The rollout of Barack Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan policy has largely focused on a variety of military and diplomatic objectives, from the training of forces to serve in both country's armies and police forces to procedures to eradicate the drug trade crippling the Afghan economy.
In a briefing with reporters on Friday, however, Obama's chief ambassador to the region, Richard Holbrooke, offered a humanitarian justification for the administration's approach. And he did so by drawing parallels to one of America's most glaring failures on this front: the genocide in Rwanda.
Defending Obama's policy as being appropriately fluid and open to new proposals, Holbrooke noted that simple adjustments, like influencing the mediums of communication in the region, could have major humanitarian effects.
"One of the most important ideas in this report," he said, "is the information issue. In Swat, for example, there are about 150 illegal FM radio stations, and Fazlullah is going around every night broadcasting the names of people they're going to behead or they've beheaded. Any of you who have a sense of recent history know that that's exactly what happened with Radio Mille Collines in Rwanda, and the United States did nothing, to our eternal regret."
This was not the first time that Holbrooke has referenced Rwanda in an effort to drive home the importance of specific foreign policy adventures. He did the same in 1999 when discussing the basis for intervening in East Timor. He has also been openly critical former president Bill Clinton for a failure to act in Rwanda.
Certainly, any reference to that genocide is designed to tug the heartstrings of America's foreign policy id. In this case, the specific focus of his remarks was meant to underscore the need to have a flexible framework, in which the administration can tackle new and emerging issues as the present themselves. "The way I think we've avoided it is that this is a not a straitjacket," said Holbrooke.
The subject of his remarks, Maulana Fazlullah, is a hard-line Muslim cleric who heads a well-armed group of Pakistani Taliban that reigns over larges swaths of the northern Pakistan region, Swat.