You're Clinton in '94: What Do You Do About Rwanda

So suppose you were President William Jefferson Clinton in 1994 just as the Rwandan genocide begins. What would you have done to prevent or retard the progress of the genocide?

I would have jammed the Interhamwe radio station, dropped in the 101st Airborne at Kigali Airport and had them establish real safe zones in the city and have them shoot down anyone who attempted to penetrate it while arming the RPF. Such a strong action should cut off much of the genocide before it actually happens.

I probably would have indicated the US was deeply concerned with the events in Rwanda, and that the State and Defense Departments were monitoring the situation. I’d also see about putting out an advisory for American citizens to leave Rwanda, and did what I could to provide aid to Rwandan refugees. But I don’t really see, given the circumstances, that the US government had the capability to do very much, or that genocide in Rwanda really affected US interests very much.

What we should be doing with Libya.


  1. Has oil
  2. Is on the Med, so we can base our planes on carriers there
  3. Is a place we’re not willing to interfere on the ground in, just providing air and logistical support.

And 4: We have Afghanistan and Iraq eating up military resources already.

Given what has come out since about France’s role in the massacre, I would start with them to the point of threatening to expose their direct support of the Hutus if they didn’t intervene sooner.

Put the 1st Marine Regiment under Romeo Dallaire’s command because you can always trust a Canadian to do the right thing.

Let’s not get too hasty - Dallaire was a good guy but I know some Canadians that could throw off this generalization of yours.

Also - committing American troops in this context would be more effective in a NATO operation rather than the UN peacekeeping force that Dallaire was commanding. The fact that Rwanda fell outside of NATO’s purview complicated this - remember that we never sent troops into Rwanda in the 1990s, and there would have been opposition to doing so.

I am of mixed feelings about this , frankly. That is why I probably would have started by pressuring the French to end the mess - they had more involvement in the situation, leverage with the Hutus, and frankly an incentive to do so sooner rather than later.

Contrast the response of France in Rwanda to their response in Côte d’Ivoire a few years later - they moved in immediately with military forces and separated the two sides in the civil war.

No idea what I would have done, but FTR I heard Clinton speak a few years ago and he specifically said that his response to Rwanda was the thing that caused him more regret than anything else. He talked about it at some length. Unfortunately he didn’t go into specifics about what he might have done differently.

Ding, ding, ding - I believe that is the correct answer.

Too bad it had two strikes against it, being both too easy and too smart.

I was going to say this. From what I understand, Somalia was a cakewalk compared to what we would have been up against in Rwanda. And we know how Somalia turned out. I think Clinton made the right call on Rwanda.

The current situation in Libya is a little bit different. As previously pointed out, we have financial (oil) interests there. Kadhaffi is a long-time troublemaker on the international stage. The bombings to date actually may have done some good. I’m not convinced, though, that a longer term commitment by the U.S. or NATO will bring about a positive outcome. History shows that interventions in support of civil unrest usually don’t pay off for the intervening party, although there may be a few exceptions to the rule.

With the largest military on the face of the planet earth, we couldn’t have prevented several hundred thousand people from being hacked apart by machetes? I believe otherwise. Perhaps I have more faith in our armed services than you do.

If we do even one thing that’s clearly altruistic, in the future when we’re doing something that’s purely selfish, we could point to the time we helped Rwanda to deflect accusations from other nations that we’re always selfish, thus making it easier for us to be selfish in the future with less resistance! See, it could be in our interests after all.

Ask it to help me get her out of my heart.

I urge everyone watch Ghosts of Rwanda. It’s one of the best explanations of the utter failure of the international community. One of the hardest scenes was of a heavily armed UN convoy going to a remote school where a European (a French nun?) was holed up with a number of schoolchildren and villagers. They had not been massacred because the genocidaires were waiting for the European to be removed before “going to work.” As the large convoy drove up, children ran out to greet them and people wept openly, assuming this huge military convoy was there to rescue them. Imagine when they realized that only the European was going to be let on board. The comically oversized convoy left.

The killers didn’t wait. Hours later, each and every person on that tape was dead.

I’m not sure what the US’s role should have been, but whatever it was, pretty much everyone made the wrong choice. “Never again,” indeed.

Genocide is one of those things where you have to put aside national interest and international objections and just go in and stop it.

Don’t get me wrong, I hated what Bush did in Iraq and I support Obama for moving on Libya only because he has the UN behind him. I believe if China and Russia had vetoed our intervention there, then we should not help the Libyans. But genocide is a different thing altogether and if no other country would help, then you send in our ground forces and the air force and you force them to stop killing. Afterwards, set up a puppet government to control the people so that it doesn’t happen again.

In Somalia we were up against heavily armed militiamen of the warlords. In Rwanda we would have faced a bunch of machete wielding half-crazed nobodies, any coherent military force of decent size would have made short work of.

That hasn’t been the historical response to genocides.


And so clearly genocide isn’t one of those things where you have to put aside national interest and international objections and just go in and stop it. Genocide is one of those things where you say “Oh, those poor people”, and go on with your life and then, after it’s done, have hearings and trials and swear you’re never going to let it happen again.

By that logic nothing good should ever be done by anyone. After all, there’s never been any shortage of indifferent people any more than there’s been a shortage of indifferent nations.

“We behaved badly in the past therefore we should behave badly in the future” is a pathetic argument.