Power, Clinton and Rwanda

Samantha Power, in an interview with an Irish TV network (youtube video here) in which she explains her regret for the “monster” comment, said in part,

I’m a bit of a political rookie. I’m a policy person, a scholar, and new to campaigning, and perhaps maybe the heat of it got to me a little bit and I overreacted to something that I had heard, but again, there’s no excuse…

That “something that I had heard” is intriguing. It makes it sound like there was a particular incident that set her off, or a particular thing that Clinton said which caused Power to feel that she has a grotesque moral character. Power probably won’t say more than that (if she’s smart, she’ll stop talking about her remark), but I wonder if it had something to do with Rwanda. As far as I know, Clinton hasn’t been claiming recently that she was urging action in Rwanda, but just before the Iowa caucus, both she and Bill claimed that she had “urged him to intervene” in Rwanda. For example, on 12/30/07:

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Clinton has said, has suggested that you urged him to intervene in Rwanda in 1994. Is that true?

CLINTON: It is. It is true. And, you know, I believe that our government failed. We obviously didn’t have a lot of good options. It moved very quickly. It was a difficult, terrible genocide to try to get our arms around and to do something to try to stem or prevent. It didn’t happen, and that is something that the president has apologized for, and I think that for me, it was one of the most poignant and difficult experiences, when I met with Rwandan refugees in Kampala, Uganda, shortly after the genocide ended, and I personally apologized to women whose arms had been hacked off, who had seen their husbands and their children murdered before their very eyes and were at the bottom of piles of bodies.

And then when I was able to go to Rwanda and be part of expressing our deep regrets, because we didn’t speak out adequately enough, and we certainly didn’t take action.

Obviously, no one except she and Bill knows what she urged him to do behind closed doors, but it’s striking that nobody has found any reference to her urging him to intervene until she started running for President, when suddenly Bill started saying on the campaign trail that she had urged him to intervene. As discussed at the blog Obsidian Wings, she didn’t mention this in her memoir, nor did Bill in his, nor did Madeleine Albright in hers, and nor do any of the books written about the Rwanda genocide. When the Chicago Tribune looked into it, none of the key players in White House deliberations on Rwanda have any memory of Hillary weighing in on the issue, and they note, as Power did in A Problem from Hell, that military intervention was never discussed in the White House at all. So we have to take the Clintons’ word for it that she had privately urged him to intervene, yet he never even raised the possibility with his staff. Is it possible? Yes, theoretically. Is it likely?

It’s easy to see why this — or something similar — would infuriate Samantha Power. Unlike Howard Wolfson, who can throw around comparisons between Barack Obama and Ken Starr without a second thought, because it’s all just political jockeying to him, Samantha Power takes this stuff incredibly seriously. She literally wrote the book on the Clinton administration’s failure to act in Rwanda, and for her to then see Hillary Clinton claiming in the course of a political campaign that she was urging Bill to intervene behind the scenes — well, knowing what Power knows, and knowing how seriously she takes this subject, it’s no wonder that she might think Clinton is morally grotesque. As she said, she’s a bit of a political rookie. If she were a real pro, like Howard Wolfson, then she would know that campaign claims are all just meaningless words, and using the deaths of a million people in order to win elections is just politics.


4 responses to “Power, Clinton and Rwanda

  1. Bravo! This is what blogging is for: insightful speculation that some earthbound reporter can run with. Someone should do a serious interview with Samantha Power–before the Pennsylvania primary.

  2. A very nice point. I think that much of Clinton’s campaign strategizing is monstrous enough on its own terms, but this angle suggests she meant it, and it wasn’t just a slip of frustrated emotion. I do hope that Power retracts part of her apology to Clinton, given how cravenly the Clinton camp has used her slip for their own purposes.

    (Note: I was referred to your blog via Google Alert — Rwanda)

  3. Yes–very smart. Your scenario seems pretty plausible–since it does look like it was something specific that set Power off–but if it was about Rwanda, what was it? HAS Clinton recently said she urged Bill to take action (in fact he did take action, by (for very craven reasons) making the UN remove almost all of its forces and thereby actually making things much worse)? What was it that made Power so angry?

  4. That’s the missing piece. I checked for recent statements about Rwanda by the Clintons, and as far as I can tell they’ve avoided that particular subject since late December. Clinton’s recent claims about her hands-on foreign policy experience have involved Northern Ireland and Bosnia. I suppose it’s possible that Power had a strong reaction to one of those comments, since she’s Irish-born and found her life’s work as a journalist in Bosnia. All this is nothing but empty speculation. It’s very possible that the “something that I had heard” was in fact a Clinton attack on Obama having nothing to do with foreign policy, but even so, the Rwanda issue could still explain part of why Power would be so upset by Clinton’s campaign tactics.

    Who really knows? I think Power is better off letting it die, rather than elaborating any more, although I am curious what prompted Power’s remark.

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