The Power of silence

Samantha Power served as America’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 2013 until President Trump took office, but she made her name as the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning 2002 book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. In the book Power indicted and convicted the United States of passivity in the face of genocide. The book is a polemical history. As a polemic, the book advocates the use of American power to prevent or mitigate ethnically based mass slaughters, going to back to Turkey’s extermination of Armenians during and after World War I.

Reading the book, one awaits Power’s reconciliation of her advocacy of military action with articulation of the American national interest in some form. One waits in vain. In the words of Laura Secor’s laudatory New York Times review of Power’s book: “Self-interest trumps humanitarian concern in United States foreign policy with striking consistency, Power demonstrates.” For this she won a Pulitzer Prize.

I find it hard to square Power’s claim to fame with her service in the Obama administration. If she were serious, she would have resigned loudly on principle somewhere along the way. The administration’s actions offered many opportunities for her to put up or shut up, yet she soldiered on, making a fool of herself and of the United States in the process.

Obama’s farcical resolution of the issue of Syrian chemical weapons represents a good example. Here the Assad regime had shown itself to posses the means of mass slaughter and the will to use the means. The Assad regime famously crossed Obama’s red line in dramatic fashion, yet Obama found the fig leaf of an excuse to do nothing real. This farce played out to tragedy with added dollops of boasting and lying sufficient to revolt a person of average sensibilities, let alone a high priestess of moral indignation such as Power.

In the interest of fairness, I should add that Obama’s reluctance to intervene militarily on humanitarian grounds in Syria is what one would reasonably expect from reading the book. Obama more than lived down to the history recounted by Power. Accommodating and empowering and financing the truly genocidal ambitions of the Iranian regime, however, Obama has earned a new chapter in Power’s famous book if only Power would write it. If only.

So what has Power had to say about the Trump administration’s limited military reprisal against the Assad regime for the recent sarin gas attacks? Inquiring minds want to know.

The Weekly Standard’s Ethan Epstein sets out to answer the question in “The Power of silence.” The pun in Epstein’s headline spoils the plot, but the suspense isn’t exactly high in this case. Epstein found that Power had maintained an unusual silence on her Twitter account following the reprisal. Epstein contacted Power by email directly for comment. Power has not responded to Epstein’s inquiry. She has chosen discretion as the better part of hypocrisy, or something.

But wait! Power has broken her silence. Epstein has updated his column: “Power broke her Twitter silence earlier Thursday to share her excitement about teaching at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and School of Law, and to complain about reports that the U.S. anti-semitism envoy’s office will remain unstaffed. She has yet to tweet about the attack on Syria.”

NOTE: Seth Mandel gives Power the treatment she deserves in the Commentary essay “The cautionary tale of Samantha Power.”

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