Most people see geopolitics as a zero-sum game. There has to be a winner and a loser. And we Americans — we really like those zero-sum games.
Whether it’s baseball, basketball or hockey, you watch these things. If the teams tie, we’ll make them play all night long — until there’s a winner and a loser.
If every third player breaks a leg, we’ll still make them keep playing. We Americans just hate tied games. We hate games where both sides win.
But we need to get used to games where both sides win in real life. As a matter of fact, it needs to be our operating principle — that we can find a way for everyone to win.
|Anytime you doubt that we can work our way through the still-thorny problems, think about that woman losing seven kids.|
But none of us have to win at someone else’s expense. The best example of this on earth that I have encountered is in Rwanda, where I do a lot of work. They’re the most amazing people I ever saw.
When I went there the first time after I was president, I was working on setting up their AIDS program for them. A reporter from the United States went there as well and asked Rwandans, “Aren’t you mad that Bill Clinton is here working?
“After all,” he pointed out to his interlocutors, “Mr. Clinton said himself that he should have acted in 1994 to stop your genocide — and that not doing so is one of his great regrets.”
And the cab driver says, “No, I’m glad he’s here.” And the reporter said, “How can you say that?”
The guy was really frustrated, because he was supposed to write a bad story. But the cab driver said, “First, he did not make us kill each other. We did that all by ourselves.
“And second, at least he came here and apologized — no one else has. And right now we’re looking at the future and we need all the help we can get.” In other words, this guy did not have a zero-sum ethic.
Later on, I helped them personally and with my foundation to finish their genocide memorial. It is the most amazing three-tiered crypt with the bones of 300,000 victims of the genocide — buried and registered in a roll of honor.
When I went back to see it, I got this tour from this really handsome young man who was just calmly taking me through like he was giving a tour of the Museum of Natural History or something. And I said, “Did you lose anybody in the genocide?”
|That woman may have little education and little in common with you, and she may have never crossed the Atlantic Ocean, but she is a citizen of the 21st century.|
He said, “Oh, yes. My mother, my father, my brother and my sister-in-law, and — well, if you stop at my uncles, my aunts and my first cousins, 73 people.”
And I said, “Isn’t doing this work here hard for you? He said, “Oh, no, it’s therapeutic.” And he smiled. He said, “We have to face the past — so we can let go of it and get on with the future.”
So I said, “The first time Hillary and I came here in ’98, I met with six genocide survivors, and one of them reminds me of you. She was a woman whose husband and six children were murdered, and she awoke in a pool of her own blood.
“She miraculously survived. And she said, first, she’d screamed out to god in anger that she had survived. And then she realized there must have been a reason that couldn’t be something as mean as vengeance.
“So this woman started an adoption service and a foster care home. And she took kids in without regard to their ethnic group and she placed them in families without regard to their ethnic group.”
So this kid starts smiling — this young guy — and he says, “Well, I should remind you of her. She is my aunt.”
They’re amazing people. Two years ago — I always send out, at Christmastime, gifts to my supporters of my foundation from the countries where I work. So two years ago, I sent out Rwandan baskets.
They’re great basket-makers. And one of the co-ops we bought from was run by a Tutsi woman named Pskasi, who’d lost seven children and her husband in the genocide.
|Her common humanity is more important than the interests in differences which darn near destroyed her country.|
She had ten kids. Seven of her ten kids were murdered, as well as her husband. And she had to start again. She was 50 years old. Her kids were grown. They were in the military, which was the only reason they didn’t get killed.
So she goes out and finds this Hutu woman who’s in the other camp, if you will, who was a good basket-maker and said, “Look, we’ve got to make a living. We can’t be eaten up by this. We’ve got to start again.”
So they start making baskets. And pretty soon, they’re on sale all over Kigali, and pretty soon, they’re on sale at Bergdorf Goodman at New York.
These women were amazing — and they did so well training women in basket-weaving that young men began to show up and asked to be trained. And about a year after they started taking young men, this 26-year-old man asked if he could see the boss, Pskasi.
He went to see her and broke down in tears. And he said, “You have been wonderful to me, but I can’t live with myself any longer. I murdered one of your sons.”
And he said, “I know you have three older children in the military. Send for one of them to come and kill me. That would be justice. And I will stay here and work for you every day until he comes.”
And this woman, who had lost seven of her ten children, said, “What good would that do? I forgive you. Get up and go back to work.”
|None of us have to win at someone else’s expense. The best example of this on earth that I have encountered is in Rwanda.|
Now, could you do that? Could you? I don’t know if I could. But I know one thing: Every time I start feeling sorry for myself, I think about that.
And I say that because everybody’s got a legitimate beef. Most of your own resentments are based on something that’s real. Most of your identity that drives you to have to have a loser in order for you to be a winner is based on something that’s real. It may be real, but it is not sustainable in the 21st-century world.
So anytime you doubt that we can work our way through the still-thorny problems of the Balkans — we are not out of the woods yet — anytime you doubt, you think, oh, this Northern Irish thing, it was a special moment in history. It probably can’t be replicated.
You think about that woman losing seven kids and telling that boy, who wanted to be killed because he killed one of them, that she forgave him.
That woman may have little education and little in common with you, and she may have never crossed the Atlantic Ocean, but she is a citizen of the 21st century because she thinks her common humanity is more important than the interests in differences which darn near destroyed her country.
If we can fight non-zero-sum games in a way that embraces the positive and reduces the negative, and none of us escapes our responsibility, we’re going to be just fine.
Editor’s Note: This Globalist Document is based on remarks President Clinton delivered at the Atlantic Council’s 2010 Annual Dinner, where he received the Distinguished International Leadership Award on April 28, 2010.