Book Review: Eyewitness to a Genocide Part 2

So to quickly recap- who were the international players who could have intervened and what was their stance?  USA- hostile to intervention, may have know what was really happening.  UN Secretariat- hostile, actively concealed information.  Other UN Security Council members- unwilling to intervene, unaware of the reality of the situation, possibly willfully so.  Neighboring Africans nations- demanded US weapons before they would intervene.  France- actually helped the bad guys.

Michael Barnett makes a pretty good case that this was enabled by bureaucratic ass-covering and democratization of blame.

I tend to roll my eyes whenever someone goes off on a rant about “government bureaucrats”, not because I think government workers can’t be substandard, but because bureaucratization plagues just about every human endeavor.  If it’s an ongoing operation and involves more than a handful of people, there will be bureaucrats.  Sometimes they can moderate peoples’ most fanatical instincts.  To paraphrase Max Weber, sometimes they can just fuck everything up.

Bureaucrats protect their jobs and their organization at the expense of the organization’s mission.   Just think about how in recent year’s we’ve found out that the Catholic Church, the Penn State Football Department, even the Boy Scouts were covering up cases of child molestation within their ranks, thinking that if word ever got out what some members of their organizations were doing, their organizations would be ruined.  I might criticize these organizations, but I will be charitable and say they weren’t founded on the idea of becoming molestation rings.  By the time people started hearing about it, they’d covered up so much, for so long, their reputations are much worse than they would have been.

Bureaucrats in the UN made the decision early on that Rwanda was not going to be a win.  And a loss would mean they wouldn’t be able to pursue more worthy cases in the future.  So they used to rules for intervention to make the case that there didn’t need to be one.  And then they hamstrung the small intervention that they did permit.  And most damningly they hid evidence.  In the end, they caused the UN more damage than if they had just laid out what they knew, when they knew it.

The problem other  was the democratization of blame.  It’s pretty tough to get anything done in the UN because there are so many points for negotiation to break down and so many members who hold veto power.  When something goes wrong, there are a lot of fingers to point.  And that’s pretty much what everyone did.

Would an intervention have succeeded?

Romeo Dallaire’s skeleton UN crew was able to save around 32,000 people.  Dallaires believes that if he had been able to seize some of the weapons caches that Rwandan government forces were amassing, he might have saved a lot more.   If the UN had sent in the force he requested- 5,000 troops- he might have held them off long enough for the rebels to arrive, or even deterred them from starting the genocide in the first place.  If the Rwandan government had expected even a minimal pushback, things might have been different.  They correctly predicted that the UN would do nothing.

We’ll never know for sure, but it’s pretty sad to think that a fairly small intervention might have saved close to a million lives.

To close, this was a really fascinating look at the moral dimensions of how the decision to not intervene was made.  There’s very little discussion of the genocide itself; it’s not a gory book.  It doesn’t offer much in the way of an answer to how to combat institutional problems.  It just lays them out and lets the reader decide.  I feel like I’ve got a better grasp on what happened, and to go back to the original argument that prompted me to  read this book, I do think we should have intervened.


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