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Ghosts from Rwanda and the Congo

Susan Rice is still facing a storm of criticism about her preposterous comments following the terrorist attack in Benghazi a few months ago, and now she’s coming under fire for her performance in Sub-Saharan Africa during the Clinton administration.

Few Americans pay much attention to Sub-Saharan Africa, and Rice’s record there is old news at this point, but Jason Stearns’ new piece in Foreign Policy magazine is bound to incluence some decision-makers in Washington about whether or not she replaces Hillary Clinton as our secretary of state.

Televised comments made by Amb. Susan Rice shortly after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi have dominated the debate over her probable nomination for secretary of state. This is a bit surprising, since it's clear that she played only a marginal role in the affair and appears to have just been reading from the briefing notes provided. It's also unfortunate that the "scandal" has crowded out a healthy discussion of her two-decade record as U.S. diplomat and policymaker prior to Sept. 2012 -- and drawn attention away from actions for which she bears far greater responsibility than Benghazi.

Her role in shaping U.S. policy toward Central Africa should feature high on this list. Between 1993 and 2001, she helped form U.S. responses to the Rwandan genocide, events in post-genocide Rwanda, mass violence in Burundi, and two ruinous wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

She did not get off to an auspicious start. During her first year in government, there was a vigorous debate within the Clinton administration over whether to describe the killing in Rwanda as a "genocide," a designation that would necessitate an international response under the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention. In a now infamous incident from that April, which was reported in her now State Department colleague Samantha Power's book A Problem from Hell, Rice -- at the time still a junior official at the National Security Council -- stunned her colleagues by asking during a meeting, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional midterm] election?" She later regretted this language, telling Power, "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." And she has indeed emerged as one of the more forceful advocates for humanitarian intervention in U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, she has also often seemed to overcompensate for her earlier misstep on Rwanda with an uncritical embrace of the the country's new leaders.
Read the whole thing. And take what Stearns says seriously. I’m hardly an expert on Sub-Saharan Africa and I’ve never even been there, but Stearns’ recent book Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa is one of the best I’ve ever read about that part of the world.
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