-- President Francois Mitterand speaking to a colleague in confidence about Rwanda (1)
On October 10, 2002, my daughter Noelle's birthday, I caught Ralph Nader on the campus of the University of Utah. I was passing through the so-called Great Salt Lake area, and serendipity favored me.
Senator Bob Graham had just delivered his Floor Statement on the Iraq Resolution: "...tonight I have to vote no on this resolution. The reason is that this resolution is too timid. It is too limited. It is too weak. This resolution fails to recognize the new reality of the era of terrorism." And immediately before entering the Utes' main lecture hall, it was announced on the radio that the U.S. had acknowledged "carrying out a sweeping Cold War-era test program of chemical and germ warfare agents in Britain and North America." But those soundbites didn't hold my attention long. On that tenth day in October, my friend Bobby Brown -- the furthest thing from Whitney Houston's druggie/companion -- finally succumbed to the ravages he had been subjected to in Kitale Camp, Goma, Zaire. He had witnessed the 90s genocide in Rwanda first-hand, and like so many who walked that African walk he had paid the price.
Running into Ralph was a true high, as his subject for the evening was "Citizen Activism." It helped to be reminded that we never describe ourselves as citizens when asked who we are, and to have the fact that "what we do does count" underscored with that special Nader flair and credibility. It guaranteed that I'd never not "vote my conscience" again.*
*Don't get me wrong; I've never voted for any Gore or any Bush.
There were only two points in Ralph's presentation at Kingsbury Hall that night which bothered me. One came during the Q&A when someone in the audience asked him to recommend a website. I can't remember all of what he included, but I do recall him omitting www.counterpunch.org and www.zmag.org, and praising www.commondreams.org. These days that's a Black Mark in my book. With the stakes as high as they are, I think we can do without the Middle-of-the-Road Sanctuary that is that CD site, home to way too many ABBers. In fact, such was always the case. It's also home to the UN Fan Club, documenting the various rationales for supporting that institution's forays overseas, along with much undeserved applause for its restraint abroad. Which brings me back to Bobby and the other Nader/Nadir Black Mark, Ralph's stance vis-ŕ-vis our role in Rwanda/the UN's mandate regarding interventions in "such situations."
A much bigger blackhead, I'm afraid, one that calls for pressing, not squeezing.
When pressed shortly before the Q&A kicked in at Kingsbury Hall, RN confirmed that he was all for the U.S./UN --someone-- intervening when "one group of people decides to bash in the heads of another group simply because they're from another group." It's a Black View on several counts.
According to Robin Philpot's "Judge Bruguiere's Report on the Assassination of former Rwandan President Habyarimana", the upcoming tenth anniversary of the Rwandan abominations brings us a 225-page report making it clear that the missile which brought down both Burundi's President Cyprien Ntaryamira and Rwanda's Habyarimna was the handiwork of Rwanda's current corrupt head of state, Paul Kagame. It also delineates the complicity of President Clinton, Uganda and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, the UN's Kofi Annan, the UN's mission commander general Romeo Dellaire, the UN's Human Rights Commission head Louise Arbour and many others...in the genocide that followed, the coverup that ensued and/or other serious, related matters. At one point, former UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali, on French television, had actually declared that "the Rwandan Genocide was 100 percent American responsibility."
However, Michael Barnett's Eyewitness to a Genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda -- unlike Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide -- makes it clear that Boutros-Ghali must also own to being responsible for aspects of the Rwandan tragedy. Powers, by the way, is an excellent example of the kind of coverage one can expect from the Common Dreams site when truly controversial issues are at stake; some of her contortions of logic are absolutely Helleresque, Anthony Lake-like at the least. But all of CD's periodic tap dances around the collective culpability of the UN and America -- beating the "can" versus "ought" aspects of intervention to death underfoot -- prevent us from preventing the next holocaust. That's the word that Lord Bertrand Russell used, by the way. (2)
As Bobby noted so long ago, in an effort to protect their own financial health, indeed their very survival, the UN and various NGOs have had to differentiate between this and that humanitarian cry. This may be necessary from time to time, of course, for various reasons. However, in the case of Rwanda, simply calling atrocities by their proper name would have compelled the UN to act differently, more appropriately, more humanely. That they refused to do --although they knew better-- and the U.S. assisted them in the holocaust. The UN and the U.S. set it up so that they could democratize blame, absolving themselves of any significant amount of guilt in the process. They spread the guilt around to such a degree that no one could really be blamed. Alain Destexhe, the secretary-general of Doctors Without Borders, addressed it all most poignantly, perhaps, when he described "the guilt of the perpetrators" as being "diluted in the general misery." (3)
In short, only the Ahistorical Amnesiacs of America and their relatives can vouch for the UN at this juncture. Certainly, Ralph Nader, like Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton, has been much too ready to hand over the world's victims to irresponsible forces.
And Ralph betrayed something else in his make-up that evening on the stage. Although the Rwandan slaughter should have been properly labeled as "genocide" early in the post-assassination period, Radio Rwanda made it very clear that ethnicity was not the main issue prior to that. (4) Ralph was too quick to be too general about the justification for U.S. humanitarian intervention, reminding me of other such stances of his in the past. And he was a bit too cavalier in dismissing a good point made from the audience respecting how starvation and war -- two elements which the U.S., the UN and others could have easily helped to avert prior to the outbreak of genocide -- were responsible for the Rwandan hostilities in the early 90s.
More to the point, as Michael Barnett has documented in the source cited above, it wasn't until May 4, 1994 that the word "genocide" fell from the lips of Boutrous-Gali on a Koppel Nightline show, letting the public know what the Security Council knew for a full week; no one in that rarefied realm believed that mere ethnic conflict was taking place on the African continent at that time. In fact, it is highly likely that France, for one, gave protection and weapons to those who had already been accused of genocide before the greatest number of atrocities took place. (5)
When one considers that Melchior Ndadaye, Burundi's president (murdered in October, 1993) was one of three Hutu presidents to be assassinated within six months in the region, it's clear that once the Ugandan missile brought down Habyarimana and Ntaryamira, both the U.S. and the UN had plenty of motivation to prevent what was obviously going to ensue. But no, we had looked the other way for years with many despicable Africans on our payroll, just as we do today with Rwanda's maniacal President Paul Kagame (95% of the vote in the last "honest" election!). Humanitarianism has nothing to do with our interventions abroad, and can't, as things are presently structured. I assume that Ralph knows that, and I hope he'll express a truer picture on these points in the future.
Mark my words: If Ralph were to come out with a more severe position regarding our foreign "indiscretions" -- including, say, an even stronger stance vis-a-vis Israel and Africa -- he'd pull in 5% more on election day; Kucinich's biggest mistake was not going far enough. That's what much of the non-voting public requires to start thinking, and to get off the sofa; one can't motivate the masses with David Rieff dreams/realities. (6) Dennis went very far relative to the others, and then stopped dead. Left in the Land of Lesser Evils.
In fact, what we really need is to refrain from pulling punches politically a la John Pilger, who has actually pleaded for us all to call for a U.S. military defeat in Iraq. If anything less than that occurs, we're headed for the predictions laid out by Tom Engelhardt (March 14, ZNet) in "After November?: Four More Years of Camp Bush?," which would include the militarization of space, a sure-fire basis for an unfitting planetary coda for our so-called civilization. The sad, sad fact is that The Pentagon, even if it doesn't receive exemption from having to comply with toxic and other anti-pollution laws --and restrains itself from invading sovereign nations--, will doom our species and many others, without question. The EPA has concluded that their former sites have already contaminated "a land area the size of the state of Florida." (7)
We're not talking about a small plug of sebum here.
Regardless, whereas Bush and Kerry are both festooned with black pustules, Ralph's blemishes can be seen in a palatable light. In fact, I hope my daughter and anyone else involved with electoral politics will be working hard to secure an advantage for Mr. Nader come next fall. Bobby would be doing so, if he weren't in the Land of No Evils. And I think he would greatly appreciate your spreading the word respecting Robin Philpot's article and/or Judge Bruguiere's report.
Richard Oxman, Conflicted Indigenist
and Shavian, can be reached at
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