The selected writings of Samantha Power

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Ambassador Power, on right, with Paul Kagame
Samantha Power, right, with Paul Kagame of Rwanda on her twitter feed yesterday

August 3, 2014. Samantha Power, US ambassador to the United Nations, condemned an attack on a U.N. school in Rafah, Gaza. The statement faulted Hamas and did not mention the perpetrator, Israel, till the 160th word or so:

Today’s strike outside an UNRWA school in Rafah, where an estimated 3,000 people were taking shelter, is horrifying….  It is imperative that all sides work towards a ceasefire that ends the rocket attacks and tunnel threat from Hamas, and the perilous situation faced by civilians in Gaza.

We call on all parties to take all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties, comply with international humanitarian law and respect UN facilities in Gaza. We further call on Israel to conduct a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent strikes that hit other UNRWA schools…

August 1: Power tweeted the end of a ceasefire:

Strongly condemn attack on Israeli soldiers that broke ceasefire. Hamas must ensure immediate release of missing Israeli soldier.

July 30: Power gave a speech to Young African Leaders: 

[A]fter an especially dark couple weeks for me in my day job… grueling Security Council sessions on the heart-wrenching violence in Israel and Gaza—being here with you this evening on your last night is a true honor and it’s a bright light and has been on my calendar for some time.

July 24. Power condemned another strike on a UN school, this one in Beit Hanoun, that killed 17. Her only reference to Israel in the statement was as a victim of Palestinian attacks:

We are deeply concerned about reports of the striking of an UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun, in the Gaza Strip, today….

We condemn the use of these facilities to house rockets and launch attacks on civilians in Israel, and we emphasize that civilians seeking shelter in those facilities must be respected and protected, and that all parties comply with international humanitarian law.

July 22: Power gave a speech on the Middle East at the United Nations. The speech never put civilian killings at Israeli’s door. Hamas was to blame for civilian suffering:

Throughout the hostilities, we have consistently recognized Israel’s right to defend itself, whether through attacks by rockets overhead or tunnels below… Yesterday, in a single day, militants fired 155 rockets into Israel. In the two weeks of fighting, more than 2,000 rockets have been launched on Israel. On Sunday, Israel foiled another attempt by armed militants to use tunnels to sneak into the country and launch an attack. And then again, yesterday militants from Gaza entered Israel and killed four Israeli soldiers….

Militants in Gaza have repeatedly used civilian facilities for military purposes. Yesterday, a hospital in Gaza was struck by a tank shell, killing at least four people inside…

[G]iven a chance to help alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians, Hamas balked.

July 18. After Israel killed four Palestinian boys on the beach in Gaza in an atrocity seen by the world, Power gave a speech deploring violence against civilians. She began by slamming Hamas rocket attacks, and did so repeatedly. Israel only came up in a positive context.

The United States is deeply concerned about the rocket attacks by Hamas and the dangerous escalation of hostilities in the region. In particular, we are concerned about the devastating impact of this crisis on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning to reaffirm the United States’ strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself. ..

The consequences of the rising violence are plain for all of us to see, and they are heart-wrenching. We feel profound anguish upon seeing the images of suffering from Gaza, including the deaths and injuries of innocent Palestinian civilians, including young children, and the displacement of thousands of people. Israeli civilians, including the elderly and children alike, are fleeing to shelters with little warnings to escape the barrage of rockets from Gaza…

The four Palestinian boys playing on the beach in Gaza City were like boys everywhere, restless for play. Their deaths are heartbreaking, and the loss their family members and neighbors must feel today must be searing. And the Israeli authorities have opened an investigation into their deaths.

2002. Power, who was then teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, made her name by publishing the book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. While it is not clear that Israel’s actions in Gaza would fall within Power’s definition of genocide in the book, they would seem to be “genocidal” (as Noam Chomsky has put it); for Power often cites massacres and atrocities in considering official indifference to systematic violence of an ethnic character. Excerpts:

People have explained U.S. failures to respond to specific genocides by claiming that the United States didn’t know what was happening, that it knew but didn’t care, or that regardless of what it knew, there was nothing useful to be done. I have found that in fact U.S. policymakers knew a great deal about the crimes being perpetrated. Some Americans cared and fought for action, making considerable personal and professional sacrifices. And the United States did have countless opportunities to mitigate and prevent slaughter. But time and again, decent men and women chose to look away. We have all been bystanders to genocide. The crucial question is why….

Despite graphic media coverage, American policymakers, journalists, and citizens are extremely slow to muster the imagination needed to reckon with evil. Ahead of the killings, they assume rational actors will not inflict seemingly gratuitous violence. They trust in good-faith negotiations and traditional diplomacy. Once the killings start, they assume that civilians who keep their heads down will be left alone. They urge ceasefires and donate humanitarian aid…

U.S. officials spin themselves (as well as the American public) about the nature of the violence in question and the likely impact of an American intervention. They render the bloodshed two-sided and inevitable, not genocidal. They insist that any proposed U.S. response will be futile. Indeed, it may even do more harm than good, bringing perverse consequences to the victims and jeopardizing other precious American moral or strategic interests. They brand as “emotional” those U.S. officials who urge intervention and who make moral arguments in a system that speaks principally in the cold language of interests….
The sharpest challenge to the world of bystanders is posed by those who have refused to remain silent in the age of genocide. In each case a few Americans stood out by standing up. They did not lose sight of right and wrong, even as they were repeatedly steered to a “context” that others said precluded action. They refused to accept either that they could not influence U.S. policy or that the United States could not influence the killers. These individuals were not alone in their struggles, but they were not in crowded company either. By seeing what they tried to get done, we see what America
could have done…..

The most common response is, ‘We didn’t know.’ This is not true. To be sure, the information emanating from countries victimized by genocide was imperfect… But although US officials did not know all there was to know about the nature and scale of the violence, they knew a remarkable amount…

U.S. officials have been reluctant to imagine the unimaginable because of the implications. Indeed, instead of aggressively hunting for deeper knowledge or publicizing what was already known, they have taken shelter in the fog of plausible deniability. They have used the search for certainty as an excuse for paralysis and postponement….

In a democracy even an administration disinclined to act can be pressured into doing so. This pressure can come from inside or outside. Bureaucrats within the system who grasp the stakes can patiently lobby or brazenly agitate in the hope of forcing their bosses to entertain a full range of options. Unfortunately, although every genocide generated some activism within the U.S. foreign policy establishment, civil and foreign servants typically heeded what they took to be presidential indifference and public apathy. They assumed U.S. policy was immutable, that their concerns were already understood by their superiors, and that speaking (or walking) out would only reduce their capacity to improve the policy…

George Bernard Shaw once wrote “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” After a century of doing so little to prevent, suppress, and punish genocide, Americans must join and thereby legitimate the ranks of the unreasonable.

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Great article. For the most part anyone who wants to be in a governmental position in the U.S seems to know that the way to achieve their goal is to recite the mantras approved by the power behind the throne. Our press is another area where if one does not dance to the tune one gets pulled off of the stage.

Michael Scheuer is really going hard here.

Blatant, shameless hypocrisy…thy name is Samantha Power.

Really good piece, Phil.

she’s irish. the irish-american pol boss flynn in the bronx –famous for “in like flynn”– said “Once bought I stay bought.” She can blame it on her genes.

This isn’t even half of it as far as the subject of Power’s hypocrisy is concerned–her genocide book is mainly about US sins of omission and not the sins of commission. She was a darling in the mainstream because of this. Noam Chomsky, who wrote about our sins of commission, is not. There’s no chapter about East Timor in her book (just a footnote) and no chapter on Guatemala. No chapter on the sanctions on… Read more »