Which was a worse ignoring of intelligence: Clinton/Rwanda or Bush/9-11

It isn’t a question of worse “for whom.” Just worse. Unless you believe there is no objective standard for good/ethical policy (which entails that you believe there is no “right” policy, so policy debates are meaningless).

The issue is having the information and failing to act–it is the same in both cases. Both failures could be summarized as “we knew such and such was going on, but we didn’t do anything about it.”

The fact that Clinton intentionally did not act does not mean it wasn’t a failure to act, and the fact that Bush didn’t know exactly what was going to happen does not mean he didn’t fail as well.

Additionally, you haven’t convinced me that we cannot evaluate the two events and ask the following questions (from the OP):

  1. Did Clinton know more about, and have more capability to prevent Rwanda, or did Bush know more about, and have more capability to prevent 9/11?

  2. If it is true that both Presidents had enough information to take more actions than they did (this is almost certainly the case as long as we are not saying either could have acted successfully to prevent these atrocities), which was worse?

  3. Are either of them morally culpable for the oversight?

When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. -Revelations 8:1

I am going to defend Clinton? Next up: Jack Chick converts to Islam.

Clinton knew more about Rawanda than Bush did about 9/11. That is obvious, given the media coverage of events in Rawanda. But there was nothing, IMO, that Clinton could have done about Rawanda. Short of dropping in the 82 Airborne on a one-way mission, there wasn’t much we could do. Our rapid-deployment capabilities do not have Rawanda in mind; We have no prepositioned equipment nearby, no friendly large bases, and the country is landlocked. Given the massive nature of what was going on, it would have been a Charge of the Light Brigade for whatever light forces we and others could have sent in.

Bush, on the other hand, knew nothing of 9/11. Nobody, short of Al Queda members, did. Failure of intelligence. If he had known, however, he would have easily been able to prevent the acts. (Well, far more easily that Clinton would have been able to respond in Rawanda.)

Nope. Bad situations, one with bad solutions, the other with easy solutions, but we didn’t know to apply them.

As an aside, here is my arm-chair general estimation of what we could have sent in, on short notice, to Rawanada:

(Troop stregnths are approximate. Actual deployable numbers would have been lower. Also, I am assuming that magically, we would have enough airpower to deliver and supply the troops. [We don’t].)

American 82nd Airborne Division ~14,000
American 75th Ranger Regiment ~1,900
British Parachute Regiment ~3,000
French 11th Parachute Division ~7,000
Canadian Airborne Regiment ~1,500
Belgian 1st Paracommando Brigade ~1,500

The Germans had 3 Fallschirmjager brigades (~2000 per) at the time, but I can’t see those going in, and Netherlands and Italy each have a parachute formation, but I don’t have any info on them.

So roughly, assuming the ‘best case’, we could have sent in just under 30,000 troops on short notice, in a war involving hundreds of thousands. Don’t see that happening in the real world, though I suppose it would fun to wargame it.

Thank you for the thoughtful answer, Brutus.

What do you make of the argument that, while 10,000 or so troops would not have been able to prevent all of the killings, they would have been able to create and defend a safe zone? Seems to me that we could have done something .

What’s to say Clinton ignored intelligence on Rwanda? I see absolutely no basis for the conclusion that the electorate would have supported a US invasion of a large portion of Africa to quell the unrest there. That’s not an intelligence failure, it’s not ignoring intelligence, it’s making a conscious decision on the basis of intelligence. Making a questionable decision certainly, but a decision nonetheless.

I see every reason to believe the electorate would have supported armed air marshalls or security doors on planes before 9/11, especially if told that intelligence suggested that Al Qaeda was planning on hijacking planes in the US. That is either a failure of intelligence or ignoring intelligence, because we did have ample evidence of ongoing Al Qaeda hijacking plans even without the kamikaze aspect.

Zhao, these two situations were so totally unrelated that comparison is made pointless. The whole world knew what was going on in Rwanda. I don’t think it’s accurate to say anyone ignored intelligence: they just didn’t want to bother. It’s not restricted to Clinton at all; the international community wasn’t interested.

Hell, the population density in Rwanda today is 253 per sq. km and only 32% of the land is arable. Tossing a few thousand peacekeepers into a pressure cooker like that would have been futile.

I’m not sure how this could be anything but an effort to say “Oh yeah, well Clinton!” These situations are so different that “worse” would depend on any of a number of different considerations. While we’re at it, why don’t we throw Bush I’s “intelligence failures” regarding Tiananmen Square into the debate? I’ll tell you why: it makes no sense.

I think this is a very important point. Clinton has openly admitted this was a big mistake. Bush, by contrast, has made 9/11 and his response to it the defining feature of his Presidency and hasn’t offered anything close to an apology for not being more on the ball before 9/11 in terms of threats.

To be honest, even as much as I hate Bush, I am not yet sure to what extent I believe he should be faulted for not heeding the warnings and such that now look so apparent in hindsight. However, if the guy is going to make 9/11 and the war on terrorism the thing that outweighs all the other things he has done then I think one has the responsibility to look more carefully on how well he has actually performed in all aspects of the task…including the very important aspect of preventing it in the first place if possible.

I don’t think Clinton was ignoring intellegence in not going into Rwanda…he made a decision not to go in. And IMO it was a good decision at the time…and maybe even now. I don’t fault him for it at all, though I’m appalled at the human cost there and in other areas of Africa. If the UN with the backing of the European powers would have been agitating to do something and the US refused I might have thought differently, especially in hindsite…but they sat on their hands IMO and I doubt Clinton would have gotten much traction in the US to send the troops in on our own. Hell, he probably would have had a fight to send them in WITH UN and EU support.

As for Bush and 9/11 I’m still unconvinced that he was ignoring intellegence at all. To me, this breaks down along partisan lines (and in reality so does Clintons actions in Rwanda and elsewhere). I’ve seen no evidence that Bush was asleep at the switch, nor that anyone was onto any real leads that would have lead to the prevention of 9/11. All I’ve seen is guess work and hindsite so far.

Er, you are kind of mixing things up here. I’ll assume not deliberately. What does Iraq have to do with the OP? The OP asked about 9/11, not intellegence that was cherry picked or ignored leading to the Iraq fiasco. Even if you think the link between 9/11 and Iraq is there (which I doubt), the OP was asking about the intellegence leading to what happened on 9/11, not subsequent events, and comparing them to Rwanda.

Same reason any criticism of Clinton is “Oh yeah? But Bush is a nazi bent on taking over the world. AND he gives kickbacks to his friends! He foams at the mouth too and pushes baby ducks into ponds full of crocs too! And he really is the anti-christ!! Blah blah blah”. I find the whole back and forth a bit tiresome myself.

I guess the bottom line for me is the question: What exactly IS the US’s role in the world. If its our job to right wrongs and play the super hero, then I suppose you could lay Rwanda on Clinton. But if you do so, then you can’t turn around and blame Bush for Iraq IMO. Personally, I DON’T think its the US’s job to right wrongs, so in this case I don’t blame Clinton at all, and I DO blame Bush (for Iraq).

On the 9/11 side, as I said earlier, I remain unconvinced this was Bush’s fault (or even the intellegence organs, unless we want to blame systemic problems going back decades…I certainly don’t blame the people), and from everything I’ve read it was simply the bad guys getting all the breaks, and our guys simply missing the clues or not putting all the pieces together. So I don’t see how Bush ‘ignored intellegence’…it was simply never there in any meaningful way, just scattered bits and pieces that our intellegence organs weren’t smart enough, or fast enough, or connected enough to put together in time.


On reflection, I owe Squink a pre-emptive apology. I MEANT to put in THIS…the comments I put down go with it:

I simply meant to comment on Squink’s post and over wrote it with what was supposed to be a reply to ElvisL1ves. Sorry about that. My comment to Squinks post was simply that I’ve seen no indication anything was ignored.


Not Iraq, Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan was a response necessitated by our ignoring pre 9-11 intelligence. I parenthetically mentioned Iraq because a large fraction of the population erroneously believe that war has something to do with 9-11.
Had we used our intelligence to thwart bin Laden’s attack, an invasion of Afghanistan might not have been necessary. We’d certainly have been willing to give the Russians etc. more time to effect a diplomatic handover of al Qaeda leaders. In that sense, the war in Afghanistan was a direct consequence of pre 9-11 intelligence failures, as put forth in the OP.

Ha! You’re one of the worst offenders as far as using “But Clinton…” non-sequiturs.

I am indeed mixing things up, in the same way Bush did and still does and wants us to. As sold to us, the Iraq war was part and parcel of the response to 9/11, and as such constitutes an egregious misuse of what intelligence there was. We now know that the Administration had been planning a war in Iraq before 9/11, and found it a convenient excuse. If the topic is Bush’s ignoring or misusing intelligence, it’s hard to exclude Iraq from the assessment.

Okeydoke, accepted. (course I post-empted your pre-emption before seeing it :wink: ) I was a bit surprised, as you usually make more sense than that.
Rather than rehash all the stuff that was ignored, it’s not as if there hasn’t been a thread or two on the topic, I think I’ll let the 9-11 commision detail it in their report.

Well, obviously I don’t agree…while thinking the converse is certainly true of YOU. :slight_smile: Personally I think I’m more balanced on the whole, as I actually DID vote for Clinton, and while I found many of the things he did questionable, on the whole I liked the man. I DIDN’T in fact vote for Bush and find many of the things HE has done more than questionable. I just don’t see him as the anti-Christ, nor am I willing to blame him for everything under the sun that goes wrong. Besides, I love to argue and frankly most of the folks on this board are anti-Bush. I’d just be humming along with the masses if I busted on him all the time. Not my style.

You on the other hand hate Bush and never fail to take a stab at him…sometimes justified, sometimes totally partisan. I’m equally confident that YOU don’t see it that way.

I don’t see this. The topic of the OP is ignoring intellegence for 9/11 verse intellegence for Rwanda…there is nothing to do with Iraq unless you want to broaden the it to include Iraq. In which case, you’d have to broaden things for Clinton too. Personally I think the OP is flawed, as I stated before, and I also think that if you broaden it to Iraq you COULD make a case that Bush ignored intellegence or at the very least cherry picked data from the available intellegence. What would be the point though? Its not what the OP is asking.

(I’m ignoring the conspiricy theory stuff about this war being planned for years in advance of 9/11. Sorry, I don’t buy it. I buy the fact that Iraq WAS a convenient excuse, but I don’t think that it was planned out in advance. I think the administration saw an oppurtunity with 9/11 to broaden things, and took it.)


Clinton gained nothing by ignoring Rwanda… as for Bush… he gained a lot for “ignoring” Al Qaeda’s imminent attack.

Oh, I seem to recall a thread or two on the subject…

I’ll be interested also in seeing what the commision comes up with. I’m not holding my breath for any vast revelations though…not after seeing the televised circus of their interview with Mizz Condi anyway. Still, I’m hopeful that some new information and answers will come to light on this.


Well, yes, it should have been more about comparing the 2 Presidents’ approach to use of intelligence in general, instead of cherry-picking incidents, or more broadly about any President or national leader at all. The OP as written forces a comparison of gotchas.

Suit yourself. But read Clarke’s book first, describing Bush’s own demand to find how (not whether) Saddam and nobody else was behind 9/11. Or the PNAC website along with its leadership roster, or the same group’s open letter to Clinton, demanding essentially that. Or consider that Rumsfeld had made notes on 9/11 about this being the excuse he wanted. At what point does one think that plans might already have been in place? At some point the seesaw of reasonability tips - for a lot of us, it already has. What else are you waiting for? Like I said, use of Iraq intelligence is inseparable from use of pre-9/11 intelligence because Bush & Co. made it that way.

I think the Rwanda issue is more than just a question of Clinton’s potential failure, it is even more so a UN failure. One of the main purposes of the UN is to protect and keep the peace. There was an inadequate peacekeeping team there, and general Dallaire begged and pleaded repeatedly for both support and a mandate to do something. The Security Council repeatedly ignored him or turned him down. While they may not have been able to save everyone, they certainly could have helped in some way, but the world didn’t care.

This is where the big differences lie between Rwanda and 9/11. It was no secret what was going on in Rwanda, it had been building for years. That the violence was going to occur was more a question of when than of if. With 9/11, whatever speculation existed it wasn’t nearly as certain as Rwanda. I think the whole world is at fault for ignoring what was brewing in Rwanda and not doing something. It is entirely evident that African lives mean far less than others, and that is the biggest shame. Did Clinton mess up? Of course, even he feels as much. However, the greater blame lies with the golbal community. The same cannot be said of 9/11.

Keep in mind, also, that the violence in Rwanda was carried out mostly with primitive weaponry (machetes, clubs, knives, etc) and poorly organized. Even a small and well-armed force could have made a significant difference, neverind a full army. Look at the differnce in body count between the Iraqis and Americans and then imagine an equally well-equipped (as the US’s) force in Rwanda vs even poorer aggressors. I would bet that things would be settled pretty quickly. Plus Rwanda is very, very small in size.

In any case, I agree with the OP that this is a legitimate debate. Just because the situations are different doesn’t mean you can’t examine them from some perspective. I think it is worthwhile if only to highlight the differences themselves.