The Congo and Why Obama Should not Appoint Susan Rice Secretary of State
By S.N. Sangmpam
[This essay was completed two days before Susan Rice withdrew her presumptive nomination as Secretary of State. Despite the withdrawal, Obama is likely to pursue the Clinton policy that Rice advocates. The argument of the essay remains valid
One item that has dominated American politics after President Obama’s reelection is the opposition by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, as Obama’s presumptive nominee for Secretary of State. They oppose her on the ground that she misled the public about the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four American diplomats. The senators’ claim that the administration deliberately misled the public does not square with the evidence. The claim, it turns out, is mere partisan politics wrangling. Yet, there are more important reasons why Rice should not be appointed Secretary of State. And this has to do, not with Benghazi, but with the Congo. To shed light on the issue, a few words about Obama’s election and re-election are in order.
Predictions about presidential elections are a staple of American politics. Most of them are based on polling and survey analyses that often rely on long-term trends of voting behavior. Only a few are actually accurate. There is another way of accurately predicting the outcome of an election. It does not need sophisticated survey analyses. Let me call it “the character index” predictor. I have used it twice now, first in 2007 and then in 2011 to predict an Obama victory in presidential elections. I have been accurate both times. In 2007, I made the prediction in my class well before the Iowa Caucus, at a time when no one gave Obama a chance (see Huffington Post, November 24, 2008). In 2011, it was again in the same class, when Obama was on the defensive under relentless attacks from the Tea Party and its reactionary allies in the midst of debates about health care, public debt, and the fallout from the government’s bailout of the 2007 recession-bankrupted industries. An obviously distraught student asked me about Obama’s chances of re-election in the face of the opposition’s onslaught. I told the student to write down that Obama would be re-elected in 2012.
I predicted this even though I was personally disappointed by Obama’s performance as president. I was not alone in my disappointment. In the 2008 Huffington Post piece I had invited all Americans to support the Obama presidency because it had the chances of being a truly transformational political regime. Most Obama’s core supporters expected no less. It is not, however, what we got. The result was that, at the apex of the Tea Party movement, when Obama actually needed a stimulus from his supporters, their enthusiasm waned. What was called the “enthusiasm gap in the Obama camp” was actually real. The dwindling support for a second term for Obama was not strictly because of the unemployment rate that remained high--most people understood that the economic downturn was mostly due to the Bush policies that led to the recession. The feeling that Obama had “sold out” is what caused the dwindling support. Most Obama’s supporters voted for him in the 2008 primaries as a transformational figure against Clinton only to get Clinton in the end. The Obama White House and administration during the first term was pretty much a replica of the Clinton administration in personnel and policies. In many ways, it is this waning support for Obama that emboldened the Romney camp to believe that they could win in the general elections of 2012. Romney and the Republicans had a point. Many Obama’s supporters could have very well voted for Romney had it not been for the fact that he represented the worst kind of alternative on many fronts.
Despite the disappointment, my 2011 prediction for an Obama re-election was based on his character index predictor, which was far superior to that of any Republican candidate who would face him in the 2012 general elections. Obama, to the chagrin of the former governor of New Hampshire, John Sununu, and Donald Trump, is the most intelligent president of the last 65 years, the most credible of the presidents for the last 32 years, and the most committed to the social cohesiveness of the American people regardless of their race and origins. This character index gave him the edge over the alternative that Romney represented.
The Obama character index applies to the outside world as well. Indeed, no other US candidate for the presidency-- except perhaps Kennedy in 1960—has ever generated as much interest in the whole world as did Obama during his two campaigns and subsequent electoral victories. On both occasions, the majority of world opinion favored Obama over his opponents. Everything being equal, Obama’s high appeal stems from his multiple heritages, the very attribute that makes him appealing to his American compatriots. The world, perhaps vaguely and diffusely, also sees Obama as a leader who passes the single major test of being credibly committed to the many groups and heritages to which he belongs; he is committed to the US because of his birth and citizenship and to the betterment of the rest of the world because of his Kenyan (and Indonesian) roots. Obama’s Kenyan roots are a metaphor for better relations between the superpower and the rest of the world, especially the non-Western world.
Both in the US and abroad, Obama’s character index has, thus, served him well. But it may not, and will not, help Obama’s legacy as a potential great president—and not simply as the president with the best campaign organization that won two elections—if he allows this character index to once again be buried under the Clinton weight during his second term. I recently received a survey from the Obama campaign soliciting inputs to the policy direction that Obama should take during his second mandate. So here is my input. One way for Obama to not be buried under the Clinton weight in foreign policy is to not appoint Susan Rice as Secretary of State. The case of the Congo particularly militates against the nomination. Not because Obama owes any special allegiance to Africa or the Congo. He is an American President first and foremost, and he can appoint anyone he deems to serve well national interests. Rather, because the US does not only have national interests. It has superpower interests as well that impose broader obligations. And it is in the Congo that the Clinton policies have had their most deleterious effects at the expense of US superpower interests.
The point I want to make hereafter is that Susan Rice was an architect of the Clinton policies toward Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. These policies have been deeply detrimental to the Congo. They are likely to further weaken the Congo under her tutelage. Appointing her as Secretary of State not only perpetuates the ill effects of the Clinton policies, but also aggrandizes the Clintons at the expense of the world’s expectations of Obama’s presidential grandeur. But Rwanda is not the sole culprit. The Congo shares blame. I will first shed light on Congo’s own responsibility.
The Congo—called “democratic republic” by a cruel irony of history—is today a social swamp. A paradox of massive proportion: a huge and naturally endowed country with a depressingly impoverished population. The signposts for the swamp are unmistakable. There are unending wars since 1997, with millions killed. Congolese have experienced egregious human rights violations by their government whose secret services and death squads arrest, torture, and assassinate without any fear or retribution. They witnessed massive electoral fraud in the 2011 presidential and legislative elections. And then there is the nauseating economic and financial thievery, which involves the illicit plundering of the country’s mineral resources, embezzlements, and open corruption. Government officials, from the presidency down to the lowest clerk, are all corruptors, corrupt, and corruptible. They have allies in the thievery: foreign nationals and would be moneymakers. UN contingents are not spared either, since the lure of mineral wealth is irresistible. The culmination of all this is the misery index of the populations that endure hellish social conditions in almost all aspects of life. These include endemic joblessness, food shortage and malnutrition, dilapidated and nonexistent health and transportation infrastructure, the mushrooming of charlatans in the form of “churches” and “pastors,” swelling ranks of refugees and illegal aliens throughout the world, and, more criminal perhaps, the total regression of the educational system despite the profusion of schools and “universities” that don’t educate. No surprise, then, that out of 168 countries surveyed, the Congo ranks last in the UN Human Development Index Report.
The Congo shares some of the structural causes of this situation with other developing countries. However, for the more recent period, the causes of the Congo’s escalating misery are internal. They are linked to the clientelist nature of the three political regimes that have succeeded to each other in the Congo since 1965, from Mobutu to the two Kabilas. A network of clientelism is constituted in which the president, his kin and tribesmen, and selected closest allies are patrons. Their clients are officials, ministers, military officers, “professors,” selected musicians, and national and foreign businessmen. The material survival of the clients depends almost entirely on the patrons, who tightly control all major economic and political resources. The clientelist relationship is based on reciprocity. The patrons provide the clients with financial, economic, and other resources, including appointments to offices and the license to steal and plunder without fear of legal repression. The clients, in turn, provide the patrons with political support in the form of the repression of the masses, mindless propaganda for the regime, and electoral fraud. This internal network of clientelism is supported by foreign powers, which provide economic, military, and other resources to the patrons and the regime in return for the advancement of their strategic interests for some and the plunder of natural resources for others. The cast of characters of foreign powers varies depending on the regime. But it has perennially consisted of Belgium, France, the US, and marginally Canada. China and India joined the network under Joseph Kabila. The network of clientelism was founded and perfected by Mobutu, inherited and tweaked by Laurent Kabila, and expanded by Joseph Kabila. It explains the high level of plunder, embezzlement, and diversion of the wealth of the country, the obscene enrichment of the patrons and clients alike at the expense of the populace, incompetence at all state levels as illustrated by the nightmarish depletion of public services, human rights violations, and the political inertia and demobilization of the populace.
To alleviate their misery, the peoples of the Congo must internally dismantle the clientelist network that governs them. However, such a task is made more difficult by an external factor: the deep involvement of Uganda, Burundi, and especially Rwanda in Congo’s affairs. The reasons for Rwanda’s invasions of the Congo are Rwanda’s need for land space for its overpopulation and the 1994 ethnic genocide that killed scores of mostly ethnic Tutsi (thousands of Hutu were also massacred both during the genocide and in the ensuing retaliation by the Tutsi). The success of the invasions is due to the clientelist nature of the political regimes in the Congo itself and the support Rwanda receives from foreign powers. Both under Mobutu and the two Kabilas, clientelism has made state institutions, including the army, inept. As a result, the Congolese government has been incapable of preventing the invasions or of dislodging Rwanda’s army and armed groups from its territory. On the other hand, foreign support for Kagame’s Rwanda has helped the regime finance its military adventures and to avoid ostracism in international institutions and forums.
Rwanda’s territorial ambitions and the genocide have had four deadly consequences for the Congo. First, they caused Rwanda and other countries in the region, notably Uganda, to help Laurent Kabila to militarily overthrow Mobutu in 1997. Second, when Rwanda’s hidden territorial ambitions in the Congo clashed with Laurent Kabila’s incompetent nationalism, the result was Rwanda’s new invasion and the attendant war between the Congo and Rwanda, in which almost all countries in the region were involved from 1998 to 2003. Millions of deaths and displacements of the populations were outcomes. One of the results of this conflict was the assassination of Laurent Kabila—almost unanimously suspected to be ordered by Rwanda. Third, under Joseph Kabila, who replaced the assassinated Laurent Kabila in rather mysterious ways in 2001, Rwanda has financed and militarily supported ethnic Tutsi-led movements ((CNDP and M-23) that have waged a proxy war in Kivu. It has done so under the guise of securing the Tutsi “minority” in the province and combating the 1994 genocidaires who fled to the Congo. The movements are made of Tutsi soldiers who had served either in the Rwandan army or as part of the Rwanda-supplied crack force that overthrew Mobutu. They were integrated into the Congo’s army following negotiations in 2003 only to desert later to defend their ethnic parochial interests. Fourth, Rwanda has benefited from Joseph Kabila’s clientelist incompetence and/or complicity because of his suspected Tutsi lineage. This complicity and the military pressure exerted by Rwanda’s proxy movements has allowed Rwanda to extract deep concessions from the Congo, including the appointment of ethnic Tutsi to leadership positions in the army, the police, secret services, and the government. The more wars waged (such as the recent takeover of Goma), the more concessions extracted via negotiations. This “infiltration” has allowed Rwanda (and Uganda) to make use of the clientelist network of the Kabila regime to its advantage. The spoils include the plunder of resources of the Congo (coltan, gold, diamond, etc…), the sharing of the plunder with foreign companies and predators, who accede to the Congo minerals through Rwanda, and the progressive consolidation of land rights by CNDP and M-23 in their “liberated territories.”
So although Rwanda may not be the main cause of the Congo’s misery, it bears a major responsibility for the recent times. What, then, makes Rwanda “strong” vis-à-vis the Congo? This brings me back to Clinton policies and Susan Rice as the presumptive Secretary of State. The foundation of US policies toward Rwanda is the guilt felt by President Bill Clinton over his failure to protect the Tutsi against genocide in 1994 even though the US, France and the UN were aware of the impending massacres. As in the case of Germany in relation to Israel, the guilt shaped policies, and Rice played a crucial role in the process, first in the Clinton White House’s African Affairs section of the National Security Council and then as Assistant Secretary for African Affairs in the State Department. In fact, like Clinton, Rice had openly expressed her guilt about their failure and vowed to come on the side of the victims next time. Guilt-driven policies have continued during the Obama administration thanks to Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Their central tenet is to “pamper” Rwanda and to let it have its way.
This tenet explains why Kagame’s direct involvement in triggering the genocide by shooting down the plane of the then Hutu president Habyarimana is ignored even though credible research, French services, and Kagame’s own former righthand man and ambassador to Washington tell us so; why Kagame’s own retaliatory anti-Hutu genocide deep in the Congo is ignored; why the US supplied weapons to the Kagame regime to wage war against Laurent Kabila in the 1998 with horrific consequences for the populations of Kivu; why Kagame’s autocratic and Tutsi-bent rule is praised and Kagame’s Rwanda is viewed as an “emerging” country on which the US relies for the supply of soldiers that serve in US-sponsored military operations in Africa; why there is a flow of investments and aid to Rwanda and why the Clinton Foundation has championed education and health investments in Rwanda, involving business interests not unconnected to Rwanda’s proximity and access to Congo’s minerals. This policy of pampering sheds light on why Rwanda’s sponsorship of CNDP and M-23 and their violence and depredation in the Congo have gone unpunished. Not only Rwanda supports M-23, but Rwanda’s regular army directed the military attacks for the occupation of Goma. UN’s own observers tell us so. As US Ambassador at the UN, Rice has maintained this policy of pampering Rwanda. It is no surprise that, even in the face of all these contraventions against international law, Rwanda has been allowed to serve as one of the revolving members of the UN Security Council. The policies contribute to the misery of the Congo populations. This is ironic because, as senator, Obama sponsored the “Democratic Republic of the Congo Relief, Security, and Democracy Promotion Act of 2006” that withholds assistance to a foreign country that destabilizes the Congo.
US reliance on Rwanda is ephemeral; it is not sustainable in the long run. Rwanda is not Israel. If the Congo is maintained in the chaotic situation it is in, the chaos will eventually extend to Rwanda and its neighbors. Perpetual war is likely to prevail between the two countries. It is not a given that the Congo will always be, in the middle and long terms, militarily weaker than Rwanda. An increasingly radicalized cohort of Congolese in the Congo and abroad, especially in Europe, rightly believes that the complicity between the Kabila regime and the Kagame regime, facilitated by US and British foreign policies toward Rwanda, causes the misery of the Congo. Their tone is dangerously one of a violent revenge against a specific tribal group, the Tutsis. The Obama administration must avoid this violent ethnic incitement and its unforeseen and unpredictable outcomes. US long-term national and superpower interests are at stake.
Ambassador Rice is deeply partial to Rwanda because of her involvement in the crafting of the Clinton policies toward Rwanda and the Congo. She is blinded by her policy commitments and guilt. She will not be able to prevent the escalating ethnic hatred. On the contrary, her biased policies will inflame it. Rice’s pro- Rwanda policies against the backdrop of Rwanda’s territorial ambitions are likely to reinforce the Congolese suspicion that the US seeks to “balkanize” the Congo in favor of Rwanda. There is a point of reference for this: Walter Kansteiner, Rice’s successor at the state department under the Bush administration, and Herman Cohen, who preceded her, had proposed the breakup of the Congo as a solution to the Congo-Rwanda conflict. Obama should find another candidate for the post of the Secretary of State. The calculus may be to avoid defeat for the democrats in the senate race in Massachusetts and to not nominate Senator John Kerry for the position. If this is the case, then I suggest that Obama nominate Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to Jimmy Carter. Although aging, he will bring his great intellect and toughness to the position. Under his tutelage, Rwanda will be made accountable for its actions. This will allow the peoples of the Congo to attend to the internal task of dismantling their clientelist regime.
Emancipation from the Clinton foreign policy reasserts the primacy of Obama’s character index and increases his chances of being a great president. It allows him to live up to his calling as the metaphor for better relations between the superpower and non-Western countries.