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February 21, 2005

How about a little U.N.-bashing?

I know, I know, easy target - just like any bureaucratic process-driven entity. JMH sent along a link to an column by Peter Worthington in the Toronto Sun last week. (I have a 'blog fodder' folder where I save this stuff to help kick-start the Muse - if you send me something and it doesn't show up immediately doesn't mean it won't - nor that I don't appreciate it!)

Anyway, the title of the column is of itself provocative, as it challenges the received wisdom, always a Bad Thing when dealing with the Establishment, liberal or otherwise...

Rwanda was not about race

He goes on.

Of all the movies nominated for this year's best picture Oscar, none matches the harrowing power of Hotel Rwanda.

While unlikely to win, it serves two valuable purposes: It dramatizes the horror of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in a way news stories can't, and it graphically shows how impotent the UN was. [emphasis mine]

The UN didn't/doesn't *have* to be impotent. It chose/chooses to be. Just as it did in the Balkans when NATO, pressured by the US, the USGOV itself under pressure from interest groups, finally chose to act in it's own backyard. Given what it took to get anything done in the Balkans (whether we should have done what we did how we did it in the Balkans is a different discussion from this one, please) by the people who lived next door to it, can we be surprised that virtually *no one* was prepared to act, especially after the fact, in Rwanda? That doesn't have to be racism, active or passive. It's inertia.

Reality is, the United Governments is pre-disposed to *not act* - as most actions outside of what it routinely does day to day involve dealing with failed states and governments... and the members of the United Governments are not disposed to dealing with that, because it sets the precedent for meddling in their own affairs. Just as police, absent great external pressure are not disposed to investigate themselves in an open and forthright manner... or, as in our own government at the moment, intelligence services and their umbrella organizations. Unlike the rest of us, for whom government, through it's police and judicial powers, acts as that external pressure, the UN, and most governments, do *not* have that external pressure. Ones which are truly periodically subject to public validation (however messily in the event) do have that pressure... the rest, don't. The UN is mostly composed of governments that, don't.

I'm a Calvin Coolidge kind of guy - most problems coming down the road will roll off into the ditch by the side of the road without strenuous effort or intervention on our part, as he so famously noted. However, that doesn't mean that you don't keep an eye on them - and act to nudge the more dangerous ones off into the ditch a little sooner when their inertia is less, rather than wait for them to bound towards you like a cannonball to a rank of soldiers - one of whom puts his foot out to stop the ball... which doesn't notice the foot, except as a flying body part that very briefly slows it's progress. (Napoleonic and US Civil War abound with stories of green troops trying to stop slow-rolling cannon balls... how much better to have snuck into the opposing army's camp and soaked their gunpowder...).

The argument is made here that Rwanda was such a rolling ball... that could have been stopped with a little water on the powder. The UN mission in Rwanda was a flying body part. Always acknowledging that hindsight is 20-20... but what's the purpose of studying the past, unless you just *like* living Groundhog Day?

Actor Nick Nolte's performance as the colonel commanding the inadequate UN force was modeled on Canada's Romeo Dallaire -- then a brigadier-general, and since promoted to Major-General and Lieutenant-General, and decorated for his service.

Gen. Dallaire's emotional collapse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been well documented, both in the news and in his Governor-General's Award-winning book, Shake Hands with the Devil. He has since left the army and become something of a poster-boy for PTSD, and is Canada's special advisor on war-affected children. [Old soldiers never truly leave the Army... not really. It is too much a part of us. Ask MacArthur]

In his book, Dallaire acknowledges that his mission was a failure and that he was the wrong man to command in Africa -- his first UN command. [emphasis mine]

Why would this be so? By all accounts, General Dallaire was a competent soldier and leader, a man for Canada to be proud of. Which they generally are, I should hasten to add, lest you think I meant otherwise.

To continue with Worthington's piece.

This is no reflection on Dallaire -- a sincere, decent man who got no support from UN superiors and was out of his depth in Rwanda -- in Africa, even. [emphasis mine]

When Dallaire was sent to Rwanda, it was considered a Cyprus-style peacekeeping mission, not the powder keg it became.

Dallaire's request for more troops was refused. When a high-level informant warned him of an impending massacre, he asked the UN's New York headquarters to okay a preventive raid on a secret weapons cache. Again denied.

So, who was the UN's civilian-in-charge for this event? Kofi Annan. General Dallaire insists that racism was the cause of the world's failure to act. I would argue it was benign neglect, and a reluctance to act until it's all very obvious. Bureaucrats are like that. One does not rise to high office in an institution like the UN with a reputation as a risk-taker. Worthington continues:

When Dallaire was sent to Rwanda, it was considered a Cyprus-style peacekeeping mission, not the powder keg it became.

Dallaire's request for more troops was refused. When a high-level informant warned him of an impending massacre, he asked the UN's New York headquarters to okay a preventive raid on a secret weapons cache. Again denied.

Worthington suggest had a different Canadian, General Lew MacKenzie - with more experience in UN operations - been in command, things might well have proceeded differently.

A reason why Dallaire wasn't taken seriously was because this was his first real field command, and the senior UN military advisor in New York was Maurice Baril (later to become Canada's chief of defence staff) who likely told Kofi Annan that Dallaire was inexperienced in command.

If MacKenzie had been in command, it's unlikely his reports would have been dismissed so casually. With nine UN missions on his record, he was the world's most tested UN Commander -- the hero of Sarajevo.

Herein lies the great frustration of guys on the ground who have no support from the guys on high - of course the flip side *is* the frustration of guys on the ground who are being micromanaged from on high... by people who don't understand the situation on the ground - and won't listen.

And here is the difference between good soldiers and great commanders. Risk-taking. As Worthington notes:

First, MacKenzie knew New York was (is) hopeless for quick decisions. As he did in Sarajevo, he would have gone to Rwanda with more weaponry and reserves than authorized by the UN.

Most significant, he wouldn't have asked permission to stage a preventive raid on a weapons supply.

Arguably, that was Dallaire's greatest failing -- he already had a mandate to do whatever was necessary to ensure security. With none of MacKenzie's field experience, Baril would not have dared second-guess Canada's most celebrated UN commander.

On such seemingly simple things do great events turn...

Worthington closes with this thought:

It's academic now, but Rwanda's genocide might not have happened had a more experienced Canadian commander been in charge. And it has nothing to do with racism.

While I won't argue with that in and of itself... Worthington is taking the journalist's lesson from it - and he's right as far as it goes - except that someone had to take the initial risk on MacKenzie and put him in Sarajevo... and then supported him in that very difficult mission. But I would add a new dimension.

No, for me, the other lesson is in how we raise, train, develop, and nurture our leaders. General Dallaire's failure was one of nerve - not personal courage, but in the moral dimension, when you, as the man on the ground and with the final responsibility, act. Or not act - and in so doing, bump up the problem to a different level.

I don't know how I would have acted in General Dallaire's shoes. I too, might have foundered in that situation - which would simply mean that in that instance, that place, that time - I was bumping up against my personal Peter Principle. And, if General Dallaire *had* acted, and prevented the Massacre - he might well have been ruined for not being a team player... because No One Would Have Known What He Prevented... and the facts might well support sacking him.

My point? Them's the breaks, especially for Officers, in the Service. Which is why a good moral balance and grounding are critical. I'm not talking about being religious fanatics or moral philosophers here - I'm talking about Doing What's Right as you see it when you see it - and let the chips fall where they may, recognizing you may be wrong. And that tends, more often than not, to be the place at which Generals fail. Good men and women, but when faced with that one tough decision - they fall back to the safe answer, rather than the hard one.

Peacekeeping is a tough business - and I'll note that more often than not, Canadians have been pretty good at it.

Again, hat tip to CAPT H for sending that along. And if anyone has a link to General MacKenzie's column, please pass it along.

Wed, February 16, 2005

Rwanda was not about race

By PETER WORTHINGTON -- For the Toronto Sun


Of all the movies nominated for this year's best picture Oscar, none matches the harrowing power of Hotel Rwanda.

While unlikely to win, it serves two valuable purposes: It dramatizes the horror of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda in a way news stories can't, and it graphically shows how impotent the UN was.

Actor Nick Nolte's performance as the colonel commanding the inadequate UN force was modeled on Canada's Romeo Dallaire -- then a brigadier-general, and since promoted to Major-General and Lieutenant-General, and decorated for his service.

Gen. Dallaire's emotional collapse and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been well documented, both in the news and in his Governor-General's Award-winning book, Shake Hands with the Devil. He has since left the army and become something of a poster-boy for PTSD, and is Canada's special advisor on war-affected children.

In his book, Dallaire acknowledges that his mission was a failure and that he was the wrong man to command in Africa -- his first UN command.

Looking back, he insists racism was a cause of the world's indifference to Rwanda, while world concern focused on the "white" Balkans. This is a popular -- albeit wrong -- theme that has made him something of a folk hero for many.

Like Maj.-Gen. Lew MacKenzie, who wrote about this in Sunday's Sun, I think this is nonsense. In fact, I'd go further and suggest if MacKenzie had been in command of UN forces in Rwanda, the genocidal massacres might have been nipped in the early stages.

This is no reflection on Dallaire -- a sincere, decent man who got no support from UN superiors and was out of his depth in Rwanda -- in Africa, even.

When Dallaire was sent to Rwanda, it was considered a Cyprus-style peacekeeping mission, not the powder keg it became.

Dallaire's request for more troops was refused. When a high-level informant warned him of an impending massacre, he asked the UN's New York headquarters to okay a preventive raid on a secret weapons cache. Again denied.

His informant wanted asylum and protection. "No," said New York.

A reason why Dallaire wasn't taken seriously was because this was his first real field command, and the senior UN military advisor in New York was Maurice Baril (later to become Canada's chief of defence staff) who likely told Kofi Annan that Dallaire was inexperienced in command.

If MacKenzie had been in command, it's unlikely his reports would have been dismissed so casually. With nine UN missions on his record, he was the world's most tested UN Commander -- the hero of Sarajevo.

First, MacKenzie knew New York was (is) hopeless for quick decisions. As he did in Sarajevo, he would have gone to Rwanda with more weaponry and reserves than authorized by the UN.

Most significant, he wouldn't have asked permission to stage a preventive raid on a weapons supply.

Arguably, that was Dallaire's greatest failing -- he already had a mandate to do whatever was necessary to ensure security. With none of MacKenzie's field experience, Baril would not have dared second-guess Canada's most celebrated UN commander.

And a final thought: Dallaire's emotional problems are most likely because 10 Belgian soldiers under his command were massacred, and he was unable to do anything. (Dallaire has said the situation was hopeless and had other troops been sent, they too would likely have been killed.)

It's academic now, but Rwanda's genocide might not have happened had a more experienced Canadian commander been in charge. And it has nothing to do with racism.