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The Quality of Mercy

WHY PEACEKEEPING FAILS By Dennis C. Jett; St. Martin's Press: 240 pp., $49

HARD CHOICES Moral Dilemmas in Humanitarian Intervention By Jonathan Moore; Rowman & Littlefield: 320 pp., $24.95

DELIVER US FROM EVIL; Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict By William Shawcross; Simon & Schuster: 416 pp., $27.50

March 19, 2000|ALEX DE WAAL | Alex de Waal is the author of "Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa" (Indiana University Press 1997). He is the director of Justice Africa, London

"The fact that nearly 1,500 highly capable troops from France, Italy and Belgium landed in Kigali within days, with several hundred U.S. Marines standing by in Burundi, to evacuate the expatriates and a few hundred selected Rwandans, and then left in the face of the unfolding tragedy and with full knowledge of the danger confronting the emasculated U.N. force, is inexcusable by any human criteria. [The U.N. Mission] was abandoned by all, including most of our civilian staff (by order), and we were left to fend for ourselves for weeks. That we were left in this state with neither mandate nor supplies--defensive stores, ammunition, medical supplies, or water, and with only survival rations that were either rotten or inedible--is a description of inexcusable apathy by the sovereign states that make up the U.N. that is completely beyond comprehension and moral acceptability."

Kofi Annan was under-secretary general for peacekeeping at the time. Unlike Albright and Clinton, Annan has stopped short of apologizing for his oversight. What does it tell us about the U.N. that not a single official thought fit to resign over the first indisputable genocide since the U.N. Charter was signed?

The U.N. Secretariat has blundered many times, but it is an organization more sinned against than sinning. Dallaire is right to point the finger at "the sovereign states that make up the U.N." One in particular stands out. Rwanda tested Presidential Decision Directive 25 to destruction. The White House's judgment was fatally clouded during those weeks in April 1994, when Hutu power launched its final solution. Perhaps the unburied and unmourned dead of Rwanda also torment Clinton and his secretary of state six years on.

Mogadishu and Kigali are the twin totems of warlordism and peacekeeping at the beginning of the 21st century. They are also the twin taboos--spoken of rarely, still more rarely analyzed and understood. William Shawcross' attempt to write a contemporary account of the U.N.'s peacekeeping role, without trying to understand these episodes and their interpretation, misinterpretation and non-interpretation, is Hamlet without the ghost. On solid ground with Cambodia--the subject of his finest earlier books--Shawcross has missed the wider plot with "Deliver Us From Evil."

The basis for Shawcross' book is excellent access to Annan, after he became secretary general, as he worked in New York and traveled to Africa and the Middle East. Some of the personal dimensions of Annan's job are well-conveyed. But clearly, the secretary general's charms have worked their spell on Shawcross, whose critical faculties are too often drowned in a gush of sentiment. Flying with Annan to Baghdad in February 1998, for example, he writes:

"The French warned Annan not to underestimate Saddam. They said he was very reflective, poised and well-informed, and he listened well. They told him that his meeting would be long because Saddam spoke slowly and with pauses. 'Do not try to fill the gap, but engage him with eye contact.'

"On Friday morning Annan and his entourage flew to Baghdad in [French President Jacques] Chirac's presidential Falcon 900. When he landed he was surprised by the mob of reporters at the airport. He spoke with emotion of his "sacred duty" to come here to find a solution. He told me later that this striking phrase came to him spontaneously."

Who is the more naive, Annan for thinking he could keep U.N. weapons inspections going by maintaining eye contact with Saddam Hussein, or Shawcross for appearing to believe that Annan's 'sacred duty' phrase was thought up on the spot? Such lapses would matter less if the account of Iraq were not so banal, adding nothing to what is known to most journalists acquainted with the region. It is also damaged by needless mistakes. Although the author signed off in December 1999, he writes that "an end [to U.N. arms searches] is not yet in sight." In fact there have been no searches since Operation Desert Fox and no prospect of any for the foreseeable future.

Shawcross' book is marred by rather too many elementary errors. He attributes Somali President Siad Barre's demise in 1991 to the decline of Soviet power, when in fact Barre had been an American client for more than 10 years. Shawcross gets the lineup in the Congo war wrong. The description of Annan's visit to post-genocide Rwanda is stunningly simplistic. Annan's feelings may have been hurt by the abrasive remarks of his hosts. But the Rwandan Tutsis are surely entitled to more than diplomatic sophism from the man who headed the Department of Peacekeeping Operations when the genocide was committed.

"Deliver us from Evil" contributes little to the growing body of work on peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention and conflict resolution. Others have covered the same ground and had more useful things to say.

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