Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Past Failures in Congo May yet Haunt Susan Rice

Rice in southern Sudan (Boris Grdanoski/AP Photo)
Criticisms of Susan Rice's dismal record on Africa continue to pour in, as the human rights and Africanist communities react to the prospect of her being named the next secretary of state. I doubt that the criticism will make much difference, but I must say it's mildly gratifying. Some of us were more or less radicalized by 1996-97. Perhaps if she is nominated some enterprising senator will grill her at the confirmation hearing about what the US knew and did during the first Congo war.

Here are a few of the more mainstream articles condemning her record:

Jason Stearns at Foreign Policy:
Earlier in 1996, Rwandan troops had carried out vicious revenge massacres against civilian Hutu refugees who fled into the Congolese jungles, killing thousands, according to a detailed U.N. investigation andreports in the U.S. press at the time. But the United States, along with other governments, focused its opprobrium on Kabila, withholding aid to Congo and demanding an investigation. There was no official sanction of Rwanda. During this period, Susan Rice was first senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council and then assistant secretary of state for Africa. When a U.N. investigation into these massacres was concluded in 2010, Susan Rice tried to block its publication. According to a senior official involved in the report, "she didn't see how opening up old wounds would help."

Howard French at The Atlantic:
Rice's public response to the genocide was to issue a number of powerfully worded statements with the air of mea culpa about them. They have amounted to a paraphrasing and elaboration on the famous post-Holocaust oath of "Never again."
Put to the hard test of African realities, however, this pledge quickly shrunk and withered into something far more narrow and selective. Indeed, it failed its first test, in Congo, right next door to Rwanda. Since Rice's famous expressions of contrition began, more than five times as many people have died in a series of wars in Congo than were killed in the Rwandan genocide....
What this leaves us with, in effect, is a policy stripped of any real moral force. Never again, in effect, has come to mean never let down Rwanda's post-genocide regime and its leader, Paul Kagame.

Michael Hirsh at the National Journal:
But there are other issues with Rice’s record, both as U.N. ambassador and earlier as a senior Clinton administration official, that are all but certain to come out at any confirmation hearing, many of them concerning her performance in Africa. Critics say that since her failure to advocate an intervention in the terrible genocide in Rwanda in 1994 — Bill Clinton later said his administration's unwillingness to act was the worst mistake of his presidency — she has conducted a dubious and naïve policy of looking the other way at allies who commit atrocities, reflecting to some degree the stark and emotionless realpolitik sometimes associated with Obama, who is traveling this week to another formerly isolated dictatorship: Burma.

Militarization of US Africa Policy Continues Apace

Around election time, several knowledgeable Africanists wrote pieces lamenting Obama's disappointingly thin first-term record on Africa. (This article by the Center for Global Development's Todd Moss is an excellent representative of the genre. For more, follow the links here.)  Unlike a lot of observers, I myself wasn't terribly surprised that Obama hadn't done more for the continent. I never expected him to. If there's one thing he couldn't have afforded, politically, it was expending resources and political capital on what would have been billed, inevitably, as a Kenyan, Muslim, anti-colonial, America-neglecting agenda.

But it's not quite correct to say that Obama hasn't pursued any major new initiatives toward Africa. He has--just not on the trade, diplomatic, or humanitarian fronts. On the military front, Obama's  administration has gone gangbusters. Indeed, the faster the US declines as a major political and commercial player in Africa, the more intent it seems on turning the place into a garrison continent, secured and patrolled by elements of America's national security apparatus.

Three news stories in the past couple of days reinforce this impression. Yesterday's New York Times reported on AFRICOM commander General Carter Ham's recent assessment of al Qaeda-affiliated extremist groups in Mali, which it termed "detailed and sobering"--national security speak for "something we need to spend lots of money on." The Washington Post  featured a long article about how the Pentagon is establishing a new spy network  to rival the CIA in size and scope, focused inter alia on the Middle east and Africa.  And today's Defense News, which also summarizes Ham's assessment, informs us that AFRICOM has at last acquired its own  Commander's in-extremis force, more commonly known as a special operations company. (For earlier reporting on US militarization of the continent, see here and here and here and here and here and here.)

During the Cold War, US foreign policymakers seemed unable to distinguish between genuine ideological opponents and groups that were merely nationalist, anti-colonial, or pro-social justice. Everything was seen through the lens of a globalized, Manichean struggle: A sparrow couldn't fall in Managua but that it was the sinister work of the Soviets.  Today's policymakers seems equally unable to understand how America's increasingly numerous and widespread interventions abroad fuel rather than diminish antagonism toward the US. (In my more cynical moments, I wonder if that isn't the point: after all, the more we treat others as potential enemies, the more real enemies we'll make, and more real enemies we have, the more money flows into the military's budget.) But how wise can it be, really, for the US to be expending vast new sums militarizing Africa when China, our geo-political rival in the region, is doing stuff like this or this? Not to get Maureen Dowd cute here, but do we want to be trying--and failing--to transform the continent into a military satellite, or do we want to be building it new communications satellites?

Quote of the Day

Speaking of North Africa and the Sahel region, Ham said there is a “growing linkage, a growing network and collaboration and synchronization among the various violent extremist organizations... which I think poses the greatest threat to regional stability, more broadly across Africa, certainly into Europe, and to the United States."
     --General Carter Ham, Commander, US AFRICOM, at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute on December 3, 2012.