Reading Power on Syria

I took a look at Samantha Power’s speech at the Center for American Progress this past Friday supporting finely tuned, perfectly calibrated military action against Syria yesterday here and here. What Power says matters. Power is our Ambassador to the United Nations, but more than that she is the advocate of purportedly humanitarian interventions by the United States around the world.

Power reportedly played an important role in promoting the intervention in Libya from her perch as foreign policy adviser inside the Obama administration. See, for example, Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s New York Times article “Still crusading, but now on the inside.” She has Obama’s ear.

I don’t think Power has had much to say on the outcome of the Libyan venture. We are in a position to arrive at a tentative assessment of costs and benefits. Power is a voluble analyst and advocate. Why her reticence on Libya? It would be nice to have her thoughts on the record as she speaks up on behalf of the proposed resolution supporting military action against Syria.

Stanley Kurtz takes a close look at Power’s speech to CAP in the NRO/Corner post “Public opinion and the Syria strike.” I had missed it before posting my own comments and would like to bring it to the attention of readers who may be interested in Kurtz’s thoughts, as I am.

Kurtz’s post begins with a consideration of Professor James Ceaser’s column supporting authorization. He comes to Power after Ceaser, but it is Power whose position close to Obama demands attention. It would have made sense to set Kurtz’s analysis of Power’s speech off to stand alone by itself. Here is the heart of Kurtz’s analysis of Power’s case for action as presented in the CAP speech:

The argument of Power’s speech at the Center for American Progress clearly follows from her previously published work on humanitarian interventionism. In her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Power explains that while her interventionist policy prescriptions are driven by humanitarian concerns, it has been necessary to overcome public opposition by stressing long-term dangers of humanitarian tragedies, such as threats to regional stability, the creation of militarized refugees, and future threats to American troops from dictators in possession of chemical weapons. Yet Power acknowledges that the public and policymakers often find these arguments wanting, since the way in which dictators treat their own citizens can be distinguished from their proclivity for proliferation, and since the pressures of a post 9/11 world mean that America has fewer resources to spare for humanitarian intervention.

All of this was reflected in Power’s address [on Friday], which made unconvincing attempts to blur the distinction between internal use of chemical weapons and proliferation. Power laid out her usual pragmatic case for intervention, yet failed to properly examine the grave risks of action, despite having promised to do so. Even as Power warned that failure to act would “haunt our conscience,” she promised, ironically, that “this will not be Libya,” her signature policy triumph. The outcome in Libya cannot be comforting to conscience. Nor, I fear, will the outcome in Syria comfort conscience, whether a strike fall short of regime change, as Power promises, or attempts to remove Assad without openly avowing it, as the administration now hints it will do.

Above all, Power argues: “If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear, and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised.” Here is the heart of the problem. The public rightly rejects a counterproductive adventure in a case where our interests are not truly at stake. It is absurd to turn Syria into a test-case for public will in a matter such as an Iranian nuclear bomb. Sadly, some in the world may now take it that way….

Please go to Kurtz’s post for the links and the rest of his comments.


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