Thursday, November 14, 2013

Elite Cue Theory and Inaction in the Rwanda Genocide

I believe Adam Berinsky’s theory of elite cueing makes sense. The public decides what political ideology they like and then they take their cues from leaders of that ideology.
When reading about U.S. inaction in the Rwanda genocide it seems as though top leaders did not want to use the term “genocide” when informing the American public about the issue. They did use “acts of genocide”, but were reluctant to ever be forthright about the genocide occurring.  This is because government officials were afraid that the public would demand a response to the ethnic killings in Rwanda; they thought Americans would be willing to sacrifice a few lives to save hundreds of thousands in Rwanda.

Even though I believe elite cue theory is valid, I'm not sure if it could be applied to this case study.  On the one hand it’s almost working in reverse because the elite were afraid the non-elite public would demand action against the genocide. On the other hand, maybe because the elite knew that if they used the term genocide they would have to intervene.  Therefore, the public would take its cue from the elite and would also demand action.

Berinsky believes that foreign policy is connected to domestic policies.  I would agree with him here as well.  In the 1990s the U.S. wanted to reap the peace dividend they won at the end of the Cold War.  They were not looking to get involved in other conflicts.  And they also had the “Somalia Syndrome” working against them; the government was weary of becoming involved in humanitarian missions that would risk U.S. lives.

However, even more important than discussing Berinsky’s ideas is how the U.S. government bureaucracy prevented action in Rwanda.  Presidential Decision Directive (PDD) 25 solidified trends in the U.S. national security process that made action in Rwanda extremely difficult.  It greatly expanded the Department of Defense’s (DoD) role in policy formulation instead of giving authority to the State Department.  PDD 25 was focused on humanitarian missions, but since the DoD was given more power, they were the ones to decide if action should be taken. 

The military decided they were not equipped to focus on two wars at once and did not see the Rwandan mission as protecting national interests.  The government had the opportunity to decide how they should respond to humanitarian crises, but instead created a system that focused on consensus and crippled the very process that was supposed to develop effective courses of action. 

In conclusion, when reading through the case study it was disheartening to see that the U.S. government had been provided with warnings of the possibility of violence and genocide, but were not prepared to respond.  Even more disturbing was the fact that it was obvious that genocide was taking place and that they refused to acknowledge it.  Hopefully case studies like this will invite discourse and new ideas on how to improve bureaucratic decision-making models within the national security process.  

No comments: