Samantha Power is President Obama’s handpicked ambassador of the United States to the United Nations. She made her name as the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide. The book decries the indifference of American foreign policy to modern mass murder up to and including the monstrosities committed in Kosovo and Rwanda and so on.
I thought that Power’s book failed to take account of issues like means and ends and national interest. It seemed to me to advertise her own pretension to high-mindedness. Her service in the Obama administration has afforded her ample opportunity to demonstrate whether she was serious, or just pretending. I’m going with just pretending. Power will undoubtedly write a memoir of her service, but she owes future readers of her book an additional chapter on the feckless Obama foreign policy to which she has made her own invaluable contributions.
Lee Smith finally takes her measure in the Tablet column “The ambassador from hell?” Smith essay focuses on Syria and draws on Power’s voluble tweets protesting the action of the Assad regime and its supporters in Syria. Smith’s essay focuses on Syria while examining Power then and now. He writes, for example:
It is hard to imagine any future edition of A Problem From Hell being complete without a chapter on Syria. Instead of helping to topple Assad, the mass-murdering goon who drops barrel bombs on civilian areas, the White House launched a phony train-and-equip program that required rebel fighters to sign a document that they wouldn’t use their weapons against the dictator who was murdering their families. The administration’s anti-ISIS campaign has allowed Assad to ignore ISIS nearly altogether and focus his attention instead on destroying other opposition groups, and indiscriminately targeting Sunni towns and villages. The White House’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has now put additional tens of billions of dollars in Iran’s coffers, which it is now free to use in supporting Assad’s genocide. Indeed, it is partly because Obama was so eager to secure a nuclear agreement with Iran that he disdained any efforts to stop Tehran’s ally from slaughtering Sunnis when Assad first started nearly five years ago.
The entire White House, from the president on down, is complicit in the crimes that Power tweets about. As the person who quite literally wrote the book on how the American superpower must stop genocides when it has the power to do so, why hasn’t she resigned? Maybe genocide isn’t actually that important after all, when measured against things like a trade deal with Asia. Perhaps, like the predecessors she describes in her book, she “assumed that U.S. policy was immutable, that their concerns were already understood by their superiors, and that speaking (or walking) out would only reduce their capacity to improve the policy.” Power’s book was taken at the time of its publication as a powerful warning against the moral price that our country pays for such delusional rationalizations. It will be hard to read it the same way again.
I’m not sure why the heading of Smith’s essay is phrased in the form of a question. Perhaps, Jeopardy style, it’s the question to which “Samantha Power” is the correct answer.