwanda was never considered in the Clinton administration's policy deliberations. Despite lengthy memoirs by both Clintons and former Secretary of State and UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, any advice she gave on Rwanda had not been mentioned until her presidential campaign.
"In my review of the records, I didn't find anything to suggest that military intervention was put on the table in NSC [National Security Council] deliberations," said Gail Smith, a Clinton NSC official who did a review for the White House of the administration's handling of the Rwandan genocide. Smith is an Obama supporter.
Prudence Bushnell, a retired State Department official who handled the Rwanda portfolio at the time and has not allied with a presidential candidate, confirmed that a U.S. military intervention was not considered in policy deliberations, as did several senior Clinton administration officials with first-hand knowledge who declined to be identified."
In an article on the US response to the Rwandan genocide (and written in 2001, years before she met Barack Obama), Samantha Power wrote:
"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."
So: Clinton didn't mention that she advocated military intervention in Rwanda in her memoirs. Neither did Madeleine Albright. Neither, as far as I can tell, did anyone else. Military intervention was not considered as an option, "never even debated", which means that any advocacy she did engage in must have been pretty ineffective.
But it's worse than that. The Clinton administration did not simply fail to intervene militarily in Rwanda. It took a number of steps that made it easier for genocide to be committed. Not taking these steps would have been much, much easier than sending actual troops to Rwanda. They would have made a real difference. And yet the Clinton administration failed to take them.
I'll turn this over to Samantha Power:
"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."
We in the US knew what was happening. Power describes coverage from the first few days:
"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."
During this time we focussed entirely on evacuating our own people.
"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.""
But we didn't just not pay attention to what was happening. Recall that Romeo Dallaire was commanding UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda, troops that were just about the only protection many Tutsis had. A number of his troops were Belgian, and shortly after the killing began, ten of those Belgian peacekeepers were killed. With that background, read this and weep:
"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 situation.
(...) 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." (...)
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.""
Some people in the State Department proposed jamming Radio Mille Collines, which was urging people on to genocide. But that didn't happen either. Why was nothing done?
"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."
So, to sum up: the US didn't just fail to intervene in Rwanda. Our government urged the withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping forces that were on the ground protecting Rwandans, for no better reason than to keep the Belgians from looking like cowards. It refused to jam the radio station that was passing on instructions for genocide. It blocked further efforts to reinforce the peacekeeping forces there. It also failed to do any of the much smaller things that might have shown that our government was not wholly indifferent to the people of Rwanda who were, at that time, being hacked to death with machetes.
It's worth bearing this background in mind when you hear Hillary Clinton claim that she advocated military intervention in Rwanda. If you don't, you might think: well, it's perfectly comprehensible that she might have argued for military intervention but failed to convince her husband. After all, military intervention in another country is a big deal, not to be undertaken lightly. And it's easy to imagine Hillary Clinton being in favor of it, and her husband reluctantly concluding that it just wasn't something he could do.
It's a lot harder to imagine that while Hillary Clinton was advocating military intervention, she not only failed to convince her husband to send troops, but also failed to convince him, for instance, not to advocate the withdrawal of most of the UN peacekeepers, or that he really ought to order the Pentagon to jam Radio Milles Collines. If she was doing her best behind the scenes, and failed to accomplish even this -- if, despite her best efforts, she couldn't persuade her husband not to advocate withdrawing UN peacekeepers just to provide cover for the Belgians -- then we really need to ask how effective an advocate she really is, especially since no one except her husband, in full campaign mode, seems to remember her efforts at all.
Of course, I think it's a lot more likely that she either didn't advocate action on Rwanda at all, or did so only in passing. If so, this would have to be the definitive example of her attempt to claim responsibility for everything good that happened during her husband's presidency, while disavowing all responsibility for his mistakes. This was, in my opinion, the most shameful moment of the Clinton administration. It ought, by rights, to have a place in Hillary Clinton's "thirty five years of experience working for change." Or perhaps she might claim that she wasn't that interested in foreign policy at the time, or that for whatever reason she just didn't pick up on the genocide in Rwanda until it was too late to act. That would at least be honest.
But if, in fact, Clinton missed the chance to urge her husband to help stop the Rwandan genocide, then she should not pretend that she was, in fact, right there on the side of the angels all along. That's just grotesque.