The education of Samantha Power

My favorite theme. Why do neoconservatives Bill Kristol and Rob’t Kagan get a meeting with DefSec Gates, whose policies they then trash? Yes and why does Shmuley Boteach of the Jewish Journal, who has been fighting Israel’s critics all his life, get a meeting with Samantha Power at the White House? Here’s Rabbi Boteach (who seems to think he was granted the audience because he’s such a moral leader, sort of like George H.W. Bush thinking he hit a triple) telling about the meeting:


[I]t was with profound sadness that in praising her in recent lectures to the Jewish communities of Australia, South Africa, and New York that audience members approached me with alleged negative comments she had made against Israel. I responded with a column last week quoting the comments and calling on Ms. Power to clarify them lest she be seen as insensitive to a nation who has an army solely for self defense without which it would likely be subject to yet another genocide.

To her credit Ms. Power got in touch with me and invited me to meet her in her White House office this past Thursday. The meeting was substantive and directly addressed the comments I quoted. She was personable, accessible, and exhibited a humility uncommon to those in positions of high authority and power. She seemed genuinely and deeply pained by the perception that she was not a friend of Israel.

The principal comments attributed to her come from an interview she granted in 2002 in Berkeley, California while she was on her book tour…

I will save you from the rest of this sad saga. Thanks to Ibn Tufayl. Oh I can’t help myself, I just read more of the article. Check it out:

In our conversation she rejected utterly the notion she had any animus toward Israel. She acknowledged that she had erred significantly in offering hypothetical comments that did not reflect how she felt. She said that opponents of President Obama had unfairly taken her disorganized comments further and characterized them as ‘invade Israel’ talk. She said that if she really believed that Israel could even be remotely accused of practicing genocide against the Palestinians then the correct forum for her to express that view would have been somewhere in the 664 pages of her book wherein she details all the genocides of the twentieth century. She never even hints at Israel being guilty of any such atrocity. She explained that the only time she has written about Israel was in a later book on slain UN Diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. There she described his time in UNIFIL and included a discussion of the Government of Israel’s own findings on Sabra and Shatila.

To bolster her argument she mentioned that her former Professor at Harvard Alan Dershowitz – whom I consider to be Israel’s most eloquent global champion – called her after A Problem from Hell was published to applaud her for not remotely associating Israel with genocide, the way so many academic enemies had. I checked with my old friend Professor Dershowitz and he confirmed that he has warm feelings toward his former student and considers her a moderate on Israel.

Listening to Power face-to-face and hearing her clarification set amidst the visible hurt of being grouped together with Israel’s detractors, I found her argument convincing.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 31 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Pamela Olson says:

    Ugh. This is wrong on so many levels. First of all, it’s a total straw man to talk about Israel in the context of committing genocide. They have certainly committed ethnic cleansing and racially-based massacres, and they have policies in place now, some of which border on genocidal (remember the rather broad but still harrowing official definition of genocide: “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group” — ask the people of Gaza how systematically destroyed they feel). But holding up the genocide straw man is pretty low, and even lower to throw it in the face of someone whose career is (supposedly) based on exposing and fighting genocide.

    Even more low (and bizarre) is the straw man of “‘invade Israel’ talk.” To what in the hell is he referring?

    I read Ms. Power’s book while I was in Palestine, and I admired it for its moral clarity. I didn’t expect Israel to be in it because it focused on systematic slaughters of tens of thousands or more in campaigns of pure eradication. But for her to turn around and say she’s a “friend of Israel” (and even worse, a friend of Dershowitz), and invite this slandering creep into the White House… Well, it’s disappointing to say the least. But not in the least surprising. Washington is a swamp of circular bullsh-t, and even Ms. Power’s sense of moral clarity couldn’t survive long there.

    This country is in so much trouble.

    • Miura says:

      This country is in trouble when someone whose academic writings can only be described as ‘scholarship from hell’ is taken seriously. Samantha Power is a ‘human-rights entrepreneur’, not some high and mighty person sitting at a plateau enjoying crystal clear ‘moral clarity’.

    • Max Ajl says:

      Pamela,
      Power is clearly a problem, but it’s a serious mistake to think there’s any hypocrisy going on here. Power’s book was not about genocide (whatever that is, anyway). It was a stylized rendition of some mass killings that occurred in which mainstream opinion believes America “stood by.” Of course, her case selection was absurd. There was nothing approaching genocide in Kosovo, and the main massacres there occurred in the wake of American intervention. Notably, East Timor Guatemala, and the Iraqi sanctions didn’t make it in to her tome. What Power produced was not a book defined by “moral clarity”; it was ideological non-sense designed to justify American intervention under the premise that America’s problem is that she simply “stands by” while genocides occur — when the factual record is that America creates genocide. Power’s book was a high-class apologia for American intervention in the global South. It is pseudo-scholarship. Her comments on Israel are precisely in line with dominant liberal opinion, which supports the exercise of state power while quibbling when the brown bodies start rising in too high a pile. Read Ed Herman or Joseph Nevins on Power.
      But the real problem here is an absence of any real politics. Yes, the lobby and the military-industrial complex make good money off Israeli mayhem. But supporting mayhem inflicted by America against a brown people in the global South is not an exception to American foreign policy. It is the rule, rooted in structural and institutional causes – in the short-hand, imperialism and capitalism — that will require strong upsurge to shatter. The likes of Samantha Power are not our allies in that.

      • Pamela Olson says:

        I was much younger (and more naive) when I read her book, and I hadn’t yet spent two years in Washington. I imagine I would have a different take on it now. Particularly since she has further clarified her position in the greater scheme of things with this little “special session.”

      • Donald says:

        ” Of course, her case selection was absurd. There was nothing approaching genocide in Kosovo, and the main massacres there occurred in the wake of American intervention. Notably, East Timor Guatemala, and the Iraqi sanctions didn’t make it in to her tome. What Power produced was not a book defined by “moral clarity”; it was ideological non-sense designed to justify American intervention under the premise that America’s problem is that she simply “stands by” while genocides occur — when the factual record is that America creates genocide. Power’s book was a high-class apologia for American intervention in the global South. It is pseudo-scholarship.”

        Max, you saved me the trouble. That’s exactly what should strike anyone who reads her book if they know something about our record regarding genocide. (Israel, btw, had close ties with the Guatemalan military while they were committing genocide. I’ve always wondered what the full story was there.) And the reason she was widely praised in the mainstream is precisely because of what she chose to write about and what she chose to omit.

        The book isn’t totally worthless if you read it knowing that her selection of case histories was hypocritical. You can probably learn some things about her individual cases, but given her obvious biases I’m not sure how much you can trust her.

      • Keith says:

        “It is the rule, rooted in structural and institutional causes – in the short-hand, imperialism and capitalism — that will require strong upsurge to shatter.”

        The thing which I would like to emphasize is that the essence of capitalism is the rule of capital, that is the rule of money, more specifically those who control the creation and distribution of money. Talk of the ownership of the means of production is a self-defeating diversion. It’s the money. Money is the means by which modern, complex societies direct socio-economic activity. Particularly in the age of neo-liberal globalization where the global economies are interlinked and interdependent and significantly controlled by the global financial system. Whatever government emerges in Egypt, it will still be dependent on global finance and empire for finance, fuel and food, hence, not truly sovereign. Our for profit, privatized, debt-based financial system is a recipe for disaster. The financialization of the global economy has rendered the system fragile, ultimately unworkable. We need to localize, not globalize, and to take control of the peoples money.

        • Citizen says:

          International bankers are always ahead of the game; they make money by having inside information and employ it for more inside information, to make more money–the Rothschilds did it, indeed they created much of the basic template, and the international banking/investing community do it today. In a fiat currency world, a world of rubber-band capitalization of everything, the opportunities are endless and the world’s workers and natural resources are their playthings. All bonds are junk bonds today.

        • Keith says:

          CITIZEN- “In a fiat currency world….”

          Nothing wrong with “fiat” currency, per se, which, in fact, is how money should be. Tying a nations money supply to some commodity such as gold is fundamentally illogical and unworkable, and primarily benefits the hoarders of gold. The thing which backs all sound money is the real economy. In a wholesome society, the financial system would support the real economy which, in turn, would support the democratically determined social vision. Our problem is threefold. First, the federal government does not create our money as specified in the Constitution, rather, it borrows money into existence from the private banking system which has been delegated the power to create money. We have a debt based monetary system where every dollar in circulation is debt which needs to be paid back with interest. Second, our banking system is a private banking system which serves the interest of the bond holders not the public and seeks out profit at the expense of the real economy (financialization). Finally, the nature of compound interest inevitably forces the entire global system towards unsustainable growth, concentrated wealth, structural adjustment, wars and imperial over-stretch. The system is inherently unstable, careening from boom to bust, and now headed towards collapse.

    • MRW says:

      Let us not forget who she is married to: Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. This guy is the one who put forth what Glenn Greenwald characterized as:

      a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists.

      Greenwald goes to town on Sunstein legally, morally, and ethically, and I agree with Greenwald 400%:
      link to salon.com

      Everything I’ve read about Sunstein gives me the creeps (I got the bends reading his paper on Conspiracy Theories; he is a dishonest immoral twerp). If this is who Powers chose as her soulmate, it says mountains about her judgment. And frankly, it says a lot about Obama’s that he would even give this guy and his reactionary ideas the time of day.

      As for the treacly Shmuley Boteach? He’s the Jewish version of Glenn Beck.

      • Kathleen says:

        yep

        And from what I have read Sunstein was one of the folks pushing Obama to “move on, next chapter, turn the page” Do not focus on accountability for the Bush adminitrations crimes or the rule of law. Just push the nation forward while it continues to morally and spiritually crumble due to the lack of accountability.

        I think Sunstein and Obama go back away

        Tom Hayden
        Samantha Power Goes to War
        DateWednesday, March 30, 2011 at 10:30AM
        link to tomhayden.com

      • Kathleen says:

        Greenwalds piece “Cass Sunstein has long been one of Barack Obama’s closest confidants. Often mentioned as a likely Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, Sunstein is currently Obama’s head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs where, among other things, he is responsible for “overseeing policies relating to privacy, information quality, and statistical programs.” In 2008, while at Harvard Law School, Sunstein co-wrote a truly pernicious paper proposing that the U.S. Government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-”independent” advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites — as well as other activist groups — which advocate views that Sunstein deems “false conspiracy theories” about the Government. This would be designed to increase citizens’ faith in government officials and undermine the credibility of conspiracists. The paper’s abstract can be read, and the full paper downloaded, here.

        Sunstein advocates that the Government’s stealth infiltration should be accomplished by sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups.” He also proposes that the Government make secret payments to so-called “independent” credible voices to bolster the Government’s messaging (on the ground that those who don’t believe government sources will be more inclined to listen to those who appear independent while secretly acting on behalf of the Government). This program would target those advocating false “conspiracy theories,” which they define to mean: “an attempt to explain an event or practice by reference to the machinations of powerful people, who have also managed to conceal their role.” Sunstein’s 2008 paper was flagged by this blogger, and then amplified in an excellent report by Raw Story’s Daniel Tencer.

        There’s no evidence that the Obama administration has actually implemented a program exactly of the type advocated by Sunstein, though in light of this paper and the fact that Sunstein’s position would include exactly such policies, that question certainly ought to be asked. Regardless, Sunstein’s closeness to the President, as well as the highly influential position he occupies, merits an examination of the mentality behind what he wrote. This isn’t an instance where some government official wrote a bizarre paper in college 30 years ago about matters unrelated to his official powers; this was written 18 months ago, at a time when the ascendancy of Sunstein’s close friend to the Presidency looked likely, in exactly the area he now oversees. Additionally, the government-controlled messaging that Sunstein desires has been a prominent feature of U.S. Government actions over the last decade, including in some recently revealed practices of the current administration, and the mindset in which it is grounded explains a great deal about our political class. All of that makes Sunstein’s paper worth examining in greater detail.”

        Sunstein should apply his thoughts to what took place during the Bush administration, our MSM being almost totally complicit and the Obamas administration, Pelosi “impeachment is off the table” unwillingness to hold anyone accountable for the unnecessary and immoral invasion of Iraq

  2. annie says:

    how nice that it took the rabbi less than a week to get a call from the white house to attend a ‘clarifying’ session w/a special adviser to the president.

  3. eGuard says:

    The rabbi writes “a people who just 60 years [ago?] faced total annihilation in the holocaust”. That would be 1951. Strange, how come I never heard of that one?

    • demize says:

      ‘Counter’ ‘Sunstien’ please kill this keyboard with fire!

    • Miura says:

      Perhaps he’s referring to the Palestinian plan to push Israelis into the sea.

    • RoHa says:

      ‘The rabbi writes “a people who just 60 years [ago?] faced total annihilation in the holocaust”.’

      Clearly (a) the rabbi can’t remember dates, and (b) considers that only European Jews count, since they were the only Jews who faced the holocaust.

  4. eljay says:

    >> The rabbi writes “a people who just 60 years [ago?] faced total annihilation in the holocaust”. That would be 1951. Strange, how come I never heard of that one?

    What’s important is not the date, but the fact that he “Remember[ed] the Holocaust!”

    >> the rabbi: ” … that ‘Never Again’ be a motto that civilized nations deliver on, using the diplomatic, economic and, if necessary, military tools at their disposal to prevent genocide … ”

    But, evidently, not to prevent “necessary” (or “required” evil) ethnic cleansing. And not to prevent ON-GOING campaigns of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder. Nice.

    The rabbi is an ass…but in a normal human being sort of way. :-)

  5. pabelmont says:

    “lest she be seen as insensitive to a nation”. Yes, the charge is “insensitivity” to the truly tender feelings of (those hardened ethnic cleansers and Gaza-busters) the people, government, and Army of Israel. Or, perhaps to that other “nation”, “the Jewish People.” Well, excuuuuuse me. I for one am not sensitive to the sort of accusations about (either) Israel which (presumably) Ms. Power was making, seemed to be making, seemed to be thinking of or verging upon making, or whatnot. No-one in USA political life or academic life (unless tenured) can begin to say what needs to be said, and I am sure she did not do so.

    Her visitor is a skilled practitioner of the art of exposing the allegedly thin skin. Say after me, “Poor me!”, “How we suffered.”

  6. hughsansom says:

    When “A Problem from Hell” came out, it was widely criticized for its glaring omission of Israel. Samantha Power has always been a perfect Obama-ista — a go along to get along type. Like any mainstream hack in the US, she will not — under any circumstances — knowingly risk her very cushy positions by uttering the truth. Of course, she like any person slips up sometimes. It takes a lot of work to lie consistently _all_ the time. That’s why the Alan Dershowitz brigade come off as consistent — they’re not lying, they’re psychotically delusional. Psychosis helps in perpetrating myth.

  7. Debonnaire says:

    The Millionaire Matchmaker kicked Rabbi Shmuley’s whiny ass in a debate on her matchmaking techniques. This was in some shul. Compared to him she was Immanuel Kant.

  8. demize says:

    Does the whole post need to be deleted? Can’t just whatever word or words you cyber-victorians find objectionable be replaced by asterisks or something?

  9. kapok says:

    Reminds me of those errant communists who were persuaded to denounce themselves to the Supreme Soviet before being lead away and shot.

    Here only the style is different. Threatening a public servant with an obligatory return to private life does the trick; no bullets needed.

  10. radii says:

    gads, I don’t know what’s more nauseating – Power ass-kissing one of israel’s zio-PR flacks or giving that self-aggrandizing clown Boteach an international platform

  11. This is also the same Rabbi who was a “confidant” of Michael Jackson. I think more than anything he’s a media hungry attention craver

  12. Kathleen says:

    some other interesting articles about Powers
    Could Samantha Power (Mrs. Cass Sunstein) Be the Next Secretary of State?
    link to theblaze.com

  13. Kathleen says:

    An interesting take on Sunstein
    link to my.firedoglake.com
    Cass Sunstein Is Not Only Evil, He Is Really Quite Cognitively Impaired

    “As an academic publication, this rubbish is as bad as it gets. The reason it was published is obvious. Sunstein is the newest model of a neo-conservative in a position of power, and his attacks on the US Constitution are classic neo-con. Does everyone at the University of Chicago believe this nonsense because there seems to be no published rebuttal.”

  14. Kathleen says:

    Sunstein:

    ” Our principal claim here involves the potential value of cognitive infiltration of extremist groups, designed to introduce informational diversity into such groups and to expose indefensible conspiracy theories as such…Our focus throughout is on false conspiracy theories, not true ones. Our ultimate goal is to explore how public officials might undermine such theories, and as a general rule, true accounts should not be undermined…On our account, a defining feature of conspiracy theories is that they are extremely resistant to correction, certainly through direct denials or counterspeech by government officials…Accordingly, we will focus on indirect means of undermining such theories, principally by breaking up the closed informational networks that produce such theories..vIn some domains, people suffer from a “crippled epistemology,” in the sense that they know very few things, and what they know is wrong. Many extremists fall in this category; their extremism stems not from irrationality, but from the fact that they have little (relevant) information, and their extremist views are supported by what little they know.”

    This theory could certainly be applied to the Bush administrations “pack of lies” (conspiracy) sold to the majority of the American people. Just that Sunstein would not apply his theory there or to the Israeli Palestinian conflict

  15. Chespirito says:

    Samantha Power is a genocide minimizer. To write a 500 page book subtitled “America and the Age of Genocide” and somehow not find the time to even mention the active role the US played in arming or aiding genocide in the mid 1960s Indonesia, in Guatemala, or the Iraq sanctions, is a level of moral and scholarly shoddiness that is breathtaking. (Oh, she did mention East Timor in one… single… sentence.) And how is such a work greeted by we American intellectuals? It gets a Pulitzer. If I may toodle my own horn,
    link to counterpunch.org

  16. Charltonr says:

    Recall that Samantha Power was a very active foreign policy adviser to Obama during the 2008 campaign, until she referred to his then-opponent, Hillary Clinton, as a “monster.” She must have gotten zapped for that, and was forced to resign from the campaign. She probably let herself in for some marital discord too because of her alleged views on US-Israel relations that she now seems also to have recanted.

  17. I vote for a new White House visitor policy: Whoever claims Alan Dershowitz as his/her friend gets kicked out and/or punched in the face.