Many have drawn parallels between the current genocide in Darfur and the genocide that took place in Rwanda a little over a decade ago. In her article, “Bystanders to Genocide” (September 2001), Samantha Power made chillingly clear that while the U.S. knew about the atrocities that Rwanda’s Hutu government was perpetrating against the country’s minority population of Tutsis, minimal action was taken. Instead of intervening, Powers explained, the Clinton Administration made an ostentatious show of deliberating about what to do, thereby appearing to take the situation seriously while in fact avoiding entanglement. It was an approach, she points out, that worked well for the United States, but not so well for Rwanda.
First, [the U.S.] wanted to avoid engagement in a conflict that posed little threat to American interests narrowly defined. Second, they sought to appease a restless Congress by showing that they were cautious in their approach to peacekeeping. And third, they hoped to contain the political costs and avoid the moral stigma associated with allowing genocide. By and large, they achieved all three objectives. The normal operations of the foreign-policy bureaucracy and the international community permitted an illusion of continual deliberation, complex activity, and intense concern, even as the Rwandans were left to die.
The genocide was finally put to an end by the Tutsi-led Patriotic Front forces. But by that time, 800,000 Tutsi had been killed.
The phenomenon of post-Holocaust genocide has not been exclusive to Africa. During the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist regime led an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kurds of Northern Iraq, culminating in 1988 with the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians. In her article “After Saddam” (December 1992), Laurie Mylroie, who had recently visited the region, described “evidence of atrocities … everywhere.” The international community was appalled by Saddam’s actions and sought to punish him. But the steps they took, Mylroie pointed out, were ill considered, and ironically ended up serving only to further victimize the Kurds:
The Kurds’ economic problems are not necessary. Rather, they are a consequence of the mindless application of the UN embargo to northern Iraq. Formally, the embargo exists to force Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN resolutions; the scarcely concealed goal is to oust him. But because he does not control the north, enforcing the embargo there does not hurt him. In fact, it strengthens his position, for the greater the prosperity of areas not under his control, the greater the dissatisfaction inside Iraq proper and the more pressure on the dictator.
Iraqi Kurdistan has oil fields that, were it not for the embargo, could be developed within a year, generating income and much-needed fuel.
Eastern Europe, too, has recently been touched by genocide. After the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic set out to form a “Greater Serbia” by ethnically cleansing the Balkan states of their Muslim populations. In “Bosnia: Hands Off” (November 1992), Conor Cruise O’Brien made a case against direct military intervention, arguing that the deployment of ground forces would lead to significant casualties, and that troops would end up indefinitely committed to the region. He instead advocated low-risk diplomatic efforts, warning that if Western European governments were to send troops, they would be punished politically since they had no vested interest in the area. Savvy politicians were aware, he explained, that “to send their nationals ‘to die for Balkan peace’ would mean their own political deaths, as soon as the price of peace-with-attrition began to be realized.” He speculated that war weariness and territorial satiety would ultimately cause the genocide to wind down on its own.