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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Romeo Dallaire, Bill Clinton, and Rwanda





This is not primarily a political blog, but not because I do not have political opinions--I probably have altogether too many of them. However, I don't find that my opinions are particularly original, and there are so many political blogs out there that I would rather read them than write one myself. Nevertheless, I am a very political animal, and from time to time I might just feel that I have something to say; if so, I will say it here.

The current flap over Obama's "bitterness" comments, and in particular Hillary Clinton's typically opportunistic exploitation of them in her losing battle for the nomination (side by side with McCain on this one, Hillary) reminds me once again why Americans so badly need to sweep Clintonian politics aside for something better. I don't see Obama as a savior, but I do see his election as vitally necessary for any serious change to come about in our country--not necessarily because of what Obama himself might do, but because grassroots activism needs a healthy, hopeful atmosphere in which to blossom.

A couple of years ago, I posted the following on the News section of my Web site, but I doubt that more than a few people ever saw it. Perhaps a few more will see it here. This is my summation of what Clintonian politics is all about.


Romeo Dallaire, Bill Clinton, and Rwanda

Living in Paris as I do, I sometimes miss films that I really should see when they first come out. This was the case with Hotel Rwanda, which had a fairly brief run here--perhaps because of lingering guilt about the role of the French in Rwanda, who supported the former Hutu-dominated government up to and even during the genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people. The film is now out in DVD, and last night I rented it from my favorite film rental shop.

I read Philip Gourevitch's book "We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families" when it was first published, and a few months ago I finished "Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda," by Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian general who was head of UN forces before and during the genocide. Recently I also purchased the paperback edition of Volume II of "My Life" by Bill Clinton. I bought it for only one reason: So that I could bring it home and quote it accurately when I wrote the remarks you are reading here.

In 1998, Clinton visited Rwanda--or, more accurately, visited the airport outside Kigali, which he never left according to news reports of the event--and delivered his famous "apology" for the inaction of the United States in the face of the slaughter. In his autobiography, Clinton devotes one reasonably long paragraph as his explanation for this inaction. The first half of this paragraph is devoted to a factual recounting of what happened and how many people were killed. He concludes: "We were so preoccupied with Bosnia, with the memory of Somalia just six months old, and with opposition in Congress to miliary developments in faraway places not vital to our national interests that neither I nor anyone on my foreign policy team adequately focused on sending troops to stop the slaughter. With a few thousand troops and help from our allies, even making allowances for the time it would have taken to deploy them, we could have saved lives. The failure to try to stop Rwanda's tragedies became one of the greatest regrets of my presidency."

First of all, much of this statement is a lie, as journalists have fully documented: In fact, the main opposition to doing anything in Rwanda came from Clinton and his UN ambassador Madeleine Albright, who did everything they could not only to prevent US involvement but an adequate UN response too. And even if Clinton does regret Rwanda, he does not regret it as much as having been discovered having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, as even a cursory reading of his autobiography demonstrates.

What would someone do if they were really sorry about what happened in Rwanda, and for their responsibility in allowing it to happen? Well, in addition to a brief stop at the Rwanda airport in 1998, when it came time to write their autobiography, would they not devote many pages--would it be too much to ask for an entire chapter?--on what happened, why it happened, including a detailed and honest accounting of one's own personal actions? And would the purpose of doing this not be to get everyone to say, oh Bill, it's okay, thanks for apologizing and feeling the pain of others, but in fact to learn lessons so that in the future such a thing would "never again" happen?

So I have to conclude that Bill Clinton is lying when he says he was sorry. I have to conclude that Bill Clinton rarely gives the matter much thought.

Now here is what I would expect from someone who was really sorry about the death of 800,000 people in Rwanda. This is from a Oct 24, 2003 online dispatch from the CBC:

"After Rwanda, Dallaire blamed himself for everything. He sank deep into dispair. He attempted suicide. Three years ago he sat on a park bench in Ottawa and drank from a bottle of alcohol. He's forbidden to drink because of the drugs he takes for depresssion. The mixture almost put him into a coma. Police had to take him to a hospital."

I've searched the internet to see how many times Bill Clinton has been found on a park bench drinking himself to death over his failures in Rwanda. Obviously Google is not as efficient as it claims. And the comedy of this is, Romeo Dallaire bears no blame whatsoever for what happened in Rwanda. But he does bear one thing that Bill Clinton does not have and never will have: a sense of responsibility.

Bill Clinton lived in the White House for 8 years. Many Americans, including many of my friends, are nostalgic for those days after the crimes and lies of George W. Bush. My question is: is this the best we can do? Are there no Romeo Dallaires and men and women like him in America who could be president of our country? Why do we want Bill Clintons and George Bushes in the White House in the first place?

Could it be that many of us don't want to take responsibility either? In that case, we elect the presidents that we deserve. Maybe some day that will change. Maybe some day we will choose a president who has the humanity and the sense of responsibility to feel so guilty about the murder of 800,000 people, even when it wasn't his fault, that he sat drinking on a park bench over it.

2 comments:

Anne Gilbert said...

This is a fascinating comment. I should mention that my blog will occasionally have things like this, but not very often, because it's a writing blog primarily, and I don't want to lose that focus. But to get back to your comments here, you don't get much beyond the Clintons, Bushes, etc., etc., in American politics simply because the "winner take all" system we have, rewards "horse racing" rather than real political discussion, and neither the Democrats nor the Republicans appear different enough at the present time, for people to do more than flip a coin. There are other "politics" going on: Some people won't support Hillary Clinton because they don't like the idea of women being president. Some of these people may end up voting for McCain for that reason. Other people don't like the idea of a black person being president, and they will end up supporting either Hillary or McCain. And then there are people who are such "die-hard" Clinton supporters that they will support McCain in protest, rather than Obama, if it comes to t hat. But none of these things are really about "issues". All three lead candidates have their problems, IMO, but the problems are not the ones being discussed in the media, buecause the problems are about actual political/social programs and policies, not about the sort of "issues" that fit in a media sound bite, in our usual "horse race" election year cycle.
Anne G

Anonymous said...

I found this by asking Google how Bill Clinton can live with himself after Rwanda. I was in 5th grade at the time and even I am terrorized by guilt because of America's blatant inaction. It was awful enough that Clinton actually had the nerve to say gosh I am sorry about that, but the fact that he just brushed it aside as oh well I regret that.

Well, to tell you the truth it makes me want to mail the man a machete.