Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rwanda: The Shame of Donald Steinberg

I was going to write this blogpost last night, but I was so angry I decided it was best to sleep on it. Bad decision. I'm still fizzing with anger. Yesterday evening I was invited by TIME Magazine's excellent London Bureau Chief Catherine Mayer to attend a screening of an important film about Rwanda, SHAKING HANDS WITH THE DEVIL.

The screening took place at BAFTA and was followed by a panel discussion. The participants were Gordon Brown's foreign policy adviser Justin Forsyth, Bob Geldof, Col Bob Stewart, Mark Malloch Brown and an American diplomat, Donald Steinberg.

Mr Steinberg served in the White House during the Clinton Administration at the time of the Rwandan genocide. He advised Clinton to keep well out of it - possibly one of the worst pieces of advice given to an American President in the last 20 years. He was rewarded for this failure in the classic way bureaucrats are usually rewarded for failure. He was promoted. He ended up as Ambassador to Angloa and then - get this - became an advisor to the UN on Dafur and even more unbelievably is now a Deputy President of the International Crisis Group. You couldn't make it up.

This man had the bare faced cheek to sit on a panel which sought to comment on a film about a genocide which this man had the power to stop. He then had the cheek to berate the current Rwandan regime for being repressive and accused it of trying to shame the international community into providing foreign aid as recompense for their inaction during the genocide. It was all I could do to keep my temper. I have rarely felt so angry.

Steinberg is Jewish. He grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust. When he had the influence to stop a repeat in Rwanda he funked it. I don't know how he looks himself in the mirror each morning. But he is representative of a class of so-called public servants who make a career out of supporting appeasement and failing to stand up to aggression. They're people who feel quite at home in the United Nations and thrive in making excuses for that organisation's terrible failures. And when they have finished with failing, they go on the international lecture circuit to lecture us on what should happen in the future. Or they do what Mark Malloch Brown has done and become a GOAT.

The only ones to talk any degree of sense on this panel were Bob Geldof and Justin Forsyth. Which tells you what an excruciating experience it was to listen to the rest of them pontificate in their oleaginous 'I know best' manner.

I can highly recommend the film, though. It graphically depicts how the Canadian UN General on the ground in Rwanda, Dallaire, was totally let down by his masters in New York. I'd like to think the UN has learned its lesson, but I doubt it very much.


Tony said...

"...he is representative of a class of so-called public servants who make a career out of supporting appeasement and failing to stand up to aggression."

And history will repeat itself in various world flashpoints exactly because of this tendency to talk softly and carry a big carrot.

Until those who offend against neighbouring countries and ethnic groupings experience consequences for their actions, rather than discussion that goes round in circles, more innocent people will die needlessly.

C Hogan-Taylor said...

His current occupation makes Tony Blair's appointment as Middle East Peace Envoy seem eminently sensible and appropriate, which is not something I thought I'd ever say. I hope Geldof's expletives didn't stop at 'bollocks', as reported in your twitter feed.

Old Holborn said...

Rwandans aren't Jews and are therefore of no importance in the world.

Worked it out yet Iain?

Giles Marshall said...

As a matter of interest, what would you have had the Americans do? Rwanda was an appalling outrage; the French involvement in it even more appalling; but the idea that a major international intervention would have stopped it rather than reduce Rwanda to years of civil war may be unrealistic idealism. I wish it wasn't, but there it is.

an ex-apprentice said...

Speaking of the UN and rewarding failure, as I recall, the UN's man in charge in Rwanda at the time was one Kofi Annan.

In March 2004, 10 years later, he said:

"I believed at that time that I was doing my best".

"But I realised after the genocide that there was more that I could and should have done to sound the alarm and rally support."

A great pity the useless, whining, self-seeking, corrupt bastard did not apply his new found wisdom to Darfur.

Roger Thornhill said...

"It was all I could do to keep my temper"

Why did you, keep it, I mean?

Imagine the headlines - "Iain Dale, reputable Blogger, calls diplomat a stinking hypocrite at Rwandan Film Event"

All the news would get out and the digging would begin.

I would probably have kept my temper as well, so I am a fine one to talk, but if I exploded, it woudl matter for naught, but if Iain Dale exploded, then it would be another matter.

wv: mentales IKYNMOC*

* c=china(man).

Unknown said...

"...he is representative of a class of so-called public servants who make a career out of supporting appeasement and failing to stand up to aggression."

That doesn't really tell the story though does it?

I always found it somewhat puke worthy that Kissenger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize having been 'a' if not 'the' key player in the bombing of Cambodia, which probably killed as many people in that country as the Khmer Rouge.

You have to wonder what sort of mentality allows them to sleep at night don't you?

p smith said...

God bless that poor boy and the Camerons.

A day to put politics aside.

Unsworth said...

Any recording of the panel discussion? That'd be interesting.

Anonymous said...

What do you mean, "the Canadian UN general on the ground, Dallaire..."

Does this great man not even merit a forename when everyone else in your story gets one, Iain Dale?

For Lieutenant-General Roméo Antonius Dallaire,OC CMM GOQ MSC CD see:


Chris Paul said...

GM has a point Iain.

What could/would the USA or for that matter the UK, the EU, Nato, Russia, China, the AU have actually been able to achieve?

How is America's jungle warfare experience down the years?

Could western intervention of a different type or quantum to what was attempted have made a difference? Could it have made things worse?

I don't disagree with you. I think it's obvious that the world as a whole didn't get Rwanda right by any means. And isn't getting lots of other things right either.

But however angry and moved and frustrated we are we do need to be able to articulate the case for the alternative(s). And Rwanda may involve massive killings on a tribal basis but it was not industrial killing as Holocaust.

Agricultural killing

Charlotte Corday said...

First, I am deeply sorry to hear the news about Ivan Cameron. My condolences to all the family,

Iain, my advice to you on the invitations to give an interview is to go on if you have met Ivan and talk about him. If you haven't, say so and say therefore it would be inappropriate to say anything other than offer your condolences.

If you give an interview, absolutely refuse to be drawn on any political speculation. Say firmly that this is a day when family concerns come first.

neil craig said...

What you omit in this tale of goodies & baddies Iain is that the Ruandan killings were started when "somebody" shot down the President's plane killing him & much of the government. It was obvious that this would lead to intercommunal killings - the only question being who would kill more of who. Officially the international community has decided to say that this shooting down was done by the then governing tribe - which makes it much easier to conduct "trials" only against them, but in fact everybody knows & it is quite obvious that it was done by the faction not then in government - who now form the heroic democratic moderate anti-racist government we are propping up.

I have no idea when or on whose side it would have been "right" to intervene but not wishing to do so is not inherently evil or "appeasement".

In fact our military interventions around the world have probably overall done more harm than good.

Occasionally (Biafra, Iraq invasion) they have been motivated by naked greed (usually for oil).

More often for power politics (Vietnam, Ossetia, Yugoslavia initially, Afghanistan in the 1980s).

Sometimes because the media have turned a complex story into a simple one of goodies & baddies, who gets to play which role being almost independent of the facts (later Yugoslavia, Ruanda, Gaza, Afghanistan before we started having casualties) as they do with any story & have persuaded our population who couldn't point to Krajina, Ruanda or Mosul on a map that "something must be done" - to gain popularity the politicians then "do something" even though, as in most cases where politicians do something, & almost all cases where they act in ignorance, it only makes things worse.

Your anger does not serve you as well here Iain.

Yak40 said...

Yup, Clintoon's legacy, along with letting bin Laden escape, bombing the hell out of Serbia on a pretext, treating terrorism as petty crime and so on.

Alcuin said...

"It was all I could do to keep my temper"

Iain is certainly sincere in this post, and I can add little on the subject, particularly having seen Hotel Rwanda. However, my interest is triggered by Iain's emotion, and what it says about morality, and what makes us tick.

We are all born with a moral sense, though it is undoubtedly highly malleable. Our cultures distil their experience into Principles and Values, which we try to live by. However, principles and values do not cover all situations, and neither does reason. Times come when emotion takes us over and we scream (internally or externally) "ENOUGH". The problem in our current global media dominated culture is that this internal snapping of tolerance, and the reasons for it, is far from obvious to outsiders.

So the snapping point is very different for those who have seen (and even stronger experienced) war, injustice, cruelty, pogroms and opression, than for those who have lived entirely in the peaceful, liberal, tolerant and progressive society that has been the West since WW2. Such would seem to be Mr Steinberg. But Steinberg also suffers from a grand failure of imagination. For many of us, it is enough to read the reports from Rwanda, Darfur and the Congo to be outraged, for others such events are merely grist to the mill of their personal political agendas.

I think it is vital to understand the snapping point, and what triggers it, because it is where principles, values and reason give way to the visceral, primeval and irrational moral sense that a billion years of Evolution has seen fit to endow us with. It is the moment when Bush senior said of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait "this will not stand"; when Martin Luther said "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!"; when Chamberlain finally realised Hitler must be stopped, even though to do so put our nation's security on the line. It is the moment when History changes direction, and all the logic and reason in the world cannot fathom it.

paulocanning said...


it wasn't Daillaire's 'masters in new york', it was the countries which make up the UN. This includes the UK and that means Douglas Hurd. Practically no-one came out of it well.

#GM: there were lots of proposals as to how to stop or at least slow it down. Point is none were tried so we don't know if they might have worked.

It's a truism but really the entire world stood by. Including the UK.

Read A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda's Genocide‎ by Linda Melvern.

#Chris Paul: of course it was industrial killing. it was planned and methodical.

neil craig said...

Good post Alcuin however I would point out that where our own tipping point into anger is depends more on what we see reported by the media than the actuality. And the spinmeisters know this & use it. For example the recent Ruanda genocide was not the first - there were 2 big ones in the 1960s & 70s & many "small" ones but back then getting live TV pictures uploaded byb satellite was impossible so it wasn't reported & nobody got angry. On a deliberate bias, rather than technological development, basis look at the vast number of pictures of children used to sell our support of the genocidal KLA & the censroship of the numerous pictures of such things as 6 ckildren going to school murdered by our KLA employees or of them publicly parading displying human heads.

I suspect the tipping point would have been in the other direction had the BBC & MSM not deliberately lied & censored over 2 decades for the specific & deliberate purposing of promoting genocide.