Don’t Turn Ethiopia Into Rwanda, Admiral Stavridis

I am enjoying this new style of calling out folks for bad opinions. Sure, drama is a little crude, but hey it’s the internet, and it seems to succeed at winning views. Over the past couple weeks I have gone after well known YouTuber Kraut, and late night TV host John Oliver. It seems only fair, and very appropriate to the MFF channel, that I also go after “more distinguished” members of the foreign policy community today. Calling people out provides a hook for videos I have always wanted to make. In today’s video, a particularly egregious column by retired admiral and war popularizer Admiral James Stavridis has given me the opportunity to finally talk about the Rwandan Genocide, and Samantha Power’s “A Problem From Hell”, a topic I’ve been meaning to tackle for years. I hope you enjoy the video. What do you think of the whole new “YouTube Drama” approach?

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Hey, there, the disintegrating situation in Ethiopia has held the majority of my attention in recent weeks. I have more extensive thoughts on that conflict that I hope to get to eventually , But a week or so back a retired US admiral, James Stavridis, suggested that the US military should intervene in Ethiopia, among other reasons, because he wants to stop a Rwanda style genocide there. And because he knows so little about what he is talking about, he proposed a course of action that made a Rwanda-style genocide in Ethiopia more likely, rather than less likely. I found that mildly infuriating, so today we are comparing the Rwanda of 1994 to the Ethiopia of today.

I have been meaning to talk about Rwanda for a while. The standard version of the story is laid out in Samantha Power’s problem from hell, an account I read to prepare for this video. Power’s chapter on Rwanda movingly tells the story of the horrific 1994 genocide in which Rwanda’s Hutu majority murded an estimated 800,000 Tutsi people. Samantha Power’s tremendously influential take is that this horrific crime could have been stopped if only some wealthy more militarily capable outsider had gotten involved. That’s the standard story that Stavridis probably believes too. The problem is that this account leaves out the fact that if it wasn’t for actions taken by the French government, the Genocide would have been much smaller, or it might not have happened at all. Rwanda’s genocide was made immeasurably worse by intervention from the rich world, not by the lack of it.

This is probably not something you have heard before, so I think it makes sense to back up my sources. Power’s chapter on Rwanda is 60 pages long, and it barely mentions France, it’s mostly about the US government not responding, and the PTSD of the Canadian general on the ground. British journalist Martin Meredith’s chapter is only 39 pages long, but it provides infinitely more context about what actually happened in Rwanda. Pl

Meredith’s fate of Africa documents how France armed and propped up the genocidal government for years leading up to 1994, helping it fend off an invasion of Tutsi rebels. The Rwandan government’s soon to be genocidal apparatus was largely created and funded by the French.

“With French Assistance, Habyarimana set in motion a huge expansion of Rwanda’s armed forces. From the time of the invasion, the army grew from a force of 9,000 men in October 1990 to 28,000 in 1991. France provided training staff, counter-insurgency experts and huge quantities of weapons. It financed, armed and trained a Presidential Guard, an elite force recruited exclusively from Habyarimana’s home district. It also facilitated arms contracts with Egypt and South Africa. An estimated $100 million was spent on arms supplies, a vast sum for a tiny, impoverished country. Much of the Money came from international funds – quick disbursing loans under a Structural adjustment Programme – intended for economic development”

Now of course the French didn’t intend for a genocide to happen. Just like the Obama administration, featuring Samantha Power didn’t intend to steal a decade of economic development from Northern Africa by destroying Libya in 2011. The lack of bad intentions here doesn’t make these sorts of things excusable. After the Genocide started the French did intervene, and they may have stopped the slaughter in a few places, but the main effect was to fight Tutsi forces and help their clients, the Hutu genocidaires, escape to the Congo, where Rwandan spill over helped tip that unhappy country over into a war that killed something like 6 million people. That’s what enlightened foreign military intervention most often does, it turns crimes against Humanity into holocausts.

Not so fast, Rob, you may be saying. You have a she said, he said situation here. Samantha Power is a widely respected US stateswoman, now the head of the foreign aid agency in the Biden administration. Who is this Martin Meredith character? Some curmudgeonly British journalist? Maybe he’s making stuff up because he hates France or something? Well, in 2021, Meredith’s version of the facts was largely confirmed… by the French government.

This is the second French government inquiry into its role in Rwanda. In 1998, four years after the Genocide, a French Parliamentary investigation found that French behavior in Rwanda had been exemplary or even heroic. But 27 years have passed now. Francois Mitterrand, the French President in 1994, has been dead for a quarter century. The Presidential report released this year confirms the grim version of events laid out by that British journalist. While it’s careful to point out that France didn’t want a genocide, it concedes France’s “heavy and damning responsibilities”.

So yeah, please stop using the Rwanda Genocide as an argument for rich world military intervention. Because what the Rwandan Genocide really is, is the most compelling argument imaginable against the virtue of rich world intervention. But I want to go a little further than that, and point out that Stavridis is kind of right in comparing Rwanda and Ethiopia. If the US intervenes, the way Stavridis wants, it would likely make a horrific situation infinitely worse.

In 1994, France was backing a loser. Juvenal Habyarimana had ruled Rwanda for over 20 years, as a dictatorial Hutu chauvinist. Exiled Tutsi forces launched a civil war against his regime in 1990. Now the French hated this, because this attack was launched from Uganda, an English speaking country. It really was that simple and that petty , the French kept this loser dictator going, and even sent french troops to fight for him in the civil war, because he was French speaking, and they didn’t want English speaking Africans to get ahead. Even after the civil war supposedly ended, and a new transitional government was supposed to start, the French continued to arm the failed Hutu nationalist regime, and arm its military.

Today in 2021, the United States also appears to be backing a loser. In November 2020, Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed fell into a genocidal war against the Tigrayan people. Much like the Tutsis in Rwanda, the Tigrayan minority used to run Ethiopia. Abiy Ahmed is an even bigger loser than Habyarimana was. In the Spring of 2021 the Tigrayans took back much of their province and crushed multiple divisions of the Ethiopian army. In recent weeks the Tigrayans have won further victories, and are marching on the capital. Now the US hates this, because Abiy Ahmed was supposed to be our guy. Ever since the fall of emperor Haile Sellaise in 1974, Ethiopia has been run by authoritarian socialists. This has meant very different things at different times, but a strained sort of state-led economy has survived at least one violent transition of power. Abiy Ahmed was supposed to be different. He was all about free speech, and probably more important for US purposes, he was pro-business, and wanted to sell off state companies. Unfortunately, he’s also genocidaire and a failure.

And that’s why this suggestion by Admiral Stavridis is so mind boggling. If you are super, super charitable to the French in Rwanda, you can argue that they didn’t know what the Hutu regime they were propping up was capable of. But the whole world already knows what Abiy Ahmed has been doing. He’s rounding up the Tigrayans in the capital. He’s sending militias from other ethnicities into Tigray to rape and murder.

The scale at which he is using those genocidal tools has not been established yet, but it’s very clear that he is blocking humanitarian aid and using starvation as a weapon of war against an entire people. Stavridis can claim to be even-handed, but a foreign imposed cease fire at this point means stopping Tigray’s momentum before they can establish a humanitarian corridor to Djibouti or Sudan. It would put the Tigrayans back at the mercy of a man who has demonstrated his willingness to exterminate them.

Abiy Ahmed isn’t unfairly using court orders for evictions or setting up a creepy reeducation camp to crush a religion. No, he is strongly suspected of real deal 20th century style genocide stuff, and Admiral Stavridis wants to send in the US military to keep that guy in power.

Of course that’s not what he says in the article. No, he just wants to set up a cease fire to keep the genocidal Abiy Ahmed from losing. That’s almost exactly what France did for Juvenal Habyarimana’ Hutu regime in Rwanda from 1990-1994. An Outside power, the French, kept a spent and losing force in power, and that losing force, backed up against a wall, launched a genocidal last ditch effort to defeat its enemies. Now I am not saying that that is exactly what would happen in Ethiopia if the US intervened. Abiy Ahmed has infinitely more legitimacy than Habyarimana did, and despite losing multiple armies, he could still win the war. Prime Minister Abiy may even have legitimately won an election among the majority of Ethiopian ethnic groups that he is not currently trying to starve to death. The Tigrayans seem to be very widely hated, and very few non-Tigrayans want them to take over the country again. It seems likely that whoever wins in Ethiopia is going to do so using horrible means. Far better that the US stays out of it, rather than become complicit in their crimes.

I think it’s true that the US government could have done more to stop the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. But the fact that everybody knows that, and almost nobody knows that the French government built the machinery of the Rwanda Genocide strikes me as a moral atrocity. I am not one to throw around accusations of genocide denial, but if I were, I think the current use of Rwanda in pro western intervention arguments probably fits the bill.

War is the real problem from hell. Every genocide in Samantha Power’s book was made possible by the cover that war provides. But if Ambassador Power, or Admiral Stavridis pointed out that it’s war that is the problem, their books would be self-published, and they would have failing YouTube channels instead of comfortable jobs as columnists and government bureaucrats. Over the past 20 years US government and media have proved that above all else they are pro-war, which means in practice that they are also pro-genocide. Changing that would be a good idea.

The saddest thing is that I do believe there is a role for a sanely led international effort to solve problems like Rwanda in 1994, and Ethiopia in 2021. In 1994, largely at peace, 20 years out of Vietnam, the United States might have had the credibility to lead such a solution. Today, we emphatically do not. We need to stop our many pointless wars and do many other things as well before we can even pretend to be helpful again. A good first step would be if more Americans learned what actually happened during the Rwandan Genocide.