Foreign Policy

The Corruptions of Power

Will former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power ever learn?


The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir, by Samantha Power, Dey Street Books, 592 pages, $29.99

Less than 100 hours before 2008's critical Super Tuesday vote, Samantha Power, the Pulitzer-winning author of 'A Problem From Hell': America and the Age of Genocide, stared plaintively into the eyes of Armenian-American YouTube viewers and delivered a heartfelt testimonial to a "true friend of the Armenian people," Barack Obama.

Past presidents have shied away, she said, from the "sometimes hard truth telling" of calling the Armenian genocide a "genocide." But not the junior senator from Illinois, as evidenced by his "very forthright statement on the Armenian genocide, his support for the Senate resolution acknowledging the genocide all these years later, his willingness as president to commemorate it."

Fourteen months after Power's promise, Obama finally got his big chance to deliver. And he whiffed. "I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed," the new president said on April 24, the National Day of Remembrance of Man's Inhumanity to Man. He did not elaborate further.

A promise broken that brazenly could be a teaching moment for the "humanitarian interventionists," of whom Power—Obama's first-term human rights honcho on the National Security Council and his second-term ambassador to the United Nations—is arguably the leading light. Did the woman who is as likely as anyone alive to be the next Democrat-appointed secretary of state ever consider that mobilizing U.S. force to halt genocide inevitably requires such grubby logistical concerns as making sure not to piss off the owners of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey? Might there be a corrupting paradox in protecting human rights at the point of a gun?

Power's new memoir, The Education of an Idealist, includes a whole chapter titled "April 24," complete with an O. Henry twist at the end. But whether it's the war of words she lost on that Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day or the far more consequential war in Libya that she successfully helped argue America into, the muddled track record of applied Powerism occasions little introspection from its intellectual architect.

"He was the President of the United States," Power exhaustedly concludes, after detailing her failed attempts to get Obama to utter the word genocide in 2009. "No matter how hard I tried, I would never be able to put myself in his shoes, or appreciate the variables he was weighing." So much for the self-styled "genocide chick."

As with most champions of the "just do something" approach to governance, what haunts the memoirist the most is not "What did we do wrong?" but "Why couldn't we do more?" Thus, the central dilemma in the book is Obama's refusal to enforce his "red line" against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in 2013, not the allegedly genocide-preventing overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi two years earlier.

Since Libya was the application of Power's ideas and Syria the unmet aspiration, you might think she would be interested in a comparative analysis of actions taken and not. After all, both countries plunged into an instability whose effects are still being felt today, including the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The disastrous intervention in Libya materially contributed to the public backlash against striking Syria, a fact Power tacitly acknowledged while trying to rally support at the liberal Center for American Progress: "This will not be Iraq, this will not be Afghanistan, this will not be Libya."

So what education did the idealist glean from a genocide prevention gone wrong? One strikingly similar to that learned by neoconservatives after Iraq: that we didn't try hard enough to win the peace.

"Once it became clear that European efforts to shore up the transition were falling short," she concludes, "the US government could have exerted more aggressive, high-level pressure on Libya's neighbors to back a unified political structure and cease their support for the competing opposition factions." Still, "neither at the time nor presently do I see how we could have rejected the [pro-intervention] appeals of our closest European allies, the Arab League, and a large number of Libyans." After all, "we had run out of further nonmilitary steps."

And Americans wonder why we're constantly at war.

I have some familiarity with the milieu from which Power sprang. Our life trajectories as sports-fanatic college newspaper reporters were both radically redirected by the same event: an anonymous Chinese man stopping a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square. (Her recollection—"For the first time, I reacted as though current events had something to do with me"—mirrors my reaction precisely.) As a direct result of the ensuing revolutions of 1989, each of us wound up the next summer in both celebratory Prague and fracturing Yugoslavia. When Power returned to the latter region a few years later to try her hand at being a war stringer, one of the key figures helping her was my ex-girlfriend.

The Western Gen Xers who flooded into post-communist Europe tend to have a very different view of the exercise of U.S. power than do normies back home or even expats in other parts of the globe. We basked in the populations' idealized appreciation for American moral leadership against the "evil empire" of Soviet communism rather than encountering far more mixed verdicts in Africa or Central America. While most Americans were eyeing peace dividends and bickering over half-baked expeditions in Somalia and Haiti, we were horrified on a daily basis by Western inaction in the face of the slaughter in Sarajevo. "I found myself rooting for the first time in my life for the United States to use military force," Power recalls.

Many books are yet to be written about how America in the 1990s transformed so quickly from uncertain international actor to uncontested global cop, but Yugoslavia, as it has been so often in its unhappy history, was central to an empire's story arc. From the outbreak of hostilities in Slovenia in the spring of 1991 through the summer of 1995, Washington clearly wished that a rapidly integrating Western Europe would clean up the mess in its own backyard. Instead, Paris and Bonn and London took turns making diplomatic pratfalls. It was only when America fired up the fighter planes that the participants in the Yugoslav wars became motivated to negotiate a settlement.

The lesson was learned, or so many of us thought: America has to lead. Force can be effectively applied, with minimal U.S. casualties, to halt the organized mass murder of civilians. In a world otherwise getting more free, democratic, prosperous, and peaceful by the minute (hey, it was the '90s!), some well-timed interventions can nip potential catastrophes in the bud. Democratic internationalists and Republican neoconservatives were in basic agreement—if "never again" is to be taken seriously, America needs to draw some red lines and to punish those who cross them, national sovereignty be damned.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can see where this road map leads: to one war after another, especially the disaster in Iraq. Power, to her credit, did not support the Iraq invasion, arguing correctly that it "would render the world a much more dangerous place." But she did fall prey to some of the same myopia as the Bush administration. "I actually think that it's going to be a relatively clean intervention," she said in February 2003. "I may be in the minority in the human rights community in feeling that way, but having seen the Kosovo and the Bosnia and the Afghanistan interventions, I have some sense of that."

Worse, Power spelled out a doctrine for being more, not less, promiscuously interventionist: "My feeling is that an intervention in Iraq, even a unilateral one, is undoubtedly going to make Iraq a more humane place," she said. "As somebody who has looked at the relationship between state power and sovereignty on the one hand, and individual rights on the other, I have to say to myself if the human rights movement meant anything it meant that sometimes sovereignty can't be a shield, a protection for regimes that forfeit their claim to that privilege."

Some realism has crept into the worldview of 2019 Samantha Power. In her new book's afterword, gazing into the confusion of populist uprisings at home and abroad, she bemoans the interventionist default of foreign policy.

"Military force is seen as the 'go-to' tool in the US toolbox," she laments. "Such a heavy reliance on our military is neither sustainable nor desirable. It is emblematic of a militarization of US foreign policy that concerns people across the political spectrum."

America's journey toward a more humble foreign policy has been thwarted time and again by the size of its toolbox. It's a lesson all of us idealists need to keep relearning.

NEXT: Brickbat: Don't Die Here

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  1. One might ask Ms. Power's why she had so many 'unmasking' requests to the NSA in 2016. Notably, not addresses by either Powers or Welch.

    Normie? Is this some New Age hipster definition?

    1. One might ask Ms. Power’s why she had so many ‘unmasking’ requests to the NSA in 2016. Notably, not addresses by either Powers or Welch.

      Particularly considering that nearly all of them were illegal. But what difference at this point does it make when a Democrat engages in corruption and illegal practices at the highest levels of government when DRUMPF released all of the congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine for nothing in exchange and explicitly told his staff that he wasn't interested in any quid pro quo. Literally the greatest scandal of all time and perhaps the strongest case for impeachment ever made!

  2. Patted yourself on the back for that title, huh Welch.

  3. The Education of an Idealist

    Get over yourself you fucking loser. Everything you touched turned to a warm pile of shit. Please never be in a position to make decisions ever again.

    1. Well it was her side in Syria and Libya, and the other side in Iraq; that has to count for something, right?

      1. I honestly think she's a war criminal

    2. Might as well have Kristof as secretary of state.

  4. "After all, both countries plunged into an instability whose effects are still being felt today, including the largest refugee crisis since World War II."

    From a Koch / Reason libertarian perspective, a refugee crisis is not necessarily a bad thing. It means there are more highly skilled doctors and engineers looking to move into the US and boost our economy.


    1. I mean just look at Europe, they've become the Mecca for all the best that Islam can produce, pun intended.

      1. Part of the reason the US is struggling is that our Muslim population is too small.


        1. Feminists and the LBGTQARIPCTWMS community agree, we need Sharia.

          1. +FGM

            1. I know, I'm not inclusive enough. Once the reeducation camps get up and rolling I won't make these mistakes anymore.

        2. Death to the non-believers!

          1. It has always puzzled me how religious fanatics think death is their reward for living, suicide is an abomination as if cutting in line, and killing enemies is not forcing them to cut in line.

            "I send you to your reward ahead of me!"

    2. "more highly skilled doctors and engineers looking to move into the US and boost our economy."
      Given France's apparent shortage of doctors, I think we should give them first dibs whenever there is a refugee crisis.

  5. Her recollection—"For the first time, I reacted as though current events had something to do with me"—mirrors my reaction precisely.

    Talk about your narcissists!

    1. Certainly the title of her book "The Education of an Idealist" makes it all about her.

      Some pundits say the real scandal is that the Democrats have been spying since 2012 with Power's numerous curious unmasking requests, the purpose of which inquiring minds want to know, the many political contractors accessing the NSA database to which Adm. Rodgers put a stop. and for which the fraudulent FISA applications is the insurance policy to cover for the spying.

      We know Obama's government spied on Trump, and the CIA spied on the Senate Intel. Committee. How far did it really go?

  6. Durka Allah, Mohammed jihad.

  7. Looks around, figures this is as close as we'll get to the Reason Roundup:
    Girls like to play hockey, SHOCKED to find out there's little chance of playing pro:

    "Girls hockey is booming in Bay Area and beyond, but pro game is ‘in shambles’"
    But the sport’s brightest star won’t be stunning crowds in professional competition anytime soon. Coyne Schofield is among 200-plus players sitting out this season because of what they consider substandard working conditions in the National Women’s Hockey League, which fields five teams and pays a top salary of $15,000..."

    She ought to sue her parents for keeping her under that rock for all those years.

    1. Hey, it's the same job the men in the NHL do, and they get paid a minimum salary of 700K!!!

    2. From the link:

      “What I hope it did was show that girls and women can play the game at extremely high levels,” said Sharks vice president of communications Scott Emmert. “Seeing the All-Stars’ faces watching her skate around the rink like, ‘Holy smokes, I don’t want to skate against her,’ was a little bit of an ‘aha’ moment of sorts.

      Get the fuck out of here. "Skating around the rink" is not, in any sense "playing the game at extremely high levels".

      1. When a gold-medal-winning women's Olympic hockey team can consistently beat a middle-of-the-pack Division I NCAA men's hockey team, talk about women being able to play hockey at "extremely high levels" will be something other than a bad joke.

        Of course, with the transgender takeover of women's sports, that day might actually be on the horizon.

    3. Want to make money as women skating and checking for audiences, opportunities may be better in roller derby. Remember when the women's portion of those matches consisted only of the middle third between two men's heats? The audience for the men has dried up, so now they're exclusively women's matches, and don't appear to be rigged any more.

  8. And, speaking of roundups:

    "Trump administration backs Monsanto in Bay Area case"
    "The Trump administration is supporting Monsanto Co.’s challenge to a $25 million damage award to a Bay Area man who was diagnosed with cancer after regularly spraying Monsanto’s Roundup weed-killer on his crops, arguing that courts are bound by federal regulators’ conclusion that the product is safe to use...."

    1. Another plus for the Orange Man. Any chance Reason will cover the story?

      1. Cover it? They didn't even post the Reason Roundup.

        1. Nice double entendre there.

    2. The judge in that decision ought to be impeached for allowing such bogus testimony from such a bogus "scientific" study.

    3. "arguing that courts are bound by federal regulators’ conclusion that the product is safe to use"

      I hate to sound a sour note, but does this mean the federal administrative state overrules a state's court system and jury trials?

      I mean, we can grant for this discussion that the jury was wrong and the administrative state right, but as reported in the paragraphs quoted, it doesn't sound like a victory for the freedom philosophy.

      1. Sounds like pretty thin grounds to me, but the argument regards what labeling a state can require.

        1. TL;DR but is that your reading of it? From what Eddy wrote it looks like the court system is bound by a superior administative agency's finding of the facts. Although it may get us out of temporary trouble caused by the legal system (law schools and juries, effectively) that seem intractable to reform the right way (because diffuse), I've never liked solutions like this that take away 5th amendment rights in the hands of the common people. I'd rather have injustices and indignities inflicted on the weapons industry, for instance, than legislation depriving juries of the right to determine liability, because in the long run the precedents will lead to usurpation of all of our rights against torts.

  9. Oooh nelly. She's some piece of self-absorbed work. It's like she never read history or something.

    How could she be in politics and not understand that a leader has different considerations and calculus to apply in a constant motion? This doesn't compute for me. At the very least, someone in her position she possess at the very least the ability to understand the other side's point of view or else how the hell can you negotiate in good faith?

    And quite frankly, how is it really America's business to force Turkey to acknowledge the Armenian genocide? Worse, how did she expect it to not have possible ramifications given how things played out in the post-war era?

    How did she get this far with this facile and naive mentality?

    1. I’m thinking that back in the day, she was kinda hot.

      1. I've heard that about Nancy Pelosi, AOC, and Sarah Palin too.

        1. That video of AOC dancing was pretty good. She is clearly a hot fuck, and likely keeps eye contact with her crazy eyes during fellatio. She also has a tight body and her Bonnie’s looked pretty good bouncing around.

          Definitely would be up for rough sex with her. Like Buffy and Spike leveling a dilapidated building rough.

    2. “understand the other side’s point of view or else how the hell can you negotiate in good faith?”

      You think she’s someone who is interested in arguing in good faith, then call her naive?

  10. What I find cutest is why a coastal elite, college educated puny white woman sincerely believes that Abu Jamal and Achmed would listen to her when, in reality, they would probably rape and kill her if given the chance. Every sentence that starts with "we could" is nothing more than a pathetic power fantasy. You can't do shit. You can't make people want or not want things. If you think a bit of international pressure is all it takes to defeat competing interests in Libya or anything in life, then you're a moron and a psychopath.

    1. Well said, but the road to hell was paved with the best of intentions, I'm sure.

  11. "...American moral leadership against the 'evil empire' of Soviet communism..."

    WTF Welch? Why the quotes around "evil empire"? Do you know of a better, more accurate description of the Soviet Union?

    JFC are libertarians still pretending the Soviets were just misunderstood, insecure German-phobes who had no malicious intent towards the West?

    1. I think you are much too sensitive, and the quotes are just literally quoting what Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Empire.

      1. Perhaps I am overreacting a bit here.

        But if Welch was quoting Reagan then he should have made it clear; the way he wrote it makes it sound as if he doesn't agree with that assessment.

        Part of the reason I'm overreacting a bit is that libertarians in general during the '80s were not on board with Reagan's policy of confronting the Soviets.

        Oh sure, they expressed the requisite outrage towards the Gulags and the police state, but when push came to shove they were more upset by the deployment of Pershing missiles in Western Europe than by the Iron Curtain.

  12. You don’t have to go overseas to find evil corrupt empires.

    Lying is coercion. Criminalize lying to defeat all corruption.

    1. "Lying is coercion."
      If there were the tiniest bit of truth there, your constant anti-semetic lying would make you subject to serious punishment.
      Fortunately, we just laugh at your pathetic insecurity.

    2. Rob need only go to his local synagogue to find evil.

      Right Rob?

    3. You are both self demonstrated trolls and bigots.

      You have tried to turn a discussion about corruption into your favourite trope, the jooos.

      Lying is misusing the authority of truth to compel people to do what is not really in their best interest.

      The definition of coercion; coercion - the act of compelling by force of authority.

      Yes the is that the Jewish religion is based on lying.

      Their holiest prayer on their holiest day is clearly a plan to lie. The faithful can lie for another year with the comfort and blessing of their religion. If Satan is the father of lies, members of the Jewish religion are his faithful children.

      I take vows, oaths and pledges very seriously. Everyone in civilization must. Faithful Jews don’t. It is probably the reason they have been persecuted for thousands of years. They haven’t learned a thing.

      Here is the Kol Nidre text. The holiest Jewish prayer on the holiest Jewish day.

      “All vows, obligations, oaths, and anathemas [curses]which we may vow, or swear, or pledge, or whereby we may be bound, from this Day of Atonement until the next we do repent. May they be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, and void, and made of no effect: they shall not bind us nor have any power over us. The vows shall not be reckoned vows; the obligations shall not be obligations; nor the oaths be oaths.”

      1. "You have tried to turn a discussion about corruption into your favourite trope, the jooos."

        "*I'm* not obsessed, *you're* obsessed."

        1. No matter what I post, bigoted trolls reply to it with the same obsessive irrelevant trope about jooos.

          It’s Christ mas, so I threw the dogs a bone.

          1. Are you too stupid to know what a day of atonement means?

            You're acting as if this is a credo for the living. When its referring to the deceased lol.

            1. I know that “ from this Day of Atonement until the next ” doesn’t apply to “the dead”.

    4. Actually it’s fraud.

      1. See my post below.

  13. This kind of lying?

    "Under the reform we're proposing, if you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan."

  14. Fraud only addresses one aspect of lying, specifically for financial or personal gain, that must be quantifiable to result in charges.

    The harm caused by lying could also be inspired by the desire to do harm, political advantage or to avoid taking responsibility for the consequences of your actions.

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