Just What Does Samantha Power Believe, and Why Do Some Conservatives Support Her Appointment?
What precisely do we know about Samantha Power, the president’s new nominee for the post of ambassador to the United Nations?
I ask the question for one reason: Power, it seems, has won the support of some conservatives, as well as some friends of Israel. Judging from the numerous articles appearing in the past day or so that have fully sketched out some of her most loathsome views, the support she is receiving is more than troubling. Indeed, it is perplexing.
I suspect the favorable response to the president’s appointment comes from her reputation as a liberal interventionist who is at the forefront of supporting U.S. action when a regime abroad is moving towards genocide or a gross abuse of human rights, and when the United States in her eyes is capable of doing something to stop it. As we know, Power, who wrote a major prize-winning book about genocide, was at the forefront of those urging U.S. action against Colonel Moammar Qaddafi in Libya.
I once quipped that liberals favor humanitarian intervention and the use of American military force when human rights are being threatened and when the regime in question cannot be said to be harming basic American national security interests. On the other hand, these same liberals oppose the use of force when our interests are threatened directly, and often call advocates of U.S. military actions “imperialists” who are acting to protect the American empire.
Hence they are for intervention when it isn’t necessary, and against it when it is!
If we look back at Libya, two things are most clear. Qaddafi led a vile and oppressive regime that under his command had directly harmed the United States. But under pressure -- unlike Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-Un -- he gave up his nuclear-power complex and stopped developing a nuclear arsenal. Yet, because he publicly threatened to obliterate his domestic opponents and physically destroy them, President Obama argued that the U.S. was obliged to act to depose him in order to prevent a major human rights catastrophe.
Part of his reasoning came right from Samantha Power’s arguments -- particularly the one in which she asserted the argument known as “Responsibility to Protect.” As Monica Crowley writes, her doctrine states that “the U.S. has a moral responsibility to intervene anywhere there is a slaughter or the potential of slaughter (whether our strategic interests are involved or not). She successfully argued 'R2P' (as it's known) and Obama led the NATO operation that helped to overthrow Moammar Qaddafi (who had not initiated an assault against his people).”
One has only to compare Obama’s actions on Libya with those he took against Assad in Syria. Except for endlessly repeating that Assad has to step down, Obama did nothing at all. Even after Assad began to kill thousands of people, the president did not act.
He acted in Libya when there was no slaughter; he did not act in Syria when there was.
Now over 80,000 have been killed, and Assad has used sarin, a poison gas. So much for Power’s policy of “humanitarian intervention.”
As for Power's views on other critical questions, others have already gone through them and offered a rundown of what she stands for. You can find her worst statements at the Washington Free Beacon. A more extensive summary can be found in Arnold Ahlert’s article at Frontpagemag.com.
Perhaps the most famous of her views come from her 2003 article in The New Republic, in which she outlined what became the Obama policy of apologizing to the world for America’s sins. Here, Power wrote:
Some anti-Americanism derives simply from our being a colossus that bestrides the earth. This resentment may be incurable. But much anti- Americanism derives from the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying such freedoms to others.
U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought. It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States. This would entail restoring FOIA to its pre- Bush stature, opening the files, and acknowledging the force of a mantra we have spent the last decade promoting in Guatemala, South Africa, and Yugoslavia: A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors
Then there are Power’s views on Israel. Calling for a major U.S. military force to be placed in Israel to enforce an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, she argued that it might be difficult, since it “might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and social import.” She obviously meant American Jews and groups like AIPAC.
A few years later, when asked about her own statement at the time, she answered: "Even I don’t understand it … it doesn’t make sense to me.” Actually, Power did obviously remember why she said that. Relatively young and very smart, Power could hardly forget.
Martin Kramer, president-elect of Shalem College in Jerusalem and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, revealed the truth about why she made that statement. Writing in 2008, Kramer showed that Power’s disavowal of her own statement, which she attempted to say occurred because it was stated in the context of “discussing the deployment of international peacekeepers,” was meant to make it seem plausible.
Kramer reveals that at that time Power was influenced by the Canadian intellectual Michael Ignatieff. Ten days before Power called for U.S. troops to be stationed in Israel, Ignatieff had written his own op-ed titled “Why Bush must send in his troops.” That editorial, Kramer comments, “includes every trendy calumny against Israel.”
Ignatieff's point was that the United States had to use force to get Israel to accept and to move towards a two-state solution. Powers, he concludes, shared this vision “with her closest colleague” at Harvard’s Carr Center.
His text, Kramer writes, “was exactly what Power meant."
So why, as an article by John Hudson in Foreign Policy puts it, is Power “also getting support from a key Republican constituency: neoconservatives”? In his article, Hudson argues that her “staunch advocacy of U.S. intervention on moral grounds has long appealed to neoconservatives who share her view that the principle of sovereign national borders is not absolute.”
This makes little sense, especially since most conservatives, neo and otherwise, view America’s alliance with Israel as fundamental for the stability and well-being of the Middle East, and essential to U.S. national security as well. (I am excluding paleoconservatives and some libertarians here.)
Yet surprisingly, Hudson quotes Max Boot as telling him that “Power is a good pick because she is a very capable and principled advocate of humanitarian intervention.” Boot is “dismayed” at the Obama administration’s failure to intervene in Syria, and hence he sees nothing but good in the Power appointment.
Others supporting the Power appointment include John McCain, former Senator Joe Lieberman, and, most surprisingly, Alan Dershowitz. (Of course, Hudson uses the term "neocon" without much nuance. Of those he quotes, only Max Boot could be rightfully called that.) Dershowitz told Hudson that Power “has real credibility to expose the U.N.’s double standard on human rights. She also understands the principle of 'the worst first' -- you go after the worst human rights abusers first.” Moreover, Dershowitz told Hudson that he is not at all concerned with Power’s many anti-Israel statements, unlike Martin Kramer and most commentators. He simply says: “I think she made a mistake about Israel,” and he takes her word when she told him “she regrets making that statement.”
In other words, it was a simple mistake. We know, however, thanks to Martin Kramer, that her interview was not a mistake but was the view she sincerely held at the time; and she is now busy thinking up apologias so others can excuse it. And for Dershowitz to say that he has been with her at many affairs in which Israel has been discussed “and ha[s] never heard her express any views that could be characterized as anti-Israel” is simply bizarre. Dershowitz has only to look for the views she is on record as having expressed to find the many examples of what she once believed.
Dershowitz, turning to the analogy with World War II, states that had she been around then arguing on behalf of humanitarian intervention, she would have been a force calling for military action against Hitler when others were not. But if he reads her many statements on Israel, it is clear that the only kind of intervention she favors in the Middle East is on behalf of the Palestinian cause and against Israel.
Indeed, in 2003 she asked the following of New York Times reporter David Rohde, who covered the intifada:
Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: “Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin.” The second paragraph said, “Oh, but lots of war crimes did.” Why wouldn’t they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?
On this, Noah Pollak made this salient point in Contentions:
Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; HRW finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!
So, let me return to my opening paragraph. As it turns out, only Max Boot sees the Power appointment favorably. He does so because he hopes she will push for intervention in Syria “to stop the slaughter,” an admirable hope. As for John McCain and Joe Lieberman, it is obviously their hope that if she pushes for intervention, it will move Obama in what they see as a more desirable direction.
As I see it, this is nothing but wishful thinking without much substance. Any intervention in Syria at this time is too little, and far too late. Moreover, at this point the forces opposed to Assad are more than likely led by radical Islamists. As Seth Mandel writes today, her views are both “astoundingly ignorant and malicious.”
Remember, we’re talking about a woman who was booted from the Obama campaign in 2008 for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster.” I’m sure she managed to explain that one, too.
I hate to contradict Joe Lieberman and John McCain, for whom I have great respect. I don’t think military action in Syria is likely at this point to be to our advantage, and in fact it might embolden some of our worst enemies. Were we able to truly find a moderate third force that would be able to push Assad out and at the same time oppose the Islamists, that of course would be something else. But at present, the hope of the administration for a peace conference with Russia as the way to stop the bloodshed is also a chimera. At the United Nations, Samantha Power will find herself merely trying to explain and justify whatever course the president finally decides upon. I do not envy her. She would have been wise to stay at the Carr Center and comment from the outside.