Liam Hehir writes in the Manawatu Standard:
What do you know about Rwanda, aside from the fact that it was the scene of an infamous genocide?
Not much, I’d wager. I’d be surprised if you could name the capital city, the principal religion and the languages spoken or point to the country’s position on a map of Africa.
Well I was in Kigali in January so can name it!
Rwanda is only famous because up to a million people were murdered there in a killing spree of such barbaric ferocity that it shocked the entire world in 1994.
The most charitable interpretation of the West’s involvement in the matter is that it was caught unawares and so could not take any substantive measures to stop it from happening. Bill Clinton cites this as the biggest regret of his presidency (and, remember, he once had the chance to take out Osama bin Laden).
But let’s imagine that a Western coalition had deployed to Rwanda and averted the butchering. Would that action now be held up as a great vindication of liberal interventionism in foreign affairs? I have my doubts.
The things that do not happen do not tend to command our attention.
The building that didn’t catch fire yesterday isn’t front-page news. Nobody sees the jobs not created when businesses can’t afford the investment. The murder that doesn’t happen leaves no victims to weep over.
Had genocide been averted, the reality is we could never actually be sure we had prevented anything at all. There are no controlled experiments when it comes to human events.
Who could say for certain that the tensions would not have otherwise de-escalated?
That’s not to say that coverage of the intervention would have been neutral. You can bet your bottom dollar that there would have been plenty of grumbling and criticism about the West’s involving itself in the troubled region. After all, the presence of foreign troops would not have resolved the deep divisions in Rwandan society. There would have been no quick fix.
So there would be claims from some quarters about the whole mess being caused by Western colonialism in the first place – and that further intervention was only making things worse.
Some would question why Rwanda was being singled out for this imperialist adventure when there were so many other ethnic conflicts in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Balkans going on at the same time. Others would claim that the Tutsis were as bad as the Hutus and that, since the Rwandan Patriotic Front was hardly perfect, we had no business dirtying our hands by getting involved.
Had New Zealand got involved, you can be sure there would have been accusations that the prime minister was toadying to the United States in the hopes of winning some elusive trade deal, as if any contribution we could make would be sufficient to exact any meaningful concessions from the protectionist US Congress.
In other words, there would have been all the same objections we hear about Western intervention in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis) today.
A good point that we rarely know the counter factual. In Kosovo though it is safe to conclude intervention saved tens of thousands of lives.
So in such a situation, what can one do? I know that political columnists are supposed to effect an air of world-weary cynicism – but there is always the option of trying to do the right thing.
Isis makes no secret of its plans for the Christians, Jews and moderate Muslims who fall into its clutches. Every day brings more news that the organisation’s deeds are more than a match for its words.
However morally corrupt and compromised the Iraqi regime is, it cannot be worse than the satanic caliphate banging on its door.
Those who claim we should do nothing because it means some of our allies are less than perfect ignore history. Was it wrong for the UK and US to ally with Stalin to defeat Hitler? Of course not.