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.

Armin Rosen at The Atlantic:
Today, the weeks since the escalation of the M23 crisis have played out in an eerily similar fashion. On November 20 and 21, 2012, State Department spokespeople wove their way through questions about Rwanda's role in the M23 crisis, and made an apparently conscious effort to avoid singling out Kagame's government. And there's the Security Council statement on the escalating crisis, which obliquely calls for "an end to any and all outside support" without saying whose support, exactly.
In 1998, the U.S. government believed it could use its existing close relations with Kagame's government to push for a negotiated solution. There was none to be had for another three years, and that was only after the leadership of the United States and the Congo had changed. Despite the failure of this strategy, this seems to be the Obama administration's plan of action today. The wars are broadly similar. The U.S. policy approach to ending them is similar. And at least one of the people at heart of American diplomacy in Africa is the same -- a gifted and respected diplomat who might be the U.S.'s next secretary of state.

Bret Stephens at the Wall Street Journal:
Then there is the Congo. Human-rights groups have long accused the Clinton administration of acquiescing in the efforts by Rwanda and Uganda to topple the Congolese government of Laurent Kabila in 1998, which by some estimates wound up taking more than five million lives. In congressional testimony, Ms. Rice angrily denied any U.S. role in condoning or supporting the intervention.
But Ms. Rice may not have been completely forthcoming. "Museveni and Kagame agree that the basic problem in the Great Lakes is the danger of a resurgence of genocide and they know how to deal with that," Ms. Rice is said to have remarked confidentially after a visit to the region, according to reporter Howard French of the New York Times. "The only thing we [the United States] have to do is look the other way."
Which is what the U.S. did.

Colum Lynch at Turtle Bay:
On October 1, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador and the president's presumptive nominee to be the next U.S. secretary of state, met at the French mission here in New York with top diplomats from Britain and France, where they discussed the crisis in eastern Congo, a sliver of territory along the Rwandan border, where mutineers were preparing a final offensive to seize the regional capital of Goma.
France's U.N. ambassador, Gerard Araud, pressed Rice and Britain's U.N. envoy, Mark Lyall Grant, to apply greater political pressure on the mutineers' chief sponsor, Rwanda, a close American ally, that stands accused by a U.N. panel of sponsoring, arming, and commanding the insurgent M23 forces. The French argued that threats of sanctions were needed urgently to pressure Kigali to halt its support for the M23 and prevent them from gobbling up more Congolese territory.
But Rice pushed back, reasoning that any move to sanction Rwandan leader Paul Kagame would backfire, and it would be better to work with him to find a long-term solution to the region's troubles than punish him. "Gerard, it's eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people it would be some other armed groups," she said, according to one of three U.N.-based sources who detailed the exchange. The U.S. mission declined to comment on the meeting, which was confidential.

Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy:
I'm still struck by how rarely you see people in the foreign policy establishment resign on principle or take positions that they know will attract controversy and jeopardize their future prospects. Instead of a world of plain-speaking truth-tellers, we have a culture of spin, of anonymous leakers and finger-in-the-wind politicos who make policy by first asking how it's likely to play in the polls, with influential interest groups, or with their superiors. ...
And to give this issue a contemporary spin, isn't that the real reason to be less than enthusiastic about Susan Rice's candidacy for Secretary of State? Not because she spoke a bit too rashly over Benghazi, but because she's been more interested in her own ascent than in the principles she seeks to uphold. (The same is even more true of many of her critics, of course). How else to explain her accommodating attitude towards African dictators, or the enthusiasm with which she helped smear Richard Goldstone after his famous UN report on Operation Cast Lead was released? No doubt she was following instructions, of course, but I'll bet it never even occurred to her that what she was being asked to do was simply wrong and that maybe she ought to resign instead.


  1. That last one with the quote "Gerard, it's eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people it would be some other armed groups," quote is clearly the most damaging.

  2. Only right-wing nuts attack Susan Rice.