Shadows of War, a River of Blood


Fifteen years ago, a fictional President walks past his Intelligence Director.

President Bartlet: What’s the CIA know that I should know?

Director Clark: Neighbors are… swapping family members.

The President passes the information on to his Chief of Staff:

Bartlet: Clark says neighbors are swapping family members in Khundu.

Leo: Really?

Then to Leo’s deputy:

Bartlet: Hey, Josh. There’s intelligence that Khundunese neighbors in the country are swapping family members.

Josh: Sorry, I don’t – I don’t unders…

Bartlet: For the night, they’re swapping family members, you know, and sleeping in each other’s houses.

Few of us would recognize the terrible signal this represents, the presage of genocidal atrocity. Those who have spent their professional lives would remember what happened in Rwanda, as Hutus prepared to butcher Tutsies to the edge of extinction.

Experts would know what the Serb dominated government ordered done to Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina leading up to the killing fields.

In fact, career employees at the State Department would have familiarized themselves with enough history to recognize echos of the Japanese massacre at Nanking, China in the late 1920s. They would realize that attacks on women have been a side-path along almost every road to genocide.

Josh: Intelligence says neighbors in Khundu are sleeping in each others houses.

Charlie: What does that mean?

Josh: It means they’re making people in the same house rape each other on the promise their lives will be spared.

Fiction seems so often to work out more ideally than reality. We watched President Bartlet use American troops to stop violence and prevent attacks on an ethnic minority in the fictional country of Khundu. Reality did not work out that way in a real crisis of mass murder.

In 1998, President Clinton apologized on behalf of the world for its failure to stop the killing.

…the international community, together with nations in Africa, must bear its share of responsibility for this tragedy, as well. We did not act quickly enough after the killing began. We should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for the killers. We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide.

Neatly phrased.

We tried, but we didn’t try hard enough or soon enough.

In reality, the Clinton administration did act, but in the wrong direction.

Samantha Power conducted in-depth research of declassified documents for The Atlantic Magazine. Her conclusions were less forgiving.

It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term “genocide,” for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing “to try to limit what occurred.” Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.

The United States, your country and mine, left the Tutsi minority in Rwanda to the tender mercies of government organized Hutu militias. The early signs included household exchanging of family members.

Harbingers of horrific events can take many forms. US intelligence agencies gather most of what they know of international dangers by interpreting publicly available information. Interpretation takes expertise.

That is one reason for alarm as foreign policy expertise is depleted by the current administration. Some experts have resigned, others discarded, still more ignored.

Our President overtly declares himself more knowledgeable about war than US generals and, at least implicitly, extends that self-evaluation into all areas. “I’m a very intelligent person,” he informed us in October, echoing his earlier self-analysis from July 2015, July 2016, December 2016, and January 2017.

  • I went to the Wharton School of Business. I’m, like, a really smart person.
  • I’m, like, a smart person.
  • Trust me, I’m, like, a smart person.
  • Very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart.
  • If I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world.

As 2017 wound down, my President directed his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to lead a prayer. He had his entire cabinet join him in thanking God for granting to the nation such courageous and enlightened leaders as themselves.

Mark Twain once said, after meeting Rudyard Kipling, “Between us, we cover all knowledge; he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest.” Presumably, Mr. Trump feels the same way about the one he sees in the restroom mirror.

This silly self-aggrandizement can lead to not-so-silly consequences. One such consequence could be war.

Many of the experts who work to detect dangers and opportunities are gone. Others are silenced. But the signs they have looked for are still there. Those signs are more than tea leaves left in drinking cups.

Those signals, the patterns from warning signs, allow us to peer as if, to borrow Paul’s phrase, through a glass darkly. And what they reveal is dark.

Our nation has been dealing with the immature tyrant of an impoverished country, an infant with nuclear capability. It is a destitute country, and an unstable leader, uninhibited in selecting with whom they wish to trade. And they have nuclear materials with which to bargain.

On the eve of Christmas Eve, the US Defense Secretary tells troops in Fort Bragg that “storm clouds are gathering” over the Korean peninsula.

The day before, the US Marine Corps Commander tells troops in Norway that war is coming.

Our President prods this infant-with-nukes, poking with a verbal stick, provoking him wherever possible. It is as if our President is unaware that he is playing a juvenile insult contest with nuclear weapons.

Unawareness. Available evidence indicates that is the case.

Josh: Intelligence says neighbors in Khundu are sleeping in each others houses.

Charlie: What does that mean?

It is not the same as the swapping of family members in preparation for genocidal atrocities. But experts, if they were there, would look for preparatory signs.

North Korea’s neighbor, Kim Jong Un’s ally, China, has begun training personnel and building refugee camps near the riverside at the border. They are getting ready.

They are preparing for a massive crisis, a Tumen River filled with blood.

And we have a President who, if shown reports about households exchanging members would have claimed credit for neighborly togetherness.

We do live in dangerous times.

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