Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Complexity as an Excuse for Inaction

A Coalition for Darfur Post

A few weeks ago, PBS aired a made-for-HBO film about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda called "Sometimes in April." Following the presentation, journalist Jeff Greenfield held a panel discussion about world's last of response to Rwanda and the similarities to the current genocide in Darfur.

Former Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz was among the panelists and during the discussion, made the following points

Wolfowitz: One of the things that bears thinking about from the Rwanda experience, and everyone of these cases is different, and I think one ought to recognize that. But it seems to me that the thing that stuck me as unique about the Rwanda experience, on the one hand the sheer horror of it, with the exception of the Holocaust and even then at a sort of per day rate, this was probably the worst genocide ever. But secondly, and we'll never know this for sure because you never know the course that wasn't taken, but it was seem as though a relatively modest military action aimed at eliminating that regime could have ended the genocide and ended it rather quickly.

What strikes me and seems to me is true in Rwanda, is true in Bosnia, is true in World War II, is true in Cambodia, this kind of systematic, one-sided elimination of a population is not done spontaneously by another ethnic group, it's organized by a criminal gang and if that criminal gang had been eliminated in Rwanda the genocide would have ended.

But that comes to my last point which is, then it depends on how do you conceive of the peacekeeping operation and nobody proposed, that I know of, going in and taking out the government.

Greenfield: Should they have?

Wolfowitz: I think so, yes.


Wolfowitz: This is not a simple problem. The Rwanda case, I think, is striking because it at least it looks in hindsight to have been so simple to prevent something that was so horrible. But most of these cases are complicated ... In a way the Rwanda case is helpful for thinking about things but in some ways it's misleading because most cases are a little more difficult.

Wolfowitz openly argued that the world should have intervened in Rwanda, but them makes the strikingly disingenuous argument that Rwanda was somehow "simpler" than the current situation in Darfur.

Rwanda is only "simpler" because it is now over and hindsight allows us to see just how, where and why the world failed. But in 1994, with bodies filling the streets, Rwanda did not appear to be simple at all

U.S. Opposes Plan for U.N. Force in Rwanda
12 May 1994
The New York Times

rebel forces of the Rwanda Patriotic Front pressed their attack today against the capital, Kigali, the United States criticized a new United Nations plan to send some 5,500 soldiers into the heart of the Rwandan civil war to protect refugees and assist relief workers, saying it is more than the organization can handle.


While not excluding any course of action, Ms. Albright said it remains unclear whether African countries are ready or able to send forces for such a dangerous and complicated mission at the epicenter of a raging civil war.
Ten years later, it now appears as if a few relatively simple measures backed by the necessary political will could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But in 1994, the genocide appeared massively complex and that complexity was routinely cited as a justification for not intervening.

And Wolfowitz is making exactly the same justification for not intervening in Darfur today.

Were there feasible solutions to Rwanda? In hindsight, the answer is obviously "yes." Are there feasible solutions to Darfur? It is hard to say because right now it seems so complex, but there certainly are if the world powers can muster the will to address them.

But unfortunately, it is far more likely that ten years from now, when perhaps another one million Africans have needlessly died, we'll wonder why we did not act when "it looks in hindsight to have been so simple to prevent something that was so horrible."

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