Saturday, March 01, 2008

Samantha Power

And speaking of Obama; one of his top foreign policy advisors is Samantha Power, a name that is probably familiar to many people who read this blog.

She still may be best known as the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, "A Problem From Hell: America In The Age of Genocide." A book whose context spans time wise from Ottoman Turkey at the start of the 20th century to Kosovo at the end; spanning across the globe from Africa to Europe to Asia to the Middle East (side note: I do wish Power would have at least made a cursory mention of some of the mass atrocities that took place in South America, especially during the latter half of the 20th century-especially given some of the U.S. government's rather cosy relationship with some governments involved.)
But even that oversight, doesn't take away from the book, which is one the best overviews of how the U.N. Treaty on the Prevention of Genocide came to be ratified in the first place, and how in so many cases, 'never again' has become more of an empty slogan than a impetus for the government to take immediate action.

Power has recently published another book, this one a biography of the life and times of the late Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN mission chief in Iraq before he was killed an an Al-Queda suicide bombing.


Kirk Johnson said...

I've been a little worried about Obama and the Balkans. I've been a little worried about Obama and foreign policy, period, to be honest. I still think he's the best shot to change the tired, dead-end rut domestic politics are stuck in, but that's another story.

So I'm very, very happy to read that Ms. Power has his ear. My briefer-than-usual review of her first book did not come close to doing it justice.

Since Obama does seem, regrettably, to be in line with the anti-interventionist/pro-accomadationist orthodoxy of the post-Vietnam Democratic Party, it's a very positive sign that he has enlisted an advisor who most certainly understands the fallacy of assuming that resorting to military force is always the worst option.

Anonymous said...

Heard Samantha Power talking about her book and other matters on Andrew Marr's Start the Week programme on BBC Radio 4. I was rather worried that she seemed to be talking about Obama's exit strategy from Iraq being based on community homogenisation, with what was effectively a programme of peaceful ethnic cleansing being carried out prior to US troops departing at the end of an approximately 18 months time frame.

Shaina said...

I'm not sure if I would agree with the assesment that Obama is in the "anti-interventionist" wing of the democratic party. For one, I think the issue of labeling someone pro or anti interventionist is a rather complex one. For example, there are analysists like Samantha Power believed we should have absolutely intervened earlier/more rebustly in Bosnia and Rwanda, and now Darfur; but who did not support intervention in Iraq in 2003. I certainly wouldn't characterize Power as being anti-interventionist though.

Power is not only an advisor though, but one of the veryfirst advisors Obama sought back in 2005. In fact, according to Power, he was the very first politician to seek advice from her regarding genocide prevention and foreign policy. Something, I find surprising considering how important her book is.

With regard to Darfur, Obama has been very pro-active. This is not necessarily a complete insight into how he would potentially act as a President; but what has impressed me is how he has constantly mentioned that U.S. needs to take an active role leading the movement to stop the genocide in Darfur, not just in college campuses where there is a lot of advocacy around the issue, but in the rustbelt of Ohio. Where presumably the U.S. economy and jobs are the main issue for most voters, not mass killings in other countries.
Now, I'm not sure what "steps" he has in mind. But, the Genocide Intervention Network grades U.S. politicians based on their voting record regarding Darfur-and while this certainly is not a scientific study, Obama recieved an "A" and an "A+" for 07, 06 respectively. The link:
FWIW: Hillary Clinton recieved the same score as Obama; while McCain recieved a "B" and a "C."

Now, with respect to what his exact policies are towards the Balkans-unfortunately, I don't have specific information. He did release a press release after Kosovo declared independence, but I'm hessitant to use any one statement, especially a press release as a complete guide to deciphering and analyzing how a person might hypothetically react in office. But, with that caveat in mind, perhaps some insight might be gained: he mentioned that the independence of Kosovo was a direct result of Milosevic's brutality and role in instigating the breakup of the SFRY.
And like I said before, and as we've undoubtedly seen so many times before, words don't equal action; but with regard to the U.S and the Balkans he said:

"The United States must continue to work with our European allies on behalf of the security and prosperity of the entire region. I am convinced that, with our support, Serbia and Kosovo can emerge as models of democratic and economic growth, and their people can know a bright future."

Now granted, it is a press release, and by its very nature, press releases are not policy papers; but he does at least mention the U.S. has to continue to play a role in the region.

There are actually two recent articles about Obama & foreign policy: (the Washington Post one is particularly detailed)

Shaina said...

This is kind of an offshoot of the first paragraph, unfortunately, I can't edit-and I don't feel like deleating-inserting-cutting-pasting.

As I mentioned before, I think that is is sometimes difficult to label some politicians as pro or anti intervention; because they're stance often changes from one sitution to another. Case in point: Sen. Bob Dole. Dole has been appropriately heralded as one of the most pro-interventionsts voices with regards to Bosnia in the Senate. At the same time, when it came to Rwanda, he parroted to conventional line that Rwanda was "not in our national interest"-a line that those who opposed U.S. intervention in Bosnia also used regarding the US and the Balkans. So, with regards to Bosnia, he was pro-interventionist, w/re: to Rwanda, anti-interventionist.

Kirk Johnson said...

Good points, Shaina--it was simplistic of me to apply such a broad label.

I share Owen's discomfort with the sound of that strategy. It's distressing to me how mainstream the idea of 'soft' ethnic-cleansing seems to have become in recent years. Most people I know support the so-called "three-state solution" in Iraq, which would most certainly involve large population transfers. This is not the "New World Order" I was hoping for.

Daniel (Srebrenica Genocide Blog) said...

I have lost confidence in Obama after Marko Hoare broke story about his links with the ultra-nationalist Greek lobby. I hope Hillary wins. America deserves woman president and she is a strong woman (but that doesn't mean I agree with her politics... however, Obama is definitely not someone I would back).

Anonymous said...

Samantha Power has resigned as Obama's adviser after calling Hillary Clinton "a monster" in what she thought was an off-the record exchange.

Kirk Johnson said...

That's a really unfortunate blemish on her record. She should have known better.

For the record--I really, really don't want Hillary to be President. But calling her a "monster" was out of line, and not very responsible.

Anonymous said...

I think it was a moment of exasperation; not being a proper politician she handle the "off the recordness" adequately. She was referring to the slagging-off tactics the Clinton camp has been applying to Obama. Obama seems a bit too much of a Tony Blair, all smile and questionable substance, while Hillary seems a more effective prospect however unlikeable, but the Clinton camp seem to have been behaving pretty foully, I can quite understand S.P. losing her rag.

Kirk Johnson said...

I guess I see Obama more as as catalyst than a candidate; his election would signal a break from the politics-of-diminishing returns we've had for almost 40 years. Really, in one way or another, every election since about 1970 has been, in some way, about Vietnam and the turmoil of the 60s. It's time to move on.

Shaina said...

I'm an Obama supporter, although I don't agree with every single one of his positions (I don't agree with every single position of any politician); and I think that asking some "hard" questions of candidates, especially the ones we support is not only important-it is necessary.
But, I do find that the notion that Obama is all shine and no substance so to speak to be a bit unfair.
Before, I go on, let me say that I think that Clinton is a qualified candidate for President-no doubt about it. On Super Tuesday, I was so torn between Obama and Clinton, I didn't vote; but had I voted, it would have been for Clinton-largely because I had less knowledge of Obama, and I viewed her as having more experience.
"Experience" is of course a much more complex issue. Clinton has been in public life longer (of course she is older); and as a former First Lady, she has had a unique perspective of the inner dealings of the White House that the other candidates don't have (although if we're talking about years in public service as being the sole factor determining ability to lead than John McCain wins that contest hands down). Obama though, has also been in public service for twenty years-working as a community activist and a State senator (he actually has been in elected office for longer than HRC).
But, to tell you the absolute truth-what actually nudged me over to Obama-was reading about his legislative history in the US Senate and Illinois State Senate.
There are some good articles online-focusing on Obama's record: including this article from a former Wesley Clark supporter-turned Obama supporter.

And of course, Thomas is the best source for a candidate's legislative record.

Like I said before, I think Clinton is qualified, and I have been impressed with her focus on health care issues in the Senate-but, the notion that Obama does not have the substance, or the Clinton has so much more experience to me is not borne out looking at Obama's record. Furthermore, I don't think Obama can be characterize simply as someone who gives inspiring speeches. Yes, Obama's ability to galvanize many people who have been turned off from politics is noteworthy; but he also has a strong record of bipartisan legislation, and working on a variety of issues in the senate.
Ironically, back in the summer, Obama was actually criticized for having to much policy points in his speeches.

Shaina said...

And speaking of Obama's speeches, whether they are dismissed or hailed; I don't think anyone can deny the man is a good public speaker. But, one of my favorite speeches was the one he gave at the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, celebrating the legacy of Dr. and Mrs. King and the march on Selma and the African-American church's commitment to the social gospel; but also mentioning and condeming the issues of homophobia and anti-semetism that have sometime come up in the largely conservative African American southern Baptist church. I though his ability to speak honestly about the issue; was refreshing.