Accounts of the horror in Ituri have the quality of Hieronymus Bosch’s grotesque tableaux of apocalypse: torched villages; macheted babies in the streets; stoned child warriors indulging in cannibalism and draping themselves with the entrails of their victims; peacekeepers mostly Uruguayans using their guns only to drive off waves of frantic civilians seeking refuge in their already overflowing compound; a quarter of a million people in frenzied flight from their homes. For nearly five years, such suffering has plagued much of the eastern Congo along the tangled battle lines of warring political and tribal factions, stirred up and spurred on by the occupying armies of neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Hundreds of thousands of Congolese have been killed in the fighting, and many more have died as a consequence of the displacement, disease, and hunger that attend it. By any measure, Congo is one of the most hellish places on earth, and of all the hells within that hell Ituri province has come to be known as the most infernal.
During one of the 2000 Presidential debates, the moderator, Jim Lehrer, raised the issue of Rwanda. “There was no U.S. intervention,” he said. Then he asked George W. Bush, “Was that a mistake?” In a rare show of solidarity with the Clinton White House, Bush answered, “I think the Administration did the right thing in that case. I do. It was a horrible situation. No one liked to see it on our you know, on our TV screens. But . . . they made the right decision not to send U.S. troops into Rwanda.” In the run-up to the Iraq war, it appeared that Bush had changed his mind. Speaking on Al Jazeera television, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice dismissed the U.N.’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq by reminding her interviewer, “The U.N. Security Council could not act when in Rwanda there was a genocide that cost almost a million lives. There was a very poignant statement by the President of Rwanda recently when he said sometimes the Security Council is not right when it does not act. President Bush believes that, too.” And, lest the mantle of the memory of Rwanda’s dead be wasted on only Arab audiences, the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, struck the same note: “From a moral point of view, as the world witnessed in Rwanda . . . the U.N. Security Council will have failed to act once again.” The disingenuousness of these remarks lies, of course, in the fact that it was the United States that prevented the Security Council from acting during the Rwandan genocide, even though no American troops were ever involved or required for the U.N. force there.