• What an Asshole #26 - Samantha Power

    Funny enough, I had been meaning to do this thread several months back when I first saw her interviewed on the Charlie Rose show. Someone forced me to watch it to see the other half hour which featured Mark Penn. It is a fascinating interview as it turns out in that it really shows how much nuance has come into "imperial lite" and how much the emphasis is on a nearly baffling and incomprehensible rhetoric. Samantha Power is in particular masterful at this and deserves all due credit which is to say precisely none except for her well-deserved entry into the pantheon of assholes.

    Samantha Power Born 1970IrelandResidence Flag of the United States United StatesField Public policy, human rightsInstitutions Kennedy School of Government,HarvardAlma mater Yale

    Samantha Power (born 1970 in Ireland) is an American journalist, writer, and professor. She is currently affiliated with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

    Power was raised in Ireland before emigrating to the United States in 1979. She attended Lakeside High School in Atlanta, Georgia. She was a member of the cross country team as well the basketball team. She is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. From 1993 to 1996, she worked as a journalist, covering the Yugoslav wars for U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe, The Economist, and The New Republic. She is currently a scholar of foreign policy especially as it relates to human rights, genocide, and AIDS.

    Recent work

    Her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 2003.

    As of 2006, she was writing about foreign policy and Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and United Nations Special Representative in Iraq who was killed in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad along with Jean-Sélim Kanaan, Nadia Younes, Fiona Watson, and other members of his staff, on the afternoon of August 19, 2003. The book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World will be released in February 2008.

    She spent 2005-06 working in the office of U.S. Senator Barack Obama as a foreign policy fellow, where she was credited with sparking off and directing Obama's interest in the Darfur conflict[1]. According to the November 4, 2007 edition of The New York Times, she is currently serving as a foreign policy adviser to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

    Alongside her work with Obama, Power has been involved in several efforts to increase awareness with regard to genocide and human rights abuse, most particularly regarding the Darfur conflict. In 2006, she contributed to "Screamers", a movie telling about Darfur, Armenian and other genocides of 20-21st centuries. She endorses the Genocide Intervention Network.

    In 2004, Power was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 top scientists and thinkers of that year.[2] She appears in Charles Ferguson's 2007 documentary No End in Sight which alleges numerous missteps by the Bush administration in the U.S. war in Iraq.

    In fall 2007, Power began to write a column in Time Magazine.[3]



    Getting through these dark times

    Foreign policy whiz Samantha Power sheds light on a legendary diplomat killed in Iraq, advising Barack Obama and how America can emerge from the Bush era.

    By Leigh Flayton

    Feb. 18, 2008 | In 2003, Samantha Power won a Pulitzer Prize for her book "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," in which she chronicled the United States' responses to the major genocides of the 20th century. But that's just one of her accomplishments. Power, 37, is a Harvard professor and founder of that university's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She is a prominent voice on stopping the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and addressing numerous trouble spots around the world. She has shot hoops with fellow Darfur activist George Clooney, and once proclaimed herself the "genocide chick."

    Beneath her sense of humor is a fierce idealism and dedication to improving world affairs. Now, Power is immersed in what she considers the toughest challenge yet in her action-packed career: serving as a senior foreign policy advisor to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

    The demands of that job have only risen since she first began working for Obama when he joined the U.S. Senate in 2005. But Power also found time to produce another book, published last week: "Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World." The new volume is a biography of the revered United Nations envoy -- once described as a cross between Bobby Kennedy and James Bond -- who was killed in the catastrophic bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad by insurgents during the early stages of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The book is also a treatise on why the world needs the U.N., and the lessons Vieira de Mello learned throughout his career, now more than ever.

    "He is the man for dark times," Power says of Vieira de Mello, whom former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan once called the U.N.'s "go-to guy." "He had a 35-year head start thinking about how to mend broken people and broken places, these questions that are consuming us now."

    During Vieira de Mello's career with the U.N., as Power details, he met with members of the Khmer Rouge and Serbian genocidaires, his attempts to broker peace with the latter earning him the nickname "Serbio." Power says she sees a strong synergy between Vieira de Mello's principles and Obama's concept of foreign policy -- with their emphasis on justice, human rights, security and, perhaps most controversially, direct diplomatic engagement with foreign adversaries.

    Power sat down with Salon recently in New York for a wide-ranging conversation about Vieira de Mello's legacy, going to work for Obama and the colossal challenges facing whichever candidate becomes the next U.S. president.

    Your new book is out and you've been on the road with Sen. Obama. Are you having fun?

    I'm not having as much fun as you would expect because I don't know that I've ever taken anything so seriously. I think the campaign is the most important thing I've ever been associated with. So I'm really tense and actually quite miserable.

    How did you end up working for Sen. Obama?

    His office called me when he began serving in the U.S. Senate in early 2005. He had just read "A Problem From Hell" and wanted to meet to discuss fixing American foreign policy. I thought, "Well that's interesting -- clearly he's in some other league." I mean, who spends Christmas reading a dark book on genocide? No other politician had ever contacted me to discuss it.

    We were supposed to meet for only an hour but ended up meeting for three or four hours at a steakhouse. Suddenly it was almost midnight and I heard myself saying to him, "Why don't I just quit my job at Harvard and work in your office for a year or whatever?" I didn't even know what I was proposing, but he said, "Great."

    How did you make the leap from journalist to going to work for a political candidate?

    I got into journalism not to be a journalist but to try to change American foreign policy. I'm a corny person. I was a dreamer predating my journalistic life, so I got into journalism as a means to try to change the world. I didn't get into journalism by any means to win a Pulitzer Prize or do anything like that. Back then, I was obsessed with what was going on in Bosnia. I went over there because of that; I tried to get a job at NGOs ... But I didn't wait this long [to work for a candidate] because I was such a hardcore reporter. It was because I never met anybody worth doing it for before.

    You were born in Dublin, Ireland, and grew up mainly in the United States. How did you come to write about genocide?

    I read about the Holocaust in college [at Yale University]. Right around the time I graduated there were the concentration camps out of Bosnia with these emaciated men behind barbed wire. And I could tell a long story about why that moved me ... but it was so moving.

    Genocide was the lens for me. And you can see genocide whether you go to Rwanda or you don't go to Rwanda, but you still have to figure out a way to inject concern for human beings into our foreign policy. This is what was so gratifying to me about the way Obama read "A Problem From Hell" -- for him it was about fixing American foreign policy.

    What is the biggest foreign policy challenge for the next president?

    The next president is really going to have to walk and chew gum at the same time, because no long-term peace in the Middle East is possible until we get some kind of modus vivendi in the Arab-Israeli situation. And then the singular challenge is being handed two wars, two live battlefields -- and one of them in the heart of the Middle East. It can't be an afterthought as it was in the Bush administration.

    Afghanistan is a hugely important theater -- and of course we neglected it by going to war in Iraq. We probably should not fall prey to this romantic idea that simply by getting out of Iraq and retraining our resources on Afghanistan that solves the problem. We have major deficiencies with what the international system is capable of in terms of reconstruction and development, and that's ultimately what will stabilize Afghanistan -- stop the resurgence of the Taliban, temper the violence, stave off the outbreak of widespread civil war. But while you do that you have to get the other train running: building up infrastructure, roads and schools, the things that are going to actually stabilize the country long term.

    And along with all that the next president will have to keep an eye on Lebanon, North Korea, Darfur, China as an economic and geopolitical dynamo, and Russia and its regional adventurism.




    Whitewashing Western Intervention
    Samantha Power's A Problem from Hell

    by Dimitri Oram

    Book Review

    (Swans - February 26, 2007) Samantha Power, an advocacy journalist, professor at Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights, and leading figure in the Save Darfur movement, is one of the best examples of a crusader against genocide who has been involved in denying, condoning, or trivializing US war crimes. Right out of college, Samantha Power began her career as an intern with the Carnegie Endowment for Peace under then President Morton Abramowitz, who had quit the State Department in order to lobby for military intervention in Bosnia. Having been told that the situation in Bosnia was "genocide," Power went off to the former Yugoslavia in 1993 where she worked for several years as a reporter serving up the familiar (if oversimplified and factually inaccurate) tale of "genocidal" Serbian aggression against Bosnia. As she tells it, she and her colleagues questioned "how the United States and its allies might have responded if the same crimes had been committed in a different place...against different victims...at a different time" (p. xv) This prompted her to undertake an investigation of US responses to previous cases of genocide and write her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, a book that has been widely read and often respectfully reviewed.

    The book's premise is essentially as follows: "We have all been bystanders to genocide" (xvii), the US government time and again has failed to exercise its power in order to stop genocide. Power tries to show over the course of more than 500 pages the US reaction (or failure to react) to different cases of genocide over the twentieth century. She begins with the Turkish genocide against the Armenians during World War I, then moves on to the Holocaust in World War II, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, Iraq's attacks on the northern Kurds, Serb atrocities in Bosnia, the Hutu massacres of Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994, Kosovo and NATO's "humanitarian" bombing campaign. With the exception of the Armenian genocide, all the genocides (real and alleged) to which Power devotes serious attention involve enemies of the U.S. The genocides in which the U.S. and its client states are directly implicated (including Vietnam, Iraq after Saddam Hussein became an enemy, Guatemala, Indonesia, East Timor, El Salvador) receive only passing mention when discussed at all.

    Power's book has a few good points: She presents an interesting and sympathetic portrait of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish Jew who coined the word genocide and played a leading role in getting the Genocide Convention passed. (To her credit, she does also reproduce the actual text of the 1948 Genocide Convention on p. 62-63) She notes that the US government was late to ratify the Genocide Convention, doing so only in the late 1980s in order to counter domestic criticism stemming from the President Reagan's 1985 visit to the Bitburg cemetery in West Germany, which included the graves of SS soldiers, and his appalling equation of SS soldiers with concentration camp victims. Even so, the ratification only passed with added resolutions that made it essentially inapplicable to the U.S. Power allows enough challenging of the official line to appear critical of the U.S. government: She criticizes US failure to help or save the various victims as well as US support for the Khmer Rouge, Saddam Hussein's government during the 1980s, and the US role in pushing for withdrawal of UN peacekeepers in Rwanda. And, of course, she is critical of the U.S. for its failure to state that "genocide" was occurring in Bosnia and intervene even sooner.

    This may sound like harsh criticism but, in fact, her complaints only serve to underscore the evil of our current enemies. The true villains always lie elsewhere and the real trouble is, as she said about the alleged failure to confront Yugoslav President Milosevic, that "Western officials ... [were/are] engaged in a wishful thinking, failing to imagine evil and presuming rational actors." The U.S. and the other First World countries may have done some not so very nice things in the past but the basic moral supremacy of the West is presumed; only its refusal to do more about the crimes of others is questioned.

    Our Crimes Don't Count

    In order to make her case that the U.S. is derelict in its duty to stop genocide Ms. Power presents a warped and decontextualized version of events, relying largely on the say-so of of various interventionists and hawkish US officials, omitting key facts and distorting others. Events are reduced to simple tales of bad leaders who do bad things and need to be stopped or countered by the U.S. and its allies. As a result of this the reader is left with a wildly flawed but typically American view of the designated enemy as "irrational" or "evil," with war or US intervention as a positive thing or at least the lesser evil. Most disturbing is Power's refusal to deal honestly with the crimes of the United States and hold her government to an equal level of accountability as the various enemy states she decries.

    On those occasions when she does mention US crimes it is usually to downplay them or use them in background to emphasize the greater crimes of the enemy. She is critical of US conduct during the war on Vietnam, which she mentions briefly -- "American lives were being lost, American honor was being soiled AND North Vietnam was winning the war." (p. 91, Power's emphasis) -- and particularly of the bombing of Cambodia, which she notes killed tens of thousands of people, destroyed Cambodia's economy and "did great damage in its own right." (Curiously she never mentions Laos.) But she never calls US atrocities in Southeast Asia genocide, or spends much time on them. Primarily, she writes about the crimes of the Khmer Rouge and US inaction.

    As with the Western media in general she pays far less attention to the comparable crime of a Western client state occurring at the same time as the KR rule over Cambodia. She devotes one misleading sentence to the US-backed Indonesian invasion of East Timor: "In 1975, when its ally, the oil-producing, anti-communist Indonesia, invaded East Timor, killing between 100,000 and 200,000 civilians, the United States looked away." (pp.146-147) But the U.S. did not simply look away, it supported Indonesia with large amounts of military aid, blocked UN action and denied atrocities while the "Free Press" put East Timor in virtual media blackout. (1)

    Similarly, Power manages to give the U.S. a war-crimes-free version of the 1991 Gulf War: "The U.S. bombing of Baghdad began in January 17, 1991. U.S. ground troops routed Iraqi republican guards soon thereafter." (p. 237) There are no cluster bombs or depleted uranium or highways of death in this account. The enormous suffering, death, and damage caused by UN sanctions pushed through, enforced, and maintained by the U.S. and Britain for over 12 years is not a subject of discussion anywhere in Power's book. For Power, like the neoconservatives, only the US betrayal of Iraq's Kurds and Shia is a problem worth dwelling on. Indeed, Ms. Power even does her bit to present the deeply suffering Iraq as a post-September 11 threat to the United States:

    States that murder and torment their own citizens target citizens elsewhere. Their appetites become insatiable. Hitler began by persecuting his own people and then waged war on the rest of Europe and, in time, the United States. Saddam Hussein wiped out rural Kurdish life and then turned

    on Kuwait, sending his genocidal henchman Ali Hassan al Majid to govern the newly occupied country. The United States now has reason to fear that the poisonous potions Hussein tried out on the Kurds will be used next on Americans. (p. 513)

    If there is any difference between this passage and the rhetoric of the Bush administration, one is hard pressed to find it. Indeed, Power and her favored sources mix liberal human rights appeals with the cold language of US "interests," both of which are supposedly served by intervening in other countries one way or another, a road that leads eventually to "bomb[ing] the fuckers" (Richard Holbrooke) allegedly to prevent atrocities. Naturally, the bad guys are so bad they deserve it.

    Benevolent Atrocities

    Certainly this is the way she portrays the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, which take up the greatest part of her book. Following the standard script, which collapses under any serious scrutiny as Diana Johnstone has shown in her book Fools' Crusade, (2) she takes all allegations against the Serbs at face value: Serbs are always the victimizers, never the victims. Power does reluctantly acknowledge the post-bombing ethnic cleansing of Kosovo by Albanian extremists (although she ignores earlier KLA crimes) but attributes it to "revenge" and ignores NATO's obligation under international law to protect Kosovo's Serb, Roma, and other minority groups. Power actually looks favorably on the largest ethnic cleansing operation of the Balkan wars, Operation Storm, in which the Croatian armed forces drove over 200,000 Serbs from the UN protected areas of Krajina on the eve of a peace agreement: "Croatia's success showed that the so-called Serb juggernaut was more of a paper tiger, a vital piece of news for those who had deferred for years to alarmist Pentagon warnings of steep US casualties." (p. 438) Ms. Power does not mention the US support for this operation including training given to Croatian forces by US private military contractor MPRI or the US role in blocking a UN resolution condemning the atrocities then being committed. She hails NATO's large-scale bombing of the Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and wholeheartedly supports NATO's 1999 bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.

    Anyone who was alive at that time and had any access to mainstream Western media will recognize the clichéd, overwrought rhetoric and the gross apologetics for NATO war crimes: "From his time at the Dayton peace talks, [NATO general Wesley] Clark was well-acquainted with the spuriousness of Milosevic's charm, the prevalence of his lies and the hardness of his heart" (p. 453); "Given the choice, virtually every Albanian in Kosovo would have preferred to take his or her chances with the NATO bombing then business as usual under Milosevic" (p. 454); "NATO planners were especially sensitive about violations of international humanitarian law"(p. 457) even though there were "mistakes" and a number of the targets (i.e., Yugoslavia's civilian infrastructure), were "controversial" etc. Walter J. Rockler, a former Prosecutor at the Nuremburg War crimes trials, whom Samantha Power, despite her numerous references to the Holocaust and the Nuremburg Tribunal, never cites, demolishes the NATO PR line:

    The attack on Yugoslavia constitutes the most brazen act of international aggression since the Nazis attacked Poland to prevent "Polish atrocities" against Germans. The United States has discarded pretensions to international legality and decency. And embarked on a course of raw imperialism run amok... In reality, when we the self-appointed rulers of the planet, issue an ultimatum to another country it is "surrender or die." To maintain our "credibility" we must crush any resemblance of resistance to our dictate, to that country." (3)

    From the US government's recruitment of leading Nazi war criminals, to Wesley Clark's attempt to force a military showdown with Russian troops, there is a great deal Samantha Power is not telling us. (4) Given the extensive amount of information available to those who wish to look, it is not believable that Ms. Power is unaware of these realities. Her allegedly damning look at US policy provides cover for a much grimmer reality. Namely, that the U.S. is itself guilty of acts of genocide and numerous other horrendous crimes and that US intervention abroad (not US inaction) has been the cause of enormous suffering and devastation for much of the world's population. While numerous writers, researchers, and activists (including William Blum in his excellent book Killing Hope) (5) have documented the terrible consequences of US intervention, Ms. Power is not interested in a similarly full and honest look at the record. She wants to make a case for further US intervention in the affairs of other countries and limit examination of the past.

    Those interested in a serious reform of US policy and a critical look at the past would spend time examining the crimes that were and are undertaken or supported by the U.S. They would not engage in egregious evasions, accepting all allegations of the enemy's evil at face value. A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide is an attempt to obscure the real problem from hell: Western intervention, undertaken by the U.S. and its various imperial partners and rivals along with the current global economic system that have led to destruction, war, genocide, the continual globalization of poverty combined with ever widening disparities in wealth and an increase in nationalism, racism, and religious fundamentalism worldwide.


    A conversation with Samantha Power:
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. blindpig's Avatar
      blindpig -
      Well, you know where this is going....

      AP source: Obama to name Samantha Power to UN post

      WASHINGTON — A White House official says President Barack Obama will name former aide Samantha Power as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

      Power will replace Susan Rice, who will take over as Obama's national security adviser. The official says Obama will announce both appointments from the White House Wednesday afternoon.

      Power is a longtime Obama adviser who worked on his 2008 presidential campaign and ran the human rights office in the White House. She left the administration in February but was considered the favorite to replace Rice at the U.N.

      The official insisted on anonymity in order to confirm the appointment before it was publicly announced.


      Yes indeed, "human rights" with a vengence. "Human Rights" as defined by the US State Department. "Human Rights" in the service of imperial policy.