Republican Senators have gotten little traction trying to pin the Benghazi disaster on U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, but new details about the role she's played in the ongoing Congolese war might be more damaging to her possible nomination for Secretary of State. The New York Times has a damning report today on the relationship between Rice and the government of Rwanda, which was a client of hers when she worked for a Washington consulting firm a decade ago.
Since being appointed U.N. ambassador in 2008, Rice has frequently intervened to protect Rwandan president Paul Kagame from criticism and condemnation for his support for the rebel group M23. The militant army has been accused of gross human rights violations, including mass rape, executions, and the use of child soldiers in the conflict in the Congo, which is Rwanda's neighbor. Rwanda's backing of M23 is seen as a major factor in prolonging the decade-long conflict that has been filled with horrific brutality and violence.
On more than one occasion Rice has stepped in to soften the language of Security Council resolutions and blocked attempts to publicly shame and criticize Kagame. Last week, Foreign Policy reported that two months ago, during a private meeting with her French and British counterparts, Rice objected to the idea of "naming and shaming" Kagame, saying, “This is the D.R.C. [Democratic Republic of Congo.] If it weren't the M23 doing this, it would be some other group."
Rice's relationship with Kagame goes all the way back to her days in the Clinton Administration, when she was one of the leading members in the administration on African affairs. She served on the National Security Council during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, which ended when Kagame's party took over the government. After leaving the White House in 2000, Rice became a managing director at Intellibridge, a "security analysis" firm that had Kagame government's as a client.
Rice and other American diplomats have argued that silent diplomacy is the best course of action in the Congo, and that publicly attacking Kagame or Rwanda would undermine ongoing peace negotiations. However, with the Congolese war so far from being resolved—and over three million dead in the last decade—its hard to see the wisdom of that approach. The failure of U.S. and U.N. to take more decisive action against the Rwandan genocide is still seen as a major black mark on the Clinton administration's legacy. ("Bystanders to Genocide" is what Samantha Power called them in The Atlantic in 2001.) There are many who feel those same mistakes are being repeated in the Congo today.
As a purely political matter, however, the stories are resurfacing at the worst time for Rice. The ties between her and Rwanda are not a secret, and have been reported in depth elsewhere. But as with any previously under-the-radar issue, a banner headline on The New York Times website goes a long way toward turning a footnote into a scandal. It's clear that should Rice be nominated to be the next Secretary of State, she's going to face a lot of tough questions beyond just her statements on the Benghazi mess. It's also clear that those who are opposed to her nomination are going to play up any and all angles that might reflect negatively on her foreign affairs credentials. Rather than a petty squabble over a harmless set of talking points, Rice's actual conduct in the halls of the United Nations should have a much bigger impact on whether or not she gets the big promotion she's been waiting for.
Rice herself said back in 2001 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." Even if she doesn't stop the war in the Congo, the going down in flames part could still happen.