When Susan Rice Wouldn’t Label a Massacre of 8,000 People “Genocide” for Political Reasons


Susan Rice’s worst sin as a foreign policy leader was probably her role in the Rwandan massacre.

When Susan Rice served on the National Security Council under Bill Clinton she recommended against calling the Rwandan massacre a genocide for political reasons. While 8,000 people a day were slaughtered to rid the country of ethnic Tutsis, she not only advised against intervention, she fought against any robust U.N. peacekeeping forces.

About 8,000 people were murdered a day and Rice worried about the politics.

She vowed if the situation ever came up again, she’d act differently but then there was the genocide of Christians in the Middle East and Africa and the genocide of ethnic Syrians and she did nothing differently.

Susan Rice was concerned that a genocide investigation could commit the U.S. government to actually “do something”.

Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, asked at a meeting of officials, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?”

Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembered how it stunned his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice allegedly did not recall the incident but conceded, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”

Susan Rice said later of the lack of action on Rwanda, “There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively,” Rice says. “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”

Rice was subsequently appointed NSC Africa director and, later, assistant secretary of state for African affairs; she visited Rwanda several times and helped to launch a small program geared to train selected African armies so that they might be available to respond to the continent’s next genocide.

When the Genocide Began, Clinton’s Administration Refused to Label It “Genocide”

The Rwandan genocide began on April 6, 1994 after the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi were shot down flying back from a peace conference in Tanzania. That was the end of the Arusha Peace Agreement which sought to reconcile the majority ethnic Hutu government with the insurgent Tutsi exiles.

The Rwandan government began the systematic slaughter of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutu officials who had advocated for peace.

The Clinton administration refused to label the mass killings in Rwanda as a genocide on the advice of Susan Rice and her boss Richard Clarke.

Over the coming three months, in a country of nearly 8 million, more than 800,000 would be dead, 2 million would flee for their lives to neighboring countries, and another 2 million would be driven from their homes.

Susan Rice and Richard Clarke Actively Led the Opposition to Limit a U.N. Peacekeeping Operation Before and During the Rwandan Genocide

Samantha Power, who is now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, described the U.S. inaction in her 2001 article, “Bystanders to Genocide.” She wrote, “The United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements.”

In the end, the fate of Rwanda’s victims hardly figured at all in U.S. calculations about the international community’s response to what turned out to be the worst killing since the Holocaust, according to hundreds of pages of internal White House memos, according to Colum Lynch writing for Foreign Policy Magazine in April 2015.

It was the opposite. Susan’s boss, Richard Clarke, who served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton on global affairs in the NSC, had already been looking for a way out of Rwanda for months. Rwanda’s descent into mass killing, was looked at as a new opportunity to do exactly that.

The declassified documents — which include more than 200 pages of internal memos and handwritten notes from Rice and other key White House players — provide a detailed account of how the White House sought to limit U.N. action.

Rice has been and always will be a political animal.

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