In keeping with the natural workings of the U.S. political process, the question of whether to denounce, punish, or attempt to deter chemical weapons attacks against a largely defenseless minority was never explained to the American people. It was settled, as it usually is, behind closed doors, where special interests ruled the day and where narrow versions of national interest helped rationalize inhumanity.
Samantha Power in “A Problem from Hell”: America in the Age of Genocide on page 228 discussing policy deliberations on Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds in Iraq.
I’m still in the process of reading this impressive book. There are two additional factors affecting how I evaluate it: first, this book was written before Dubya’s Iraq war; and second, Samantha Power is now one of Barack Obama’s top foreign policy advisors, as is Tony Lake, another character in the book.
So far, the book seems be repeating the same story over and over with a few deviations:
- an authoritarian state under a charismatic and ruthless leader begins to commit genocide;
- the world and America know that something awful is going on and do nothing;
- millions are systematically killed, relocated, attacked, raped;
- the world and America realize that there is a genocide being committed, but try to deny it as long as possible;
- Americans who are responsible for formulating the policy for the region push for more aggressive steps to curb the genocide;
- Americans and other responsible for deciding what to do equivocate, claim they need more information, and otherwise abdicate their moral responsibilities;
- some outside force restores order and stops the government from acting for reasons have nothing to do with the genocide.
One of the moments that summarizes this entire situation comes during the first President Bush’s term of office in response to the Serbian genocide of Bosnian Muslims. Facing enormous pressure from candidate Bill Clinton who has taken a hawkish position in the campaign, enormous public support for intervention, his own State Department, and Congress, George H. W. Bush gives a speech invoking genocide, the Holocaust, concentration camps, and other atrocities. Knowing full well that he has a plethora of information on the subject, Bush declares: “We will not rest until…the international community has gained access to any and all detention camps.” A pathetically weak response designed to sap the momentum from the growing movement to intervene to stop a genocide.
Of course, in another typical pattern, after Clinton’s election as president, he decides to effectively follow the same strategy as President Bush.