Samantha Power is power hungry, unprincipled, and a poor scholar. Her power hunger was on full display in her groveling before members of the Zionist lobby and Senate while seeking their support for her ambassadorship to the United Nations, and her promise to fight for “Israeli security” and “press” for an Israeli seat on the Security Council on her accession to that office.
We may recall that Power devoted considerable space and indignation in her “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books, 2002) to denouncing Serbian ethnic cleansing in the Yugoslav wars, but Israel’s multi-decade and systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians she is prepared to overlook, pledging to fight within the United Nations against what she called “unacceptable bias and attacks against the state of Israel.”
Power focused heavily on Bosnia and Serb villainy in her book, repeatedly mentioning and denouncing alleged Serb plans and actions to clear out non-Serb populations. According to Power, “The purging of non-Serbs was not only an explicit war aim of Serb nationalists; it was their primary aim” as they sought “ethnic purity.” Yet despite unprecedented public outcry about foreign brutality, for the next three and a half years the United States, Europe, and the United Nations stood by while some 200,000 Bosnians were killed…. What the United States and its allies did not do until it was too late…was intervene with armed force to stop genocide.”
The 200,000 figure was eventually scaled down in establishment sources to about 100,000 on all sides, including soldiers, and Power also underplays the Western intervention during those three and a half years in the 1990s—the NATO powers pumped arms into the hands of non-Serb groups throughout those years, turned a blind eye to the Bosnian Muslim import of Al Qaeda forces to help fight the villains, and fended off peace efforts (with the help of the NATO-serving, UN-organized Yugoslav Tribunal) throughout the period that would have ended the ethnic cleansing.
Moreover, while Serb forces in Bosnia sought territory and pushed out rival nationalities, so did the other national groups, with Western encouragement. In fact, the greatest ethnic cleansing during these wars was of Serbs from Krajina in Croatia in August 1995 and the Serbs (and Roma) from Kosovo in 1999. And oddly enough, Serbia was the one province in which the other national groups were not maltreated and forced to flee. All of this escapes Power’s hugely biased history. (For details, including specific references to Power’s work, see Herman and Peterson, “The Dismantling of Yugoslavia” Monthly Review, October 2007; Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away With Murder, Pluto, 2004.)
Samantha Power’s bias in Problem from Hell reached well beyond her account of the Yugoslav wars. Her selectivity in dealing with genocide was precisely attuned to the demands of U.S. foreign policy. If the genocides were carried out by the United States itself, as in the Vietnam war and Iraq’s two-phased mass killing (the “sanctions of mass destruction” applied from 1991-2003, and in the 2003-2012 war and occupation), Power does not include them, nor does she address the genocides carried out by the U.S.-supported military in Indonesia in 1965-1966 by the military rulers of Guatemala in the early 1980s or by the apartheid regime of South Africa.
Although each of these tower over Bosnia in numbers killed, those names don’t even show up in Power’s index. She does mention Indonesia’s invasion and occupation of East Timor (1975- 2003), but only to chide the United States for “looking away” as this ally killed up to 200,000 people (double the Bosnian numbers). But she misrepresents history here also as U.S. officials didn’t just “look away,” but gave Indonesia a go-ahead for the invasion, gave it diplomatic protection in the UN, and supplied it with arms.
So Samantha Power’s “genocides” have consistently featured “worthy” victims, while those unworthy—like Guatemala’s many thousands of Mayan Indian peasants and the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Indonesia, South Africa, and Angola—are ignored. Israel also fails to show up in Power’s index despite the fact that Israel’s ethnic cleansing is extremely clear, blatant, racist, and one-sided (Serb ethnic cleansing was part of a mutual land grabbing process and, in the end, as noted earlier, more Serbs were permanently cleansed than Croats or Albanian and Bosnian Muslims). It is also clear that whereas the Serbs were not trying to oust Bosnian Muslims from all of Bosnia, Israel’s ambitions for the “chosen people” have a broader scope as the increasingly right-wing governments of Israel keep enlarging settlements, expropriating Palestinian property, and making the conditions of life unbearable for Palestinians throughout their shrinking territory, occupied by an Israel that refuses to negotiate a final boundary line (Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Oneworld, 2006). The “peace process” is a sick joke, designed not to bring peace but to stall a settlement that would make further Israeli ethnic cleansing a clear case of aggression.
Samantha Power has made some occasional critical remarks about Israel, notably in a 2002 interview in Berkeley where she referred to “major human rights abuses which we’re seeing there” and suggested that the United States ought, perhaps, to intervene and impose a peace settlement on intransigent parties, adding that that “might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import” (see Christine Hauser and Robert Mackey, New York Times Blogs, the Lede, June 5, 2013). Power subsequently regretted making such remarks and tried hard to win over this powerful domestic constituency in the run-up to her gaining the UN Ambassadorship, telling its members that Israeli “security” was a prime concern, that she thought it outrageous that Iran should be “chairing the UN Conference on Disarmament, despite the fact that its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a grave threat to international peace and security.”
In a closed door meeting with 40 U.S. Jewish leaders, according to the organizer of the meeting, Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, Power not only denied any “animus toward Israel,” she “suddenly became deeply emotional and struggled to complete her presentation as she expressed how deeply such accusations had affected her. Tears streamed down her cheeks and I think it fair to say that there was no one in the room who wasn’t deeply moved by this incredible display of pain and emotion…. More than a few of the leaders in the room came over to me afterward and said that, based on her comments and her unabashed display of emotional attachment to the security of the Jewish people…they would never again question her commitment to Israel’s security” (Quoted in M. J. Rosenberg, “Samantha Power Reversal: Another Lobby Win,” Huffington Post, June 11, 2013).
It is likely that if Power had not wept over Israel’s security problems, denounced all its enemies, and virtually pledged allegiance to that foreign state, she wouldn’t have gotten her UN Ambassadorship. But it is still impressive that she won over Senator Lindsay Graham, Alan Dershowitz, Frank Gaffney, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and others in the hard-line lobby camp.
It is also impressive that she could have won her spurs as an analyst of public affairs by her focus on and indignation over Serbian ethnic cleansing and other crimes, but win her position as a UN Ambassador by virtually committing herself to the protection of Israeli ethnic cleansing and international law violations.
But with Serb misbehavior, including ethnic cleansing, inflated, decontextualized, and institutionalized in the propaganda system as crimes, and Israeli actions widely regarded in that same marvelous propaganda system as retaliation to “terror” or a problematic taking of contested land from unworthy victims, but not “ethnic cleansing,” the remarkable double standard helps obscure her selectivity, flimsy scholarship, hypocrisy, and lack of principle.
Freedom to Kill
The Obama administration is anxious to get a hold of Edward Snowden, a major whistleblower and therefore a danger to the surveillance state and the government’s freedom to kill. Snowden seeks asylum as a man who believes he has carried out a public service, but is pursued and threatened by a government that regards him as a criminal. If captured or extradited that government would treat him as it has Bradley Manning, who was tortured and faces long-term imprisonment. It is amusing to see Attorney General Eric Holder assure the Russians that if returned to the United States, Snowden would not be executed or tortured. The U.S. government has a flexible notion of torture and it is not limited in its actions by either rule of law, moral standard, or obligation to tell the truth.
The Administration has gone to great pains to get hold of Snowden, apparently persuading several of its EU puppets to force down the Bolivian plane carrying President Evo Morales on the suspicion that Snowden might be aboard. And it has warned countries that might grant Snowden asylum—Russia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela—that such an action would be regarded as a hostile act by the United States and would be costly to the asylum-granting country. As with Julian Assange, the U.S. government seeks Snowden’s extradition, but the Morales and Anwar al-Awlaki cases suggest that it might resort to other means to capture or silence him.
It was reported in Spain that Secretary of State John Kerry directly warned the Venezuelan government that granting Snowden asylum would cost Venezuela dearly, including a revocation of visas of Venezuelan officials, closing NATO country air space to Venezuelan planes, and other economic penalties (see Emili J. Blasco, “Toma represalias contra Venezuela para evitar que acoja a Snowden,” ABC, July 18, 2013).
U.S. officials deny that such threats were made, but the claims are plausible. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, for his part, has called the Snowden case one of “persecution,” and has several times called attention to the fact that the United States has long refused to extradite Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban who, in addition to other terroristic acts, organized the 1976 bombing of a Cuban plane that killed 73 persons, but who walks the streets of Miami freely. Maduro notes that, “This 29-year-old man [Snowden] has not set off bombs, murdered anyone or stolen anything. All he did was look at himself in the mirror one day and say to himself: ‘What I am doing to the world? This is not right.’ He rebelled. He (Snowden) belongs to a great rebellion of U.S. youths that is under way, the rebellion of consciences, (and) the rebellion of principles.”
Maduro surely understands, but can do little but quietly resist, the fact that rules on extradition or cross-border assassinations, or even invasions, do not apply to the self-designated international police that Kerry and Power represent. At the same time, the American people don’t understand these things because the mainstream media does not burden them with news and debates that would force them to confront the U.S. exception and radical double standard. This is why the Snowdens and Maduros have to be denigrated and silenced.
Edward S. Herman is an American economist and media analyst with a specialty in corporate and regulatory issues as well as political economy and the media.