Accountability

Published — February 23, 2000

Candidates’ positions on Rwanda genocide: Should U.S. intervene?

Introduction

Steve Bradshaw and Mike Robinson won the 1999 International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting for a BBC documentary exposing deliberate international inaction to stop the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The question of U.S. intervention in Rwanda-like situations has become an issue in the United States presidential race. In March 1998, President Clinton acknowledged in a visit to Rwanda that “we did not act quickly enough” to stop the slaughter of up to a million people. Last December, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, responding to an independent investigation he commissioned to learn the truth about the U.N. role in the genocide, apologized for the United Nations’ role.

The report found that the organization and its members lacked the political will and resources to prevent the genocide or stop it once it was under way. Here is what the presidential candidates have said:

Bill Bradley, Democrat:

“I don’t think the United States can be the policeman to the world. I don’t think we have the resources nor the wisdom. I think we cannot give an open-ended humanitarian commitment to the world. It has to be made on a case-by-case basis. I also believe that if you’re talking about the 32 ethnic wars that are in the world, that it is much better to deal with those situations in a multilateral context, and that means more and more authority through the U.N. being used. I believe that if we did more of that, we’d have better results. I think that the United States can get spread very thin over a wide territory in the world and not have the impact that we seek to have in the places that we do get involved.

“The criteria I use is it would have to be in the national interest for that involvement to take place, and it would have to be consistent with our values as a country. In some places the national interest is clear: Iraq, 1991. In some places the values seem clear: genocide in Kosovo or in Bosnia. But the remedies often come too late and the key is to get multilateral efforts to intervene earlier before things reach the point where there is only a military option, and that would require partners in the world to do this — you require alliances, you require international organizations to do that — while never saying never, that at some point you might intervene if a situation truly merited it.”

— Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Nov. 29, 1999

Patrick Buchanan, Reform Party:

“Well, the U.S. has stood by in every case and so has Europe since the basic fundamental liberation of Africa, except for the late intervention, I guess, in Rwanda.

“No, I don’t say that. But I do believe that Africa should primarily — as it was Europe’s colony, should primarily be Europe’s concern to deal with problems there of that nature. Just as it would be greater — more our concern in Latin America or Central America if some horror erupted there. “But the idea of the United States — if there is some genuine Holocaust going on in Africa, the United States supporting other nations’ intervention there, that’s not something to which I would object. But I will say this: The idea of Africans taking care of their own problems, of an African force to intervene, maybe supported by the Americans, is one I would prefer.”

— Speech in Washington, D.C., Nov. 22, 1999

George W. Bush, Republican:

“There needs to be a clear statement of when and if we’ll commit troops. I worry about Rwanda. I didn’t like what went on in Rwanda. But I don’t think we should commit troops to Rwanda. Nor do I think we ought to try to be the peacekeepers all around the world. I intend to tell our allies that America will help make the peace, but you get to put troops on the ground to keep warring parties apart.

“One of the reasons we have such low morale in the military today, is because we’re over-deployed and under-trained. If you talk to the men and women who wear our uniform, who are married, they’re constantly being separated as a result of deployments all around the world. We’ve got to be very careful about when and if we commit our troops.”

— South Carolina primary debate, Feb. 15, 2000.

Al Gore, Democrat:

Responding to a question from a worker about what Gore would change in his seven years with the Clinton administration, Gore said: “I argued at the time and would now go back to argue for intervention in the tragedy of Bosnia earlier than we did, and speedier action in Rwanda as well, because I think that the capacity of the United States for moral leadership in the world can not be underestimated.”

— CNN “Inside Politics,” Jan. 27, 2000

Alan Keyes, Republican:

“Every single argument that was raised with respect to Bosnia on humanitarian grounds applied over 150 times to Rwanda , and we sat on our hands and did nothing. Why do we need to send 20,000 troops to Bosnia when all those European countries can do the same job we can? Our neighborhood is our neighborhood…

“We need to end the Clinton policy of interventionism on behalf of all kinds of globalist ideas and interests that are of not direct relevance to our interest or to our values. And I frankly think that Kosovo was an example of that.

“I also think we ought to avoid interventions that are based essentially on exaggerated propaganda, and that set the threshold of atrocity so low that, in point of fact, other nations could use that threshold as an excuse to disrupt the peace of the world — let me finish — by going into other countries in their region on the same excuse.

“We should be very careful not to become practitioners of aggression, even in the name of good purposes. I think, basically, we’ve got to send a message to the rest of the world, that we will not be stepping in to intervene in the affairs of other countries on any kind of routine basis, unless the level of atrocity is so clear, that it justifies violating that principle of non-aggression, for the sake of which we have sacrificed tens of thousands of American lives.”

— South Carolina primary debate, Feb. 15, 2000.

John McCain, Republican:

“We are driven by Wilsonian principles as well as others. There are times when our principles and our values are so offended that we have to do what we can to resolve a terrible situation.

“If Rwanda again became a scene of horrible genocide, if there was a way that the United States could stop that and beneficially affect the situation — by the way, we couldn’t in Haiti. We spent — sent 20,000 troops and spent $2 billion. Haiti is arguably worse off.

“Obviously, it’s the last resort. But we can never say that a nation driven by Judeo-Christian principles will only intervene where our interests are threatened because we also have values. And those values are very important.”

— South Carolina primary debate, Feb. 15, 2000

Bradshaw, who produced When Good Men Do Nothing while working for the BBC’s Panorama program, received the award last November from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. He said he was accepting the $20,000 check and engraved crystal obelisk “on behalf not only of the production team, and those who lost friends in the Rwandan massacres, but of those men and women in the West who were brave enough to speak out about their own roles.”

“In the case of Rwanda, it wasn’t a question of whether we should send troops there they were already there,” Bradshaw added. “Having deprived them of the resources to protect those in their care, we pulled them out. In our film, we tried to find out just why that happened.”

In their commendation of the winning entry, the judges urged that the documentary be shown to students worldwide “to illustrate how political cowardice has allowed genocide back into the world community. To those who believed after World War II that there would never again’ be mass killings, this report says yes, again’ and, more importantly, it explains how and why it can happen.”

WBGH, a Boston PBS affiliate, co-produced the documentary and aired a version of it on Frontline under the title The Triumph of Evil. ICIJ is a project of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative research group based in Washington, D.C. The consortium, which has 71 journalist-members from 40 countries, was created in 1997 to extend globally the Center’s style of “watchdog journalism” in the public interest by marshaling the talents of the world’s leading investigative reporters to focus on issues that transcend national borders.

The ICIJ Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting is the only one of its kind created specifically to honor international investigative reporting. The annual award is made possible by a grant from The John and Florence Newman Foundation of San Antonio, Texas.

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