One of the distinguishing characteristics of Samatha Power’s criticisms of Israel is their weirdness. Thus, one of her main “take-aways” from the Iraq war is that the U.S. should be less deferential to Israeli security assessments and tactics. And in 2002, she spoke favorably about spending billions of dollars to create a Palestinian state, including the insertion of a “mammoth” military presence into the area. Power herself describes this statement as “weird” and claims that she cannot understand it.
Martin Kramer finds it weird that a presumably serious foreign policy analyst is unable to understand her own foreign policy pronouncements. He writes: “It must be awful at such a young age to lose track of why you recommended the massive deployment of military force, and not that long ago.” True, but not as awful as having to defend that recommendation now that her close confidant, Barack Obama, is in the middle of a run for the presidency.
Kramer proceeds to provide the context for Power’s 2002 remark and, in doing so, demonstrates that the comment was neither a fluke nor a throwaway. Power made the statement in April 2002 at the tail end of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield. This operation was a reaction to a relentless campaign of Palestinian suicide bombings that had killed Israeli civilians in the hundreds. Palestinian spokespersons had duped much of the international media and human rights community into believing that a massacre of innocent Palestinians had taken place in Jenin. At Harvard, where Power operated, pro-Palestinian activists had canvassed the faculty for support of a petition calling on Harvard to divest from Israel, which would be published on May 6.
At the time, Power was the executive director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, which she founded in 1999. According to Kramer, the Carr Center generally steered clear of issues relating to Israel. However, Kramer says that the events of April 2002 placed her outfit under great pressure to address the situation there.
Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian intellectual whom Power had recruited to be the director of her center, took the lead. Ignatieff wrote an op-ed for the London Guardian entitled “Why Bush Must Send In His Troops.” The op-ed which, in Kramer’s words, “includes every trendy calumny against Israel,” concluded that through a commitment of U.S. troops we should impose and enforce a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Ignatieff and Power had a close working relationship and, according to this profile, were something like soul-mates. Thus, it was no surprise that, when interviewed ten days later, Power advanced her colleague’s grand plan for the military imposition by the United States of a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Here’s how Kramer puts it:
Samantha Power did not misspeak. . .in her Berkeley interview. She was retailing a vision she shared with her closest colleague. Power went a bit further than Ignatieff, when she spoke about how this show of presidential courage “might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import.” Ignatieff would never have written that. But it was implicit in his text anyway.
So Ignatieff’s op-ed was exactly what Power meant. That she should claim no recollection of any of this context seems… weird. Or perhaps not. Remember, Ignatieff wasn’t talking about deploying “international peacekeepers,” the context Power now suggests for her words. He specifically proposed United States troops, followed by anyone else who was “willing.” Their job wouldn’t be to keep the peace, but to “enforce the solution.” Far better today for Power to have some kind of blackout, than to tell the truth about the “dramatic exercise” she and Ignatieff envisioned.
Ignatieff seems to be more candid. Last year, he wrote: “As a former denizen of Harvard I