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Sunday 27 March 2011

Rwandan genocide still haunts Clinton

Right to protect and intervention in Libya are legacies of the Tutsi slaughter, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards

Three women are being cited by opponents of the intervention in Libya: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, and Dublin-born Professor Samantha Power, a senior adviser at the National Security Council (NSC).

My friend Kevin Myers blames them for feminising foreign policy; others deem them warmongering harpies; yet more think them ignoramuses who -- unlike men -- don't understand the realities of war and are dragging the West into a quagmire; and, of course, others think them heroines who understand right from wrong.

After the Iraq war became unpopular, a friend who teaches politics enjoyed discussing with his sixth-year pupils in what circumstances they would invade another country? "For reasons of national self-interest, for example?" he would ask. "No, no, no," they would cry. "That would be selfishness." It was impossible to move most of them from this righteous position. Anything to do with punishing enemies, safeguarding the nation or securing energy supplies were all wicked actions.

And then he would ask them how they would feel if vulnerable people were being persecuted by a nasty dictator and they would say that of course they would intervene. "Congratulations," he would say. "You're all neocons."

Those poor brainwashed children, who truly believed that President George W Bush was a neoconservative capitalist brute who invaded Iraq over oil, used to get quite upset.

My friend, of course, was broadly correct. While Bush thought his job was to keep the world safe for America, his administration's influential neoconservatives (left-wingers who had moved to the right but were still full of evangelical zeal) wanted to use military and economic power to bring freedom -- in the shape of democracy and capitalism -- to the suffering masses of the world.

Ill-informed people like my friends' students didn't grasp that there was nothing new about this: just a new label for an old philosophy. Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt are known as liberal internationalists because they believed the allies in the two World Wars had a moral cause and deserved US support.

After the World War Two, the starry-eyed wanted to believe that the UN would magically stop countries going to war. Rather, it gave countries led by the corrupt, inept and tyrannical regimes real clout in protecting themselves because it tied the hands of liberal democracies, which in any case had little appetite for the expenditure of blood and treasure.

Consensual, international diplomatic solutions to ghastly problems were sought and rarely achieved. When in 1994 Bill Clinton's administration was told that the Rwandan Hutu intended to eradicate all the Tutsi it ignored the evidence, did nothing, and 800,000 were slaughtered.

Clinton would later say his biggest regret as president was not to have intervened to save those lives and this terrible failure would haunt him and his wife.

Susan Rice -- then in the NSC -- later said: 'I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.'

Samantha Power made her reputation with A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide -- which won a Pulitzer Prize.

She is a lawyer, so it's no surprise that she became a proponent of strengthening international law to make humanitarian interventions easier and more acceptable to liberal opinion. She was an influential foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama before his election, until she had to resign after telling a newspaper that his challenger for the Democratic Party nomination, Hillary Clinton, was "a monster".

Power endorses a new, cool concept called Responsibility to Protect (or R2P if you want to text it), which is, in most respects, liberal interventionism under a different name.

Although I believe that the UN is a disaster and that international law is a minefield, bearing in mind the prevailing mistrust of any kind of Western intervention, new ways have to be found of justifying the use of guns to save lives.

The pedantic, cautious, indecisive Mr Obama was being urged by his Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and his National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, to stay well away from Libya.

Rice and Power insisted that it would be morally wrong to let Gaddafi murder his own people and finish off the Arab Spring: Hillary Clinton crucially came down on the side of Rice and Power. This had nothing to do with their gender and all to do with their horror-laden memories of what happened in Rwanda.

They may prove to have made the wrong call but they do not deserve to be accused of weakness or woolly-mindedness. Liberal internationalists, liberal interventionists, neocons and proponents of R2P are brothers and sisters under the skin.

Right or wrong, they are better people than Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Saddam Hussein or the Libyan Butcher.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards