BY THE TIME Susan Rice withdrew her name from the running for secretary of state earlier this month, she had emerged in the media as one of Washington’s most nefarious personalities.
“Even the Costa Ricans have health insurance for all their people.” That was Howard Dean’s old line, when he was talking about all the countries that had universal health care.
It should have raised red flags when both Syria and Russia approved of Kofi Annan’s February 23 appointment as the United Nations-Arab League Joint Special Envoy (JSE) to Syria. But after bickering world powers repeatedly failed to agree on an emissary to broker an end to the killing spree in which Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 9,000 people, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, was content to laud Annan as “an outstanding choice.” Certainly the Ghana-born Annan comes loaded with credentials: former U.N.
I know that this is harsh. But I use the word pusillanimous in its ugliest meaning—which is the “unmanly” meaning—especially in relation to Saudi Arabia, having stockpiled weapons and trained soldiers for decades so that by now it is the only Arab country capable of taking on the monstrous regime in Damascus … and winning. I say “unmanly” because the kingdom has done nothing of the sort.
When interests meet ideals in the arena of states, ideals lose out. How shall we count the ways? In recent times, there were Somalia, Rwanda and Darfur—the massacres and the ethnic cleansing dwarfing anything happening in Syria or, last summer, in Libya. In more ancient history, the world allowed Japan to grab Manchuria and wipe out Nanking. Mussolini used poison gas to conquer Abyssinia while the League of Nations postured and then fell apart. The U.S. wouldn't even bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz, the reasons put forward being: We need the ordinance for the war against the Germans.
Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa By Jason K. Stearns (PublicAffairs, 380 pp., $28.99) The history of Congo is the history of mass murder. What is going on today—with rebels, government soldiers, and armed groups from neighboring countries raping and slaughtering Congolese civilians—is a continuation of the ruthlessness that has been embedded in this country for more than a hundred years.
Those showers in Washington last week? That wasn’t rain. That was Dean Acheson, Averell Harriman, and the other architects of post-war American foreign policy looking down and weeping on us. Or worse. The heirs and custodians of their tradition never sounded so thick. In place of George Kennan’s 8000-word Long Telegram about the Soviet Union, the Obama administration’s consultant and its former State Department policy planning chief, Anne-Marie Slaughter, issued a forceful tweet about Libya.
Each president of the United States enters office thinking he will be able to define the agenda and set the course of America’s relations with the rest of the world. And, almost invariably, each confronts crises that are thrust upon him—wars, revolutions, genocides, and deadly confrontations. Neither Woodrow Wilson nor FDR imagined having to plunge America into world war. Truman had to act quickly, and with little preparation, to confront the menace of Soviet expansion at war’s end.
Partner to the Poor: A Paul Farmer Reader Edited by Haun Saussy (University of California Press, 660 pp., $27.50) On a hot August afternoon a decade ago, one of my patients collapsed at a café in Boston. She was in her early sixties and had been treated successfully with chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer, but had suffered side effects from the intensive therapy, with damage to her heart and lungs. Her husband called 911, and EMTs arrived in short order. She was resuscitated and sped by ambulance to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The Senegalese poet Birago Diop once wrote that the dead are not really dead. They live on in the wind, forests, and rivers, their pleas for justice echoing among the living.