Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Rwanda and Libya

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Massimo has a sharp piece in our new issue about United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, one of the key Obama administration voices for intervention in Libya. In it, he refers to the remorse Rice has expressed for not doing more, as a Clinton White House staffer, to prevent the Rwandan genocide.

As it happens, one of the best accounts of the Clinton team’s inaction in Rwanda was an exhaustive September 2001 Atlantic Monthly article written by Samantha Power, a former journalist who wrote an influential book on genocide, and as a current  staffer on Obama’s national security council, was another key voice for intervening in Libya. Power’s piece is a fascinating study in how and why the U.S. is slow to react to atrocities abroad. It also includes one passage that casts Susan Rice in a damning light:

At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “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 remembers the incredulity of 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 does not recall the incident but concedes, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”

I suspect the passage didn’t endear Power to Rice. But as Massimo notes in his piece, Rice also told Power that, “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.”In Libya, Rice made good on her words–a position that put her in alliance with Power, with whom she is now said to have a strong relationship. Whether she might go “down in flames” as a result remains to be seen.

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