I’ve long admired Samantha Power and am delighted to see her nomination. Her counsel to the President is likely to be measured and wise, with a special eye to humanitarian concerns. Unfortunately, I do not believe that her job as US ambassador to the UN will be critically important to our special interest in Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Left-wing concerns that she has a quick-draw reflex toward military action are overdrawn and unfair. I remember her presentation at a New York University conference in 2006, in honor of the centenary of Hannah Arendt’s birth, in which she spoke of her break with Michael Ignatieff (her one-time colleague at Harvard’s Kennedy School) because of his pro-Iraq war stance. She was so angry at Ignatieff over this issue that she tracked, on her laptop, news of Ignatieff’s race for the leadership of Canada’s Liberal party while sitting at that NYU conference hall dais, openly hoping for his defeat. (He narrowly lost that day but won in 2008, leading his Liberal party to a historic defeat in the most recent Canadian national election of 2011.)
This links to a piece Power wrote for The Atlantic (virtually on the eve of Sept. 11, 2001), on the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which implies the kind of humanitarian internationalism that she favors. I share her instinct for multilateral international efforts, including military intervention if advisable, to prevent or end humanitarian disasters. This is not a decision that should be taken lightly, nor one where the US acts more or less unilaterally in the face of widespread opposition, as it did in invading Iraq in 2003.
She’s being criticized from the Left today for supporting the West’s military campaign in Libya; but I think the bloody revenge that Muammar Gaddafi would have exacted if the US, France, Britain and others had not intervened, would have been far worse than the murky situation that exists there today. And Obama’s policy of “leading from behind” was artful.
As for Syria, the West has apparently erred in not arming non-Jihadi rebel elements in the past year or so, in resisting a tyrannical regime that murders its own citizens (mostly unarmed civilians) in huge numbers. This has given an undue advantage to Islamist extremists; we may pay a price for this in the future.
If I were a Western policy maker, I’d also favor establishing humanitarian corridors on the Turkish and possibly Jordanian borders. We did this for the Kurds in 1991 and I hope we could do this again, as part of an international coalition. I believe that Ms. Power would be inclined to agree.
Seliger is spot on about Samantha Power. The left’s ill informed and rote like responses further diminish its credibility. The whole active or passive intervention dichotomy stands as a faulty label and analytical tool.
How lines are drawn, what the criteria is for limited actions, and most important how the cross cutting factors are analyzed, weighed, wrestled with, and– as Learned Hand, the great judge opined, (paraphrasing)– don’t have the inflexible certitude that you’re always right.
Senior Advisor, Civic Ventures
Senior Congressional Fellow,
Council for a Livable World
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