Portrait of a careerist

Samantha Power, who was the US ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administrations and is currently the head of the Agency for International Development, is a good example of how someone starts out wanting to do good and then ambition takes over and corrupts all the ideals, leaving a residue of cynicism and hypocrisy, something that happened to Macbeth as well. (Incidentally the Agency for International Development has been accused of often acting as a front for the CIA.)

Jon Schwarz writes that her recent statement about Sudan joining the International Criminal Court demonstrates her cynicism.

As Schwarz writes:

Power’s words were extraordinarily cynical in several ways.

The first issue with Power’s sentiments is obvious: The U.S. itself has not joined the International Criminal Court. Moreover, in 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law a bill authorizing the U.S. military to invade the Netherlands to free any American being held by the court.

Second, the Biden administration has strenuously opposed ICC investigations into the actions of Israel (and Palestinians) in the West Bank and Gaza and of the U.S. (and the Taliban and the former Afghan government) in Afghanistan.

Third, in 2014 when Power was U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the Obama administration, she personally attempted to prevent the Palestinian Authority from joining the ICC — that is, exactly what she now praises Sudan for doing. At the same time, she loudly supported an attempt by the U.N. Security Council to refer Syria to the ICC for an investigation into atrocities on all sides during the country’s civil war.

The rationale for the creation of the ICC was simple and obvious: Governments frequently commit horrifying crimes, including war, torture and genocide, yet almost never punish themselves. Therefore justice will often only be available at an international level.

At a conference in Italy in 1998, the U.N. General Assembly passed what came to be known as the Rome Statute, which established the basis for the ICC. Only seven countries voted against the treaty: the U.S., Israel, China, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, Qatar, and Yemen.

Even as Power assiduously worked to prevent any accountability at the ICC for Israel — our client state — she vociferously condemned Russia for protecting Syria — its client state — from the court.

Most significantly, the Obama administration — with Power directly involved — fervently opposed a 2014 bid by the Palestinian Authority to join the Rome Statute. America’s concern was that if the PA succeeded, Israeli violence in the West Bank and Gaza might be found to fall under the ICC’s jurisdiction.

Two years ago Schwarz reviewed her memoir that he titled A memoir from hell: Samantha Power will do anything for human rights unless it hurts her career. In it he recounted her early views.

During her Senate confirmation hearings, she explains, she was confronted by an essay she wrote in 2003. It calls the U.S. “the most potent empire in the history of mankind,” and contains lamentations that could appear in The Intercept. “U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought,” she said. “It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States, [including] the CIA-assisted coups in Guatemala, Chile, and the Congo; the bombing of Cambodia; and the support for right-wing terror squads in Latin America.”

But she seemed to have quickly learned what she needed to say to rise to positions of power and seemed to have little difficulty doing so.

When talking about U.S. foreign policy, Republicans use transparent lies that insult the intelligence of every American. By contrast, Democrats respect their fellow citizens enough to tell more complex lies, ones that sound plausible as long as you don’t think about them for more than three seconds. Power’s book hews strongly to this tradition.

Power favors lies of omission. For instance, you’ll hear a lot in “The Education of an Idealist” about the barbarism of Syrian President Bashar Assad. There are also thousands of damning words about what Russia did at the U.N. to protect Assad’s government as it murdered its own citizens. You can quibble with the presentation, and lack of context, but this is all generally accurate.

However, you’ll learn literally nothing from Power about these subjects:

  • The Obama administration’s massive campaign of drone strikes across the world. Power was there from the beginning, starting out in 2009 on Obama’s National Security Council as senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights.
  • The three major Israeli attacks on Gaza during Obama’s time in office.
  • How the U.S. and our Gulf allies accidentally (?) ended up arming an Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, which Russia claimed motivated it to back the Syrian government more heavily.
  • Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen, which began in 2015 with America’s committed logistical support, including targeting intelligence and aerial refueling of fighter aircraft.
  • Obama’s decision not to prosecute the men and women who built and ran black sites where prisoners were tortured during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Power’s chummy hijinks with Henry Kissinger, one of the 20th century’s varsity war criminals. In 2014, she tweeted a picture of herself buddying up with Kissinger at a baseball game. She later received a prize both named after and personally awarded by Kissinger.

Power is like so many people in US politics. They are horrified by the human rights violations of other countries while carefully turning a blind eye to what the US does.

“A Problem From Hell” is exactly like “The Education of an Idealist” in that Power is sincerely angry about the evildoing of other countries. But active U.S. participation in other genocides and war crimes is consigned to near-total silence. There’s nothing in “A Problem From Hell” about the Korean War, in which we killed 20 percent of the population in the north; our support for the mass slaughter of at least 500,000 Indonesians after a military coup in 1965; the fact we dropped 2.5 million tons of bombs on Laos, more than we used during World War II; near-genocide in East Timor, conducted by Indonesia with money, arms, and protection from the Ford and Carter administrations; or actual genocide in Guatemala. The Vietnam War appears mainly as an explanation for our lack of action against the Khmer Rouge.

To my mind, anyone who thinks of war criminal Henry Kissinger as a friend is definitely beyond the pale. I always felt that Power had set her sight on being secretary of state, like another Kissinger buddy Hillary Clinton, and must have been disappointed that Joe Biden picked Anthony Blinken instead of her.


  1. says

    When talking about U.S. foreign policy, Republicans use transparent lies that insult the intelligence of every American. By contrast, Democrats respect their fellow citizens enough to tell more complex lies, ones that sound plausible as long as you don’t think about them for more than three seconds.


  2. says

    With 9/11 anniversary coming up we will be treated to a lot of rending the sackcloth, but I doubt anyone will be mentioning that, by our own government’s reasoning the WTC was an acceptable military target in a war that had been declared unilaterally (as these things are done) -- if our foreign policy is against terrorism we need to stop using the methods of terrorists, or we need to stop complaining when those methods are used against us.

  3. mnb0 says

    “Democrats respect their fellow citizens enough …..”
    And those who called for voting such a Democrat into the White House first a year ago and fight for political reform later have remained silent ever since they got their way.

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    Sounds like Samantha Power & Kyrsten Sinema would make a perfect match -- unless/until they wanted the same goodie.

  5. wsierichs says

    FYI: Reagan’s war crimes, which were many, included genocide not only in Guatemala but also Somalia. Reagan therefore ranks among the most evil monsters of the 20th century.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    mnb0 @3:

    …have remained silent ever since they got their way.

    No, you’re just not listening. Nothing new there. It’s long been obvious that you wanted Trump to win, but you’ve been conspicuously silent as to why you wanted that.

    And I’m sure you will continue to be silent on that point.

  7. jrkrideau says

    Incidentally the Agency for International Development has been accused of often acting as a front for the CIA.

    I thought that was, generally speaking, an accepted fact outside the USA.

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