As the Senate prepares for confirmation hearings Wednesday to decide whether Samantha Power will be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, there are some controversial criticisms of America from her past that may be called into question.
Power, a former journalist turned political activist, once connected some of the tactics in the U.S. war on terror to French military support for the Hutu militia, which killed 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide. She also has called Americans “stingy on foreign aid,” declared that the U.S. should apologize for slavery, and even made indirect references comparing U.S. involvement in the world to that of Nazi Germany.
At a 2002 discussion of her book at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Power questioned the U.S. cooperation with other countries in the war on terror, saying “we’re about to partner with regimes that if they’re not committing genocide they are certainly committing systematic atrocities against their people.”
“Will somebody else write a book about that and say that we abetted the Russian genocide against the Chechens because we were fighting a war on terror and needed Putin on our side? Maybe. But we now because we’re living in the time understand our mindset and why we’re doing it. I don’t think we should excuse it. I think we should change our policy.”
Power has repeatedly called what had been going on in Russia “a near genocide” or a “genocide,” statements which may make difficult the rapprochement that has existed between Moscow and Washington. In the aftermath of the Boston bombing by Chechen-born terrorists, the United States has partnered with Russia on intelligence gathering. Russian cooperation also is needed to advance most issues on the U.N. Security Council.
Power has already come under fire for a New Republic article in which she called for Americans to follow the lead of German leaders post-Holocaust and apologize for their war crimes:
“U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought. It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States. This would entail restoring FOIA to its pre- Bush stature, opening the files, and acknowledging the force of a mantra we have spent the last decade promoting in Guatemala, South Africa, and Yugoslavia: A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors. When Willie Brandt went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto, his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also ennobling and cathartic for Germany.”
She has also gotten into trouble about supporting a multilateral occupation of “Palestine-Israel.”
These remarks are but a few examples of a long history of moral equivalence. On a panel put on by the Los Angeles Times Book Review in April 2003, Power compared the Turkish government’s reluctance to declare the atrocities in Armenia a genocide to the American response to slavery and Saddam Hussein.
“It is the tendency of states and of some individuals not to look back and not to reckon with what we’ve done wrong. Often if you look at our country we were just able to make war in Iraq without ever coming forward and saying ‘let me just explain why I was in Baghdad giving him a bear hug in 1984. I want to explain that before we actually go forward.’ States don’t do that generally speaking.”
After discussing the example of the apologetic Germans after the Holocaust and Latin American dictatorships, Power turned back to America. “Again, we have to look at ourselves. Slavery would be similarly cathartic to apologize for. We’ve never done that. Only the Japanese-Americans got an apology out of us for domestic political reasons.”
Despite America’s checkered history, Power has also repeatedly called for America to send troops or arm rebels to stop would-be genocides.
“You could take sides with the victim people and try to arm them if you don’t want to go there,” she said in a January 2002 interview with C-Span’s Brian Lamb. “And indeed… sending U.S. troops as part of a multinational force is part of what ‘never again’ implies.”
But some interventions were better than others, in Power’s assessment, and Iraq was not a good intervention. On April 26, 2003, she attended the L.A. Times Festival of Books where she participated in three panels and criticized American foreign policy in Iraq.
After granting that the U.S. invasion of Iraq might have been a success at prosecuting genocide, she nevertheless opposed the intervention. “While we may have got the right outcome and the bad guys might be locked up and killed without, as it were, due process…The worry is that we’ve just engendered obviously more anti-Americanism and actually imperiled our security,” Power said. “In the long term doing deals with people like Saddam Hussein as we did in the 80s is bad for American security. To think that we can enjoy values at home but not inject them into our foreign policy is really going to come back and haunt us.”
Power continued, blaming America’s willingness to go it alone for anti-Americanism. “I think the Saddam Hussein model really shows that, but unfortunately I also think engendering the kind of resentment that we’ve been engendering not just by going it alone, or by going virtually alone, but by turning our backs on international treaties and by being stingy on foreign aid and by not going through global funds on AIDS medicines and by thinking that we are the guardians of the rules and that we are possessors in a way of truth.”
“I just worry that even though the outcome would be positive from the standpoint of actually prosecuting genocidaires that it might actually be dangerous for American security. Anti-Americanism seems to me over the long term to be a sea in which terrorists are probably going to thrive, ” she said.
Power has long called for sending in U.S. troops to combat genocide. While still a student at Harvard Law School, she weighed in on the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian war in the pages of The Harvard Law Record in 1995.
Though she disagreed with some provisions of the peace treaty, she praised sending in American troops, which she felt were sorely needed, and compared American involvement favorably with other conflicts. “What strikes me first an foremost is the incredible irony of the war,” she wrote on December 1, 1995. “When it was a raging inferno in Bosnia, we decided to send in 20,000 lightly armed blue-helmeted peacekeepers. Now with a peace agreement we send in 60,000 heavily armed soldiers.”
“Still it’s as much worth the risk as any foreign intervention that we have been involved in,” she noted.
But even in Bosnia, Power had a hard time discerning who were the “good guys and who were the bad guys.”
In a July 18, 1996 opinion piece, she blamed the Croatian army for driving Serbs from their homes. Croatian Ambassador Miomir Zuzul took offense, responding in the New York Times that the Croatian Army was recapturing land that had been occupied by the Serb nationalists. “Attempts by commentators like Ms. Power to create a moral equivalency between the documented aggression of Serbia and its clients in our region, and the efforts of Croatia to establish an independent, democratic state, may be intellectually satisfying to them,” Zuzul wrote to the New York Times at the time. “It is, however, wrong and unproductive.”
Power’s history also is intricately tied to other liberal activists. She revealed in a 2002 interview that George Soros’s Open Society Institute gave her a grant to travel to all of the countries mentioned in her book. She also attended a Campus Progress event in 2010 when she was worked as the White House National Security Aide. When asked by a moderator what her proudest moment was working with President Obama, she pointed to the Cairo address “where you literally see a ripple of change in perspective.”
“The truth is that there are people behind the fence of the White House who every day are trying to take up the causes that you hold dear,” she said, praising the audience. “The things you’re talking about, the things you are thinking about that’s what we’re talking about and thinking about every day, really and truly.”
“Frankly, I benefit from your activism,” she said. “When you do human rights in government, you benefit when the phones ring, when you all start those email campaigns, and when the Twitter starts, and when the press starts to focus on an issue it really actually helps those people who are thinking about the issues on your program every day.
You have no idea how much it helps. So keep it up. Just know that we’re now in slightly different positions there are a lot of people like me who were once sitting where you are and we really, really need you.”
Front Page photo credit: JIM WATSON / AFP/Getty Images
On Tuesday’s BlazeCast, Erick Stakelbeck joined Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker to talk about Samantha Power’s nomination as well as his new book about the Muslim Brotherhood: