U.S. Guilt Over Rwanda Will Only Lead to More Guilt

Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

Rwanda President Paul Kagame.

At the New York Times, Helene Cooper writes about Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and candidate to become the next secretary of state.

“… critics of the Obama administration’s Africa policy have focused on the role of [Rice] in the administration’s failure to take action against the country they see as a major cause of the Congolese crisis, Rwanda. … Ms. Rice’s critics say that is the crux of the problem with the American response to the crisis in Congo: it ignores, for the most part, the role played by [Rwanda President Paul] Kagame in backing [Congolese rebel group] M23, and, as it happens, risks repeating the mistakes of the genocide by not erring on the side of aggressive action.”

Ms. Cooper obtained a quote from Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who, she writes, “has worked closely with Ms. Rice both in the Clinton administration and after.”

I fear that our collective regret about not stopping the Rwandan genocide, felt by all of us who worked for the Clinton administration, led to policies that overlooked more waves of atrocities in the Congo, which we should equally regret.

There must be a psychological term for this. It’s the exact opposite of the response that’s called for in the wake of a genocide that one failed to help prevent or bring to a conclusion. You’re kidding yourself if you think that giving a pass to a victim of that genocide who is now himself enabling slaughter will alleviate your guilt. That can only be accomplished by thwarting more slaughter, no matter how psychically indebted you are to the perpetrator.

Turning to Israel, it’s doubtful that the attitude of most Americans toward it is motivated by guilt. After all, not many know that, during World War II, for various reasons, the Roosevelt administration failed to allow Jews to emigrate to the United States in substantial numbers. Thus, it’s unlikely that guilt makes us disposed to indulge Israel in its treatment of Palestinians.

But, out of sympathy for Jewish victimization and stirred by Israel’s creation story, we enable Israel in its heavy-handed retaliation against what it perceives as threats. As with Rwanda, no matter how much a people has been victimized in the past, once they become victimizers, they’ve forfeited the right to sympathy for — and guilt about — their pasts.

UPDATE: At Daily Beast, John Prendergast, who worked with Susan Rice, writes:

… some believe that quiet diplomacy with Rwanda will move the region closer to peace, while others contend that punitive measures against Rwanda would hasten a solution. Honorable people can disagree over strategy and tactics. But the implication that Ambassador Rice—who continues to work diligently on the Congo issue—is somehow motivated to protect President Kagame because of guilt over the genocide or other theories is insulting.