VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

VII: Samantha Power: R2P Applied

by

Howard Adelman

When Samantha was appointed to chair President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up to actually prevent mass atrocities and genocide as a core U.S. national security interest and foreign affairs responsibility, the cheerleaders for R2P jumped with joy, “At last,” they screamed, “Something will be done about preventing, or, at the very least, mitigating mass atrocities.” Indeed, Samantha Power credited the administration with “an unprecedented record of actions taken to protect civilians and hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable.” In reality, the false claim of credit and the inability to mitigate let alone prevent atrocities are two sides of the same coin.

What were these claimed unprecedented actions and accomplishments? And did they have anything to do with the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P)?

In the next series of blogs, I will take up a number of specific issues on which Samantha Power at one time or another claimed credit was due to the administration for “an unprecedented record of accomplishment”. I will see what if any connection there is to R2P and briefly deal with the claims made and whether any credit is warranted in a number of specific cases. Of necessity, I will have to be very brief and succinct on each crisis. Before undertaking the specific case study analysis, including Darfur, South Sudan, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Myanmar, I want to raise a number of general faults with R2P and then offer two individual cases – of accountability rather than prevention or intervention as illustrations.

As I will try to show in the case studies, when R2P is actually applied to protect populations in peril, such as the Yazidis in Iraq, the motivation has little to do with protecting that very endangered population. And when protecting an actual population as the real aim, as in Libya, the course of events set in motion by the intervention seems to make the situation go awry leading seemingly to many more deaths and atrocities than might otherwise have been the case. When protection or mitigation actually seem possible and could be effective, as in repressing and even eliminating Boko Haram in Nigeria, the conditions for its application are undermined. All of this will emerge in the case study analysis. In this blog, I offer some theoretical reasons why R2P is inherently bankrupt and why this will always be the case. R2P was not only stillborn when the UN endorsed the doctrine universally by effectively gutting its core premise of making sovereignty conditional instead of absolute, but was sterile at its conceptual birth. The genetics of the doctrine doomed it to crashing.

If the dialectics of the analysis of the theory bothers or deters you, wait until you can read the case study analysis. Alternatively, you can skip this blog and go to a second I will write this morning, a brief review of the movie, The Foxcatcher, a movie that presents, but does not go into the mind of a sociopath who could commit mass atrocities.

Part of the problem with R2P is the difficulty of application – the greater the challenges in figuring how to apply the doctrine, the more worthless it appears to become. For its credit depends upon use, but without a proper line of credit, it turns out to be useless, hence contributing to its increasing loss of credibility. And the more it is not used, the more worthless it appears to be. However, these are but the manifestations of the root conceptual flaws in the doctrine. Let’s start with the central premise of the relationship between the sovereign state and its citizens.

In liberal democratic theory, the governors of a state are responsible for its citizenry and accountable to that citizenry for carrying out a state’s responsibilities. ‘Responsibility for’ and ‘accountability to’ are the two intertwined dialectical links between a population and its government. But in R2P, if a state fails in its prime responsibility of protecting its citizens, that responsibility function shifts to the international community which substitutes its own authority for that of the state. State authority is no longer absolute but conditional upon its exercise and removable with failure. The state is reduced to a trustee of the international community. And that international authority that takes over the responsibility for the citizenry is not responsible to that citizenry. So R2P only works if it undermines the principle of democracy. More importantly, when it does not work – which as I will show is the norm – then responsibility itself becomes emptied of any meaning, thereby even more fundamentally undermining the doctrine of responsibility for and to the people.

If we approach the conceptual issue, not from the nature of a democratic state, that is, the collectivity, but from the other pole of the equation in R2P, the rights of a citizen to protection, we get into another dilemma. Citizens not only have rights of free speech, rights of assembly and the other traditional rights necessary for the preservation and enhancement of a democratic polity, but they have a right not to be subject to mass atrocities. This is not just a right not to be tortured or a right to a fair trial or a right to legal representation. The latter are all rights that belong to the individual in a democratic polity. What we have in this case is a collective right, that is, a right of a community within a polity to continue its existence as a community; if the state denies that right by either trying to evict the community to which an individual belongs (ethnic cleansing) or goes even further and tries assiduously to exterminate that group in whole or in part (genocide), then the only way prevention or mitigation can be effected is by granting a group rights. Inherently, however, this puts limitations on individual rights rather than enhancing them.

If an individual has all of the liberal rights, why does he need to be recognized as a member of a group with collective rights? Where is the added value of the collective right to the individual qua individual? Further, one of the paradoxes at the root of the conception of the nation-state is that when a collection of individuals contract among themselves as individuals to transfer all coercive power to the state on condition that their rights are protected, those rights do not include group rights.

The compact between the individuals and the state goes further. The rights to determine who belongs to the state, that is, who can be its members, is transferred to the state. So if a state wants to abrogate the rights of a group, the only way to protect those rights is to insist they belong to every individual member of the state. But group rights only belong to a group and its members within the state, not to all members of the state itself. So if groups within a state are to have specific group rights – such as aboriginal peoples within Canada concerning the rights of a community to exclude non-aboriginal members or revoke the rights of individuals in that group when they marry non-aboriginals – then it is the group, not the state who defines who is a member of that group. If the state assumes responsibility for that decision – as was done in the Holocaust, in the Rwanda genocide and in some cases of aboriginal rights -, then the very idea of a self-perpetuating collectivity with rights within the state is undermined. The fact is, the issue of collective rights is the Achilles heel of a democratic liberal state. Insisting that a state cannot mistreat any of its minorities and, if it does, the collectivity of all states will take over the responsibility, means only that the irresponsibility only gets writ large and exposed for what it is.

So what has actually happened? The Obama regime has sincerely bought into the principle that the U.S. does have a responsibility when minorities are persecuted. And, unlike the United Nations, it is not just a rhetorical buy-in. As stated above, Obama issued a directive that “the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest of the United States.” But then the most powerful state in the world showed that it could not possibly implement that responsibility – not only for all the minorities being afflicted with atrocities, but surprisingly, not one single one – except when the real and deep motivation is the old fashioned self-interest of the state.

So the issue is not even which group, among all those persecuted, a state should protect. Nor is the issue simply when to apply the doctrine of protection, let alone adopt the last resort of coercive intervention. The inherent incapacity of the most powerful state to protect any group outside its own jurisdiction based on R2P, which requires collective authorization via the United Nations before any action based on R2P is legitimized, undermines both the sovereignty of the state as well as the potency of that sovereignty. Does the endorsement by the UN authorizing military force help, as when the U.N. Security Council authorized military force to protect “civilians and civilian-populated areas” in Libya? R2P does offer permission to a state to act on behalf of the international community, which may provide temporary protection and which can prevent some murders from proceeding, but what happens next? Unless the intervening state or group of states is willing to assume full responsibility for those endangered citizens and not simply provide protection in an acute crisis, then the violence simply recurs in a different form.

Further, if a country decides to become involved, the intervener has to either take full control (unlikely) or to support one side in the struggle, presumably representing those persecuted. Then the persecuted are empowered to destroy their enemies – which inherently means the other side, the persecutors. They take control and sometimes even become the persecutors. Those states which have an interest against that group that have gained power become highly critical of the intervening state as behaving like an imperial power, not as a saviour of minorities. The intervener is no longer the representative of the world community, but only a section of it intent on victory. R2P just becomes a cover for an exercise in imperial power. At the same time, the intervener becomes a producer of victims as well as a protector of victims.

One result is that altruism is depreciated and devalued. Force in the service of altruism is an oxymoron. What is more, the altruism only seems to work when it is intermixed with the self-interest of the intervening state that drives the intervener to assume the full responsibility required to complete the task at hand. Of course, that only further undermines the moral status of R2P. Since the ostensible success, protecting civilians, is difficult to assess and measure, but the body counts, the civilians killed, those wounded as “collateral damage,” are quantifiable – the empirical evidence seems evident for all to see. The cure may be worse than the disease.

What is more, when a state assumes the responsibility for its members, for its citizens, this is an ongoing and continuing duty, not one that ever ends. But intervention inherently demands and requires an exit. Yet there never is an appropriate time to leave by the very nature of the problem. In reality, an intervener leaves when the government of the state within which the intervention takes place insists once again on assuming responsibility, thereby both undermining the R2P doctrine, which is based on the presumption that the will of an individual state is trumped by that of the international community.

Further, the resentment and internal discord within the intervening state are enhanced. A state assumes responsibility for its own citizens, not in gratitude for the “international” community acting as a temporary protector, but because the country has become tired and even resentful of the so-called protector. On the other side, the citizens of the intervener sooner rather than later grow tired of the burden and resentful in turn of the lack of appreciation of those who they sacrificed to protect. Alternatively, the situation gets worse, and the intervener is required to increase its commitment, the self-sacrifice of its citizens and the cost of its project, which in turn enhances the resentment of at least part of the citizenry of the intervening state and exacerbates the divisions and schisms within.

As we shall see, none of these paradoxes and dilemmas has even touched the problem that neither the strongest state in the world and certainly not the international community can possibly assume the responsibility for even a small portion of the atrocities taking place in various parts of the world. So the international community and the intervening state(s) come across as hypocrites incapable of living up to the promises they have ostensibly made.

One of the results of all these inherent failures is a propensity to boast about relatively tiny and insignificant accomplishments, even when one had hardly anything to do with responsibility for them. Before I begin the series of case study analyses, let me offer an example of one case that is neither about prevention nor intervention, but about accountability. The Obama administration supported the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić and boasted about it. What did that support amount to?

Samantha claimed this credit among a long list justifying her successes as the chair of President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board set up in 2011. It is true that the R2P doctrine is not only about prevention, but also includes punishment of those guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide. But that is not what is novel about R2P. As President Obama said himself on 2 April 2013 upon learning of the arrest of the Butcher of Bosnia, Ratko Mladić: “Fifteen years ago, Ratko Mladić ordered the systematic execution of some 8,000 unarmed men and boys in Srebrenica. Today, he is behind bars. I applaud President Tadic and the Government of Serbia on their determined efforts to ensure that Mladić was found and that he faces justice. We look forward to his expeditious transfer to The Hague…From Nuremberg to the present, the United States has long viewed justice for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide as both a moral imperative and an essential element of stability and peace. In Bosnia, the United States – our troops and our diplomats – led the international effort to end ethnic cleansing and bring a lasting peace. On this important day, we recommit ourselves to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and to working to prevent future atrocities. Those who have committed crimes against humanity and genocide will not escape judgment.”

That is a fair and judicious statement. Obama gave credit where credit was due for the arrest – to President Tadic and the Government of Serbia that first gradually asserted control over the Serbian military. The effort was helped both by EU pressure requiring the arrest of the wanted war criminals as a condition for the entry of Serbia into the EU and the British military and British politicians, particularly Paddy Ashdown when United Nations High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2004. Obama did not link the arrest with R2P, but with a long American bipartisan tradition going back to the Nuremberg trials after WWII. He also gave credit to the Clinton administration for its leading role in the intervention in the former Yugoslavia and for forging the peace agreement. The only credit he gave his own administration was for a recommitment to supporting ongoing reconciliation efforts in the Balkans and his government’s work to prevent future atrocities. None of this had anything to do with the arrest of Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić.

Even the rewards offered for information leading to his arrest, initially €1 million by the Serbian government, upped in 2010 to €10 million, and $5 million dollars offered by the American government, subsequently supplemented by an offer of €1 million by the U.S. embassy in Belgrade just for information on his location, had nothing to do with those arrests. Initially Mladić was protected by the governments of Serbia and Republika Srpska, then after 2002 by the Serbian army and the army of Republika Srpska, then by paramilitary extremist organizations similar to the ones that helped Nazi war criminals escape Germany after WWII, and finally only by members of his own family. Neither strenuous UN and NATO efforts nor offers of bounties led to his arrest – just good police work and serendipity.

Goran Hadžić was the last fugitive war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and he was arrested by Serbian police just over a month after Ratko Mladić near the village of Krušedol, where he had been hiding since his indictment by the ICTY. He had tried to sell a stolen Modigliani painting and police tracked him down. America had no more to do with this arrest than with the capture of Ratko Mladić. President Obama’s statement on Goran Hadžić’s arrest was in the same vein as the previous one, with one exception. “Over the course of its 18-year history, the United States has been and remains a steadfast supporter of the ICTY and its critically important work.” A smidgeon of credit was taken for supporting the ICTY. Was this what Samantha Power was declaring as an example of an “unprecedented action”?

My country may have been the sponsor and midwife of R2P. I continue to believe in military intervention – when possible and when needed. But the overarching doctrine supposedly providing a rationale for such actions is a far greater hindrance than help. It is much better to establish practices than to proceed from an abstract principle, especially one so terribly flawed.

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VI: Samantha Power: The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

VII: Samantha Power: The Responsibility to Protect (R2P)

by

Howard Adelman

Evan Osnos’ New Yorker pre-Christmas piece on Samantha Power provided me with a window into the priorities and workings of the Obama administration and an opportunity to comment on one of the most high profile figures in that administration. These series of blogs have not been an analysis of Osnos’ essay. Rather, I have used the essay to discuss much of what he did not say. For example, he not only did not discuss the doctrine of “The Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), he did not even mention it once. Yet R2P is the doctrine with which Samantha Power has been most closely identified by both her friends and certainly her enemies. In this blog I want to discuss Samantha Power’s understanding of and commitment to the Canadian originated doctrine of “The Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) that was so conspicuously absent from the article. As a follow-up in subsequent blogs, I will first explore the credits she claimed for the USA related after chairing the ABD, President Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board, set up in 2011 and subsequently discuss the application of R2P to specific cases.

At the beginning of this century, Tom Axworthy, when he was Foreign Minister of Canada, initiated a commission to study and make recommendations on how countries should behave when there are indications that wide-scale atrocities are or may be taking place or even about to take place. Formed in September 2000, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) delivered its massive two volume report, “The Responsibility to Protect,” in 2001. Its goal was to develop a global political consensus about how and when the international community should respond to emerging crises involving the potential for large-scale loss of life and other widespread crimes against humanity. The report pointed to the central challenge – the primacy of the doctrine of the sovereign state as absolute. It outlined how that could be overcome by limiting sovereignty and creating a doctrine of intervention as a trump when states failed to fulfill their responsibilities to protect their own citizens. Under the auspices of the United Nations, the doctrine was to include both a “Responsibility to Prevent,” endorsing early warning systems and root cause analyses, and a duty both to respond and rebuild, although the overwhelming public image has been on intervening within a sovereign state. In 2005, the doctrine was endorsed by the United Nations unanimously.

In the doctrine, a state has a responsibility to protect its own population. If it fails to do so and mass atrocities seem immanent or underway, the international community assumes the responsibility of, in the first instance, assisting a state unable to provide protection on its own. If the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities, the international community has a right to use a variety of tools at its disposal to ensure protection of those citizens. Coercive military intervention could be used as a last resort.

The uptake of R2P by the international community in a very short time is very instructive. Contributing to a Safer and More Secure World. (2005-05-12) and its complementary International Policy Statement were issued at the very beginning of 2005 by the Government of Canada (GofC) followed by “A Role of Pride and Influence in the World” that set forth the principles of R2P, how Canada would implement it, and the steps Canada would take to get the international community to buy in. One part of the last document reads: “While diplomacy remains the preferred tool in the pursuit of international peace and security, our country must possess the hard military assets necessary to achieve our foreign policy goals.” Coercive military means would be used to back up diplomacy in the traditional realist mode. However, the policy document also stated that, “the Government has made clear that it intends to engage members of the United Nations in moving forward with the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ initiative.” In fact, that process was well underway.

The UN High Level Panel on Treats, Challenges and Change wrote “A More Secure World, our Shared Responsibility;” the document was released by the Office of the Secretary-General of the UN in 2004; R2P was endorsed in 2005. The objective was to develop new rules to enable the international community to protect civilians from extreme harm when their own government is unwilling or unable to do so.   In 2005 at the UN World Summit, when the UN unanimously endorsed the doctrine, it was already clear that it was a stillbirth. China, for example, was just one of many countries that put caveats on their support. That country was quite clear that it was voting for motherhood; anytime the issue came up and R2P was to be applied, it was to be subordinate to the absolute sovereignty of a state. Sovereignty must always trump R2P. A nation’s permission to intervene would still be required. The doctrine was only to be applied with the consent of the nation targeted, a principle that the doctrine was intentionally designed to overcome. The United States under George Bush’s administration also voted in support of the doctrine while making quite clear that decisions of multilateral bodies, such as the UN, would be subordinate to the decisions and interests of the United States. Sovereignty still ruled.

Samantha Power’s first book was not A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide published in 2002, which traced the history of genocides in the twentieth century and government responses to those atrocities as they developed, but a co-edited volume with Graham Allison the previous year called Realizing Human Rights: Moving from Inspiration to Impact. The order of the books and their titles are instructive. For her focus was not to provide a scholarly understanding of why genocides take place nor why governments stand by and do nothing. The book was intended to inspire action, initially by ensuring that warning information was collected and analyzed and a box of prevention tools developed, including military intervention.

This coincidence of timing led to the close identification of Samantha Power with the R2P doctrine rather than any role she played in its development or getting the UN’s endorsement in unanimously adopting the doctrine while gutting it of any meaning, though undoubtedly the fame of her second book, combined with the aftermath of the failure to prevent atrocities in both Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, helped in both publicizing the doctrine and linking her name closely with it. Samantha Power had no significant role, even in the International Coalition for the Responsibility to Protect (ICRtoP), which was organized to ensure the doctrine was implemented.

The New American, as a very loud voice on the far right in America, has insistently contended with the original R2P doctrine and insisted that U.S. sovereignty and interests had to be protected against the insatiable hunger for power of the UN, the globalist government-in-waiting. Right wingers claim that the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard, with its commitment to make human rights principles central to the formulation of U.S. public policy, and, more particularly, Samantha Power as its founding executive director, participated in the advisory board of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty established by the Canadian government. In fact, Michael Ignatieff, at the time Carr Professor of Human Rights Practice at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, was on the commission, not Samantha Power. The Carr Center itself, however, is not included in the index of the report. Further, in the supplementary second volume of the Responsibility to Protect Report edited by Thomas Weiss and Don Hubert, to which I contributed an essay and which includes an exhaustive bibliography, Samantha Power did not contribute to any of the thematic essays. Nevertheless, these facts never stood in the way of the right in the United States linking her intimately with the doctrine or for branding Samantha as a “worldwide leader” in the promotion of this “sovereignty-stealing” doctrine that Samantha Power allegedly worked to develop in partnership with The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCRtoP).

How does this have any significance since Samantha Power unequivocally endorses R2P? It is significant only in pointing out that anything the right says about Samantha Power, both generally and with respect to R2P, is not to be trusted. Unfounded comments from the right make Samantha Power an epitome of scholarly accuracy and acuity. Ramesh Thakur, when he was director of the Balsillie School of International Affairs and a distinguished fellow at The Centre for International Governance Innovation, published an op-ed in a number of Canadian newspapers on the new world order. The right wrote that Thakur in his article quoted Samantha Power as “pushing for a “global rebalancing” and “international redistribution” of power that would usher in a “new world order.” Contrary to their claim, Samantha was not even cited in the article.

What really bothered Marco Rubio (R-Fl) at her inauguration hearings for her appointment as UN permanent representative to the UN was not Samantha’s threat to the supremacy of the absolute sovereignty of the USA, but her call for the USA to confess its past sins, for a collective public mea culpa, a public equivalent to the secret confessional in a Catholic Church. In her article, “Force Full” in The New Republic in 2003, Samantha had criticized George Bush’s use of “illiberal power.” “U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought…We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States. This would entail restoring FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] to its pre-Bush stature, opening the files, and acknowledging the force of a mantra we have spent the last decade promoting in Guatemala, South Africa, and Yugoslavia: A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors.” Samantha favoured humanitarian intervention and opposed imperial military intervention. Samantha’s response to Marco Rubio’s query, however, was an exercise, not only in sophistic political side-stepping, but in turning a challenging political question into an exercise in obfuscation. Further, she used the question to exclaim her vaulted view of the United States.

In this blog I focus on words and ideas rather than claimed deeds, such as Presidential Study Directive 10 (PSD-10) of September 2011 declaring the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide to be a “national security interest and core moral responsibility” of America and directing the National Security Advisor to conduct a comprehensive review assessing U.S. government capabilities and needs in this area.

Ambassador Power told one interviewer that, in addition to the constraints around the moral imagination and budgets that she encountered, and the time required to convince others, she had to cajole and convince after understanding where those resistant others were situated even when she experienced herself as an outsider and an alarm went off, “intruder alert, intruder alert.” Although she had come to appreciate and understand those constraints, nevertheless she always felt blessed “to have the chance to bring these issues to the fore.” Barack Obama was not one of those constraints because he has had a longstanding interest in multilateral efforts to combat war crimes and genocide and supported a more constraining international legal regime on war crimes, even at the cost of national sovereignty even as he appears more the “realist” than an advocate of humanitarian intervention. So she had always been working with the imprimatur of the president.

At an International Symposium on Preventing Genocide and Mass Atrocities in Paris convened by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, Samantha Power, as Special Assistant to the President for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, gave a keynote address on 15 November 2010. The conference focused on genocide prevention and policy initiatives, current threats of mass atrocities, and prospects for greater international cooperation. Samantha made four points.

To the question of what we should do differently as governments and members of civil society to reduce the likelihood of atrocities, she stressed the importance of strategic commitments to prevent mass atrocities in Obama’s National Security Strategy that go beyond a vow of “Never Again!,” beyond the UN’s endorsement of R2P, or even citing R2P in a Security Council resolution. The strategic commitment is one that sends a critical message throughout the government and to the world of American priorities in order for resources to be allocated and political will to be mobilized and harnessed.

In the Torah, there is a distinction between oaths, vows and promises. When one reads Samantha Power, a strategic commitment is not an oath which a higher authority will require you to fulfill, nor a vow where there are consequences if you fail, nor even a promise where your sense of self to yourself and others will be diminished if you fail to act. A strategic commitment is none of these. It is about symbols. It is about messaging. It is about enhancing and reinforcing a constituency. It is about creating an organization that can work towards a singular goal. But it is not about developing practical tactics on the ground and certainly not about delivering results. In other words, it is about politics. It is about spin.

Samantha went on to insist that the strategic commitment also had to be personal and embodied in an individual who will ensure a president’s legacy and an organizational structure that will guarantee that the information flows up and the options are available to the president. This is consistent with her misplaced analysis of what went wrong when President Clinton was dealing with Rwanda. It is not consistent with my analysis of that failure nor with my appreciation of the significant humanitarian successes by governments. Ron Atkey, when he was Minister of Immigration and was confronted with the Indochinese Boat people crisis, told his staff in the Ministry that he did not want to go down in history like those Canadian officials who turned their backs on the Jewish boat people in the thirties and said “None is too many.” Practical more than rhetorical leadership is required.

Look at the difference. In Samantha’s world view, underlings are required to ensure a legacy so “that the President doesn’t look back on his presidency and wonder why he wasn’t informed or presented with decisions.” In the Canadian understanding of commitment, that commitment is a will to act in a specific direction in a specific context faced with a specific problem. Whether it was Jack Pickersgill’s commitment to facilitate entry of Hungarian refugees into Canada or the Clark government’s approach to the problem of Indochinese refugees, commitment was not a strategy but an action, not setting up and devolving the problem onto an organization and making an impersonal structure responsible and simply appointing someone at the top committed to the same purpose. Those steps followed from a specific commitment to act, not as a condition for acting. For Samantha, what is required is governmental organization that matches the methodical organization characteristic of mass-killings. However, a prior requirement of genocide is the commitment of a few to destroy a group. The organization is simply a tool to accomplish the task.

Samantha simply demonstrated that she neither understood the source of the problem nor how commitments are formed to deal with them. Her approach is essentially bureaucratic and not action-oriented, concerned with general abstract propositions not specific deeds. Though it has some resemblance to mass lining in the Chinese political system, it lacks the key element of determination on the part of leadership to get something done.

Samantha’s third requirement to combat the prospect of mass atrocities focused on institutionalization. “Governments must work to systematize ‘prevention…to routinize our response to indicators of mass atrocities.” But indicators, as demonstrated in the developing East and West African early warning systems, do not connect with action but with the process for gathering and classifying information. Structures and organization do not necessarily make it easier to ensure early engagement. They just can help make it possible. Possibility should not be confused with engagement. Further, instead of announcing a new “Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention” that will “invite ideas–and award grants–for innovative technologies that strengthen the U.S. government’s capacity for early warning, prevention, and response with respect to mass atrocities,” why not, instead, recognize and enhance what is already in the field and is working by strengthening local capacity to anticipate the prospect of mass killing? It is not the American DOD that needs strengthening in its capacity to deal with atrocity prevention and response. The U.S. already needs to be on a weight loss program relative to its array of intelligence services. The military in Africa need to be strengthened. It is hard to imagine the American army being authorized to, let alone embarking on, an “atrocity prevention mission.”

Osnan’s article on Samantha was subtitled, “In the realm of the possible” with the implication that ideals had to be tempered with reality. But that is simply the result of construing idealism and realism as poles apart. In fact, they are complementary. The problem is to get the two into a dialectical embrace. Strategic commitments, in Samantha’s construal, structure and organization, and even institutionalization simply will not do. The focus has to be on decisions and deeds in responding to concrete challenges, not creating abstract general principles and a bureaucratic structure to enact them. Principles must be embodied in practices and not in abstractions. So all the convening of bureaucrats would not have led to the decision to take Hungarian refugees or Indochinese refugees into Canada. Decisions to act were crucial. “Whole of government” meetings focused on prevention are a crock, except as an educational tool. They do not and will not drive plans and responses. Samantha is just demonstrating her ignorance of the way governments actually accomplish anything.

Samantha’s fourth and final point in her address was to stress the importance of civil society and the value of social movements, such as the movement of which she was a part on the Darfur issue. I will take up that as an example in more detail tomorrow. But having been very active in many social movements rather than politics, from the nuclear disarmament movement to Operation Lifeline in the private sponsorship of the Indochinese refugees, it is my considered opinion, as a result of my research as well as critical reflection, that they are not a sine qua non, as Samantha contended. As both my involvement and research have tried to establish, civil society pressure can be complementary and enhance the ability of government to lead and act. But government has and must provide real leadership. It is not a graduate seminar for considering options. That leadership can initiate actions independent of social movements or, preferably, with their help, but the existence or non-existence of a social movement is not key.

Samantha’s involvement in the Darfur movement is a prime example. It has been a total bust as I will try to show tomorrow. Contrary to what she claimed, there was a movement dealing with Rwanda headed by Alison des Forges. The failure was not because of the absence of such a movement, but because the government was traveling in a very different direction with very different commitments. Her contention that, “it (a social movement) didn’t activate for Rwanda. However, because of Darfur, which reached its peak killing period around the ten-year anniversary of Rwanda, the movement has been broadened and institutionalized.” Indeed, but to what effect?  On Sudan, as I will try to show, what was needed was an accurate assessment of the problem and a commitment to action. To conceive of government working because of grass root and grass top pressure is just a fallacy. The top is not a pressure point but a centre of activity. Grass roots can help the centre; it cannot mobilize it.

President Obama’s endorsement of Samantha’s prophylactic recipes to strengthen the U.S. government’s ability to foresee, prevent, and respond to genocide and mass atrocities are misplaced. “Strong organization,” “a whole-of-government approach,” “bureaucratic monthly meetings,” “appropriate burden sharing,” “National Intelligence Estimates on the global risk of mass atrocities and genocide,” as if genocide and mass atrocities were equivalent to climate change and anticipations of food shortages. Pap! Bureaucratic spin for doing nothing. Training peacekeepers and local capacity building are not new tools. Neither are targeted sanctions, even if the targets are tweaked somewhat. Nor visa bans. These, and lessons learned studies, have been utilized by both Republican and Democratic administrations in the past. Very economical initiatives on the ground have been underway, ironically largely financed by the American government for over a decade. These should be recognized and enhanced rather than concentrating on bureaucratic remedies. But I have not been able to find whether Samantha knows they exist.

Samantha’s fallacious analysis would not be so awful if it was not the prime cause for the impotence of the most powerful country in the world.

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

by

Howard Adelman

In Evan Osnos’ article on Samantha Power, David Rothkopf, the editor of Foreign Policy, who is a very prolific author and had just published National Insecurity (2014), was quoted on Samantha Power as follows: “Here is the person who wrote the best-reported, analyzed cri de coeur on genocide, in an Administration that has effectively said, in the face of humanitarian disasters, we’re going to do very little, whether it is the continuing catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria or the brewing problem with Rohingya – Muslims persecuted in Burma.” Note Rothkopf’s careful depiction of Samantha’s famous 2002 book, not as the best, which is the way the quote is often recalled, but as the “best-reported” book. Further, Rothkopf does not even say it is the best-reported analysis of genocide, but it is the cri de coeur that has been analyzed and been widely reported. And the end of the quote is precious; it is a stiletto indictment of the Obama administration for both hypocrisy and passivity. (I will expand on this at the end and in later blogs.) The issue is not Samantha Power’s acuity and ability at dissection, but her ability to cry with utter outrage and get widespread coverage while not being dismissed simply as a bleeding heart.

The quote aptly captures the strength of the book. It is not a careful dissection of genocide or of particular genocides. It is not good scholarship. It is a moving account driven by a powerful moral impetus that captures and captivates the reader while, at the same time, providing a heartfelt rather than pugilistic advertisement for herself. I will not dissect and analyze her whole book. Instead I will focus on her one chapter on bystanders to the Rwanda genocide, a subject on which Astri Suhrke, a Norwegian colleague, and I undertook the first international analysis.

Yesterday, in dealing with Evan Osnos’ essay on Samantha Power in the recent New Yorker that focuses on the relationship between influence and power, I concentrated not so much on her influence on those in power but on the influences on Samantha – psychological, personal, political, experiential. I stressed the importance older men might have assumed in that development. Samantha certainly sought out such links. In one very minor example that I know from my son, Jeremy, who wrote a biography of Albert Hirschman (which, coincidentally, Samantha Power’s husband, Cass Sunstein, reviewed extremely favourably in the New York Review of Books), Samantha had sent Albert at the institute for Advanced Study in Princeton a signed copy of her 2002 book with a fairly fawning note that she had been personally very much influenced by and very appreciative of Albert’s 1970 book, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. In her intellectual development, she had always been torn between the pole requiring loyalty in service of an administration and adopting a role trying to influence an administration (that is, exercise a voice).

In Osnos’s article there is a discussion of the problem of the Obama administration not hearing her pleas over the three years of the Syrian crisis. Her answer was that, as long as she was heard, even if not listened to, as long as she could possibly influence policy, she would serve the administration. It was clear that she had paid no real attention to the issue of “exit” in Hirschman’s book even though, as a journalist, she had urged resignation for morally committed but frustrated individuals in an earlier crisis. She had praised the actions of a young foreign-service officer who had resigned from the National Security Council to protest the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970. She lauded his moral sensibility and his choice of “exit” as the correct one. But when it came to her own choices, exit, loyalty and voice were not the three points of a triangle. Rather voice and loyalty were simply poles of a dichotomous tension. It seems clear that she herself had never seriously considered the option of an “exit”.

The issue raised above should not be confused with a sense of post-service loyalty following exit that restrains the exercise of voice. After one exits from a position of authority, civic duty requires a respectful period of silence. In an op-ed, Samantha’s husband, Cass Sunstein, praised George Bush for resisting all efforts to induce him to comment on Obama’s foreign policy. But Leon Panetta, Obama’s former CIA director and Secretary of Defense, in his book Worthy Fights, and Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under both Bush and Obama, in his book, Duty, had no such compunction. Panetta revealed private debates that were expected to remain private, at least for the term of the president. Gates charged Obama with losing his way and that the White House was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”
In an interview promoting his book, Gates concluded that, with respect to Afghanistan, Obama “doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.” As Cass Sunstein argued, “former Cabinet members owe a duty of loyalty to a sitting president, not least because they have been able to participate in internal discussions. In those discussions, officials generally deserve to be able to speak on the understanding that what they say will not appear in a book — certainly not while the president remains in office.” When you first exit from office, both voice and influence are temporarily trumped.

Confidentiality and loyalty do have limits. If a former official was exposed to genuine wrongdoing — for example, in the form of illegality, as opposed to policy disagreements — he or she may have a duty to speak out. Neither Panetta nor Gates point to any such wrongdoing. They did lack grace; gracelessness is indeed an insufficiently acknowledged vice. But Samantha is guilty of the opposite – not simply fawning loyalty at the sacrifice of principle, but becoming an apologist and spin doctor portraying disastrous policies as valiant efforts. (I will return to develop this theme in subsequent case study blogs.)

Hence, Samantha’s focus on loyalty and voice to the exclusion of exit. This is as an example of her simplistic and dichotomous thinking, the thinking of a moralist, even when dealing with Albert Hirschman who was anything but one. In 2002, Samantha and my path crossed over this issue, but focused specifically on Rwanda. I and my Norwegian colleague, Astri Suhrke, in 1995, with the help of a team of eighteen other researchers, had written an in depth study for an international consortium of 19 states, including the USA, and 18 international agencies, on the role of bystanders in the Rwanda genocide. Samantha’s book had not yet been published when we met, but she had written an article in The Atlantic in 2001 that presented an early version of her book chapter on Rwanda

From that article, it was clear she had not relied on French, Belgian or the other scholars who wrote companion volumes to ours on the actual conduct of the genocide, but had relied on Philip Gourevitch’s bracing, very moving and well-written, though also not always accurate, account in The New Yorker. (See his subsequent book, We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families.) Samantha was writing, not so much about the course of the genocide itself, but the role of bystanders, the very topic we had studied and recorded in such detail.

Her focus was the United States, not the role of other states – France, Belgium, Canada, or international agencies, primarily the UN. She asked: “Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren’t they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?” In fact, most of the questions she raised remained unanswered in her chapter on Rwanda. Her general interpretation alleged that the inaction was primarily due to a lack of focus on the ground in Rwanda and a failure to communicate what was happening to the highest level. When she joined the Obama administration, this interpretation – or misinterpretation – became the foundation of how she personally carried out her role upon moving next door to the pinnacle of power.

She began by an initial falsehood. “So far people have explained the U.S. failure to respond to the Rwandan genocide 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.” But our study had offered none of these answers. In our initial account, we had explained that the Mogadishu syndrome, as we had dubbed it, the American experience in Somalia in 1993, made so vivid by the film, Blackhawk Down, had traumatized the US with respect to intervening in Africa. Later, based on further research, but much before Samantha Power undertook her research between 1998 and 2001, we had revised our original thesis to argue that the October 1993 Somalia incident was not the instigator for turning a blind eye to intervention, but the nail in the coffin of intervention that had already been set in place as a result of the Clinton administration’s struggle with Newt Gingrich’s Congress over funding. Bill Clinton had already determined to limit his exposure to criticism from the Republicans about wasteful expenditures in overseas ventures. The Administration determined not to become involved in funding peacekeeping ventures, let alone deploying any peacekeepers.

Admittedly, Samantha had the advantage of just having accessed previously classified US documents that we had not seen, but, as we had said in our report, American administration personnel had been extremely open with us, including a key person in the CIA, a State Department analyst who shared with us a report he had prepared on the run-up to the genocide, and the American ambassador in Rwanda. We had also exchanged with our colleague, Michael Barnett at the University of Wisconsin, his knowledge and inside information as a member of the United States UN delegation; he had been responsible for the Rwanda file when he was on a one year leave from the department. His book, Eyewitness to a genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda discussing the United States and the UN roles, appeared the same year as Samantha Power’s book, to general academic acclaim, but none of the wide publicity that Samantha’s much more anecdotal account had received. He had already published an article that she could have accessed while she was undertaking research for her book.

Samantha drew the same conclusion that we had much earlier and Michael had drawn contemporaneously with her book. The U.S. government “knew enough about the genocide early on to save lives, but passed up countless opportunities to do so.” What she had presented as an original finding was the consensus of earlier studies, not an amazing and original insight. Samantha also echoed our earlier conclusion that the U.S. not only failed to send troops, but “led” in the effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers, an account we corrected in subsequent studies well before her interpretation had been published. She made this claim in spite of the evidence already published by representatives on the UN Security Council and the fact that, although the United States was a leading voice, and Michael Barnett had joined the chorus of non-interventionists, the majority of the Security Council were of the same mind. This interpretation was also the one made by both the Nigerian and the New Zealand delegates on the Security Council who had opposed the draw-down of peacekeepers.

The issue was not an error in interpretation, but that the error was made in spite of other prior scholarship that undercut that analysis, positions which the writer failed to acknowledge and challenge. The problem was not that she wrote a journalist account, but that she wrote one claiming original scholarship without evidently reading the other scholarship available. Further, the important focus was to tell a moral tale of virtually exclusive American perfidious behaviour.

Samantha was correct that the U.S. aggressively undermined the effort to send reinforcements once the genocide became widely known three weeks after it started. For example, as we had documented, the U.S. had agreed to supply armoured personnel carriers once the UN reversed its draw-down policy, but the U.S. military ended up in a dispute with the UN that lasted five weeks over who should pay the costs of painting the vehicles in the white and blue of the UN. It is also true, as we documented, that the U.S. had assiduously refused to use the term “genocide”, however, not because use of the term would obligate the United States to become involved in the genocide as Samantha claimed in a very prevalent misunderstanding about international law, but becaause the use of the term might encourage public pressure, which was unwelcome, to get the administration to act. But, in general, Samantha was correct: “staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective.”

Samantha, however, made other mistakes. She claimed that during the “first three days of the killings [6-9 April 1994] U.S. diplomats in Rwanda reported back to Washington that well-armed extremists were intent on eliminating the Tutsi.” There are two things wrong with this assertion. First, months before, primarily through Canada’s General Roméo Dallaire’s January cable to the UN, U.S. diplomats had been informed of these extremist intentions. In fact, even before Dallaire wrote his infamous cable, a lowly policy analyst in the U.S. State Department had written virtually the same thing in his report. On the other hand, in spite of pleas from the political officer in the Swiss delegation in Rwanda and from the Papal Nuncio in Kigali, the American ambassador in Rwanda, David Rawson (who happened to be one of the rare diplomats in Rwanda who spoke Kinyarwanda because he had been the son of a missionary in Rwanda and Burundi and had also written a PhD thesis on Burundi), had been very complacent about the events building up to the genocide and had been blindsided and struck silent by the events as they unfolded when the genocide broke out on 6 April 1994. Further, in the first days, senior American officials simply viewed what was taking place as a coup. President Clinton on 6 April 2014 said that he was “shocked and deeply saddened … horrified that elements of the Rwandan security forces have sought out and murdered Rwandan officials.”

In the first few days after the outbreak, all diplomats in Kigali, not just the Americans, were primarily concerned with getting their diplomatic corps and their families, as well as the ex-patriates out of the country. With rare exceptions, they were not focused on the atrocities taking place but on exit. The diplomats in Rwanda were far too busy dealing with the exodus to undertake a political analysis of what was taking place in Rwanda. As President Clinton himself said on 8 April 1994, “I just want to assure the families of those who are there that we are doing everything we possibly can to be on top of the situation to take all the appropriate steps to try to assure the safety of our citizens there.”

As far as the American press is concerned, the first report of the atrocities taking place in Rwanda in North America – earlier accounts appeared in the Belgian and French press – was three weeks after the genocide started. It was an op-ed in The Globe and Mail by Alison des Forges who later that year published the classic Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda under the auspices of Human Rights Watch. Samantha does not cite any of the press reports in the first three days that she claims, “spoke of the door-to-door hunting of unarmed civilians”, though, of course, there had been reports of the hunting down of the moderates in the government by the extremist military and Hutu militias. But that could be a military coup, not genocide. Samantha is correct that, by the end of the second week, Alison, and others, badgered the U.S, government insisting that a genocide was underway in Rwanda.
If Samantha had read Michael Barnett’s critical analysis of his own work at the UN, it is clear that he, and many others, did allow genocide to happen, but they did not do so passively; they actively urged that the U.S.A. not become involved. So why did Samantha come to conclude, in line with her future husband’s views but before she ever knew him, that “without strong leadership the system will incline toward risk-averse policy choices”. Our study had concluded that the American leadership was actively promoting risk-averse policy choices as were many others lower down in the hierarchy. Barnett’s impressive study was an analysis of why this was the case.

Samantha also wrote that, “We also see that with the possibility of deploying U.S. troops to Rwanda taken off the table early on—and with crises elsewhere in the world unfolding—the slaughter never received the top-level attention it deserved.” The fact is that deploying American troops to Rwanda was not even a consideration. The subject was never on the table. This was a UN peacekeeping force. Americans did not provide UN peacekeepers. They just helped pay the costs. And America was no longer willing to pay those costs. That had been the established policy a year before the Rwanda genocide broke out.

The United States was not inattentive because the deployment of American troops was an undesirable consideration. That possibility was never considered. The American government was deliberately inattentive. As one CIA policy analyst told the UN when American surveillance photos of Rwanda were requested, “We do not have any. Why should we waste our money taking aerial pictures of Rwanda? It is not a security interest of ours.” Americans were not, as Samantha claimed, asserting that they were doing all they could or should. The issue was not the choice among possibilities, as the title of Osnos’ article suggests, but choices among very different objectives which issued from moral norms. American officials were insisting that they were doing all they were willing to do, a very different proposition than all they could or should do, for it was not a proposition based on moral imperatives but on realpolitik.

A reporter had asked Samantha after she had been instrumental in creating the new Atrocities Prevention Board (APB) in the White House, how the Board’s work became operational in crises like Syria or the Central African Republic. Samantha, then Ambassador to the UN, answered that the board was “a symptom of his [Obama’s] larger commitment” to discover new tools to bring to bear on these crises. As tools she mentioned sanctions on people using new technologies to commit atrocities, the Rewards for Justice for tipsters to help arrest Joseph Kony or focusing on the Central African Republic “that history shows would not necessarily rise within a bureaucracy on their own”. Of course. Joseph Kony has not been arrested. The sanctions on users of technologies preceded the creation of the APB. Finally, the precise problem was that the Board was just symbolic. There was so little evidence that anything had been delivered on the ground, but more on this in later blogs.

Contrast the APB with a program funded mostly by the American government – FEWER, the Forum on Early Warning and Early Response under the auspices of IGAD in East Africa. I have been unable to find out whether she knows about this early warning system and the parallel early warning system in West Africa, CEWARN. The latter led to the arrest of Charles Taylor and prevented the resumption of a civil war in Liberia. FEWER led to preventing low level outbreaks of atrocities in the criminally-organized tribal rustling of cattle, but has thus far been ineffective either in inter-state or large-scale inter-ethnic conflicts within states such as in Kenya and, more recently, in South Sudan. There have been concrete operational successes by American-funded programs that she could have cited, but they both preceded and had nothing to do with the high profile symbolic APB and its enormous focus on bureaucracy rather than detailed work on the ground.

When she almost boasts about the administration uncovering the Christian-Muslim violence unfolding in CAR, I want to scream. Much to our surprise, this was the first revelation of our first early warning trial run in Nigeria in the late nineties. Tom Axworthy told us that he could not renew our funding because the results did not present any findings that were “actionable” by the Canadian government. When Samantha boasts that, “We’re trying to get an African Union force in there [CAR] as quickly as possible and to sound the alarm in venues like this one,” I want to guffaw, for the African Union, with American financial support, has been active in early warning and intervention for over a decade. As much as I am a supporter of Barack Obama, there is little evidence, unfortunately, that his administration has done anything significantly different or on a larger scale in this arena. I would have loved to be proven wrong in probing Samantha’s accomplishments, but the evidence is not there and she has done little to supply it.

The fact is, Samantha is just dead wrong. Rwanda did not fall through the cracks in the bureaucracy during the Clinton administration as she contends. It is an example of sloppy research and analyses leading to misplaced policies. The focus on organization, messaging and constituencies of this administration may be very useful for spin, but it does almost nothing to help the people on the ground and ameliorate the humanitarian disaster in Syria and Iraq, CAR or South Sudan. What is the good of hearing the complaints of the NGOs if there is nothing that comes out the other side? Further, the problem in Rwanda was not that Alison des Forges lacked access, but that there were other agendas; the ears of government were deliberately closed.