Former U.S. president Bill Clinton admitted that if the U.S. had gone into Rwanda sooner following the start of the 1994 genocide, at least a third or roughly 300,000 lives could have been saved.
Speaking to CNBC Meets‘ Tania Bryer, Clinton explained that the failure of his administration to act during the genocide, which claimed the lives of around a million Rwandans, was one of the reasons behind the establishment of the Clinton Foundation.
“If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost…it had an enduring impact on me.”
While Clinton added that the U.S. didn’t have the same presence in Africa in 1994 that it does now, if he had sent around 10,000 troops into the country thousands of lives could have been spared.
In the 19 years since the atrocities, many historians and analysts have criticized the inactivity of the U.S. and other Western nations for not supporting the small UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda at the time.
Classified documents released in 2004 revealed that the Clinton administration knew of a “final solution to eliminate all Tutsis” well in advance of the genocide.
In a reference to the tribal tensions between the Hutus and Tutsis that were at the center of the genocide, Clinton explained the Foundation’s goals: “I want people to revel in our diversity and respect it without thinking that we have to refer to each other in negative terms. That is, I can be proud of my heritage without dismissing yours.”
Clinton said he was proud of other international efforts during his eight-year presidency between 1993 and 2001, including peace efforts in the Middle East which culminated in the 1993 Oslo Accords and the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement, as well as the resolution of the Bosnian War.
“We tried to pull the world together. I think that’s a good model for America’s world today…Make it work for everybody, prove what the role of government is, and then just try to keep pulling things together by building new networks,” he said. “You can’t stop every bad thing from happening.”
The full interview with President Bill Clinton can be seen on CNBC Meets on March 20.