XI: Samantha Power, Invisible Children and Joseph Kony

XI: Samantha Power, Invisible Children and Joseph Kony


Howard Adelman

There is one area where there has been real progress in reducing atrocities – the changing status of the marauding, plundering, abducting and murderous Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Defections of personnel from the LRA are way up; the number of atrocities is way down. A week ago (14.01.2015), the last of Joseph Kony’s lieutenants alive, 34-year-old Dominic Ongwen, originally a 10-year old LRA abductee, was handed over to Ugandan troops in the Central African Republic. He is wanted for war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, and, since his capture, he has been transferred to the ICC.

It is still unclear whether Ongwen defected to U.S. Special Forces troops working in collaboration with Ugandan army units or was captured by Mounir Ahmat, commander of the Central African Republic’s (CAR) mostly Muslim Seleka rebel group. The latter claimed they had captured Ongwen near the eastern town of Sam Ouandja when he was trying to escape and Mounir claimed the $5 million U.S. reward on offer since 2013. The U.S. forces said that Ongwen defected. Uganda, which initially wanted to try him, under pressure, agreed to transfer him to the ICC that had issued his arrest warrant in 2005. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni conceded that the LRA had also committed atrocities in neighbouring countries and, therefore, Ongwen should face international justice.

Last year, Okot Odhiambo, then LRA’s second in command, was killed in CAR by African Union forces near the town of Djema, On 12 May 2012, Caesar Achellam was captured by the Ugandan military in the CAR. In 2011, “Brigadier” Bok Abudema was killed by the Ugandan army. Vincent Otti was killed on Kony’s orders in November 2007 for wanting to sign the peace deal offered by the Ugandan government and that he, Otti, had personally negotiated. In August 2006, the first of Kony’s lieutenants to be taken out was killed by the Ugandan army just before Kony signed a Cessation of Hostilities agreement that initiated two years of peace talks. After the collapse of the peace negotiations, the LRA left Uganda and never returned.

As background, the north and south of Uganda have been at odds throughout the colonial period with a de facto peace imposed by the British by allowing the Acholi in the north to predominate in the army and the Buganda in the south to become predominant in the civil service and the professions. Between Idi Amin’s assumption of rule in 1971, when he and his West-Nilers overthrew the democratic government made almost impotent by north-south divisions, until he himself was overthrown in 1979, 300,000 Ugandans had been slaughtered by his regime. However, the 1979 intervention by Tanzanian troops backing former Prime Minister Milton Obote in partnership with General Tito Okello leading an army of purged Acholi ex-soldiers, the Uganda National Liberation Front/Army (UNLF/A), proved to be even more murderous than Idi Amin. Frustrated by the lack of peace and reconciliation, in July 1985 Okello led a revolt that overthrew Obote only to be overthrown in turn six months later by Yoweri Museveni’s combination of Bugandans and Rwandan Tutsis.

Now, neither the government nor the army had a significant presence of Acholi after a short period in which they had dominated both. Disaffected Acholi soldiers returned north and became engaged in a struggle with tribal elders who viewed the soldiers as “contaminated’ by the spirits of their dead enemies. Modernity vied with traditionalism only to yield to the leadership of a charismatic Joan of Arc, Alice Auma (Lakwena), a spiritualist claiming to have been possessed by a dead Italian general. Alice rallied both ex-soldiers and elders behind the reconstituted Holy Spirit Mobile Forces (HSMF), or Holy Spirit Movement (HSM), that initially had considerable success against Museveni’s Ugandan National Resistance Army. The HSM with its new-found discipline and messianic fervour (the resurrection of Jesus Christ had been promised), in spite of its initial victories, was decisively defeated in November 1987 after coming within 50 km of Kampala.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, taking advantage of both the defeat of Alice Lakwena whose spirit he claimed to have inherited, and the availability of disaffected former soldiers who refused to accede to the peace agreement between northern insurgents and the new Ugandan army, Joesph Kony initiated his so-called rebellion. He was aided and abetted by the continuing alienation of northern Uganda from the Yoweri Museveni regime. The LRA (originally the United Holy Salvation Army/Uganda Christian Army/Movement) under Joseph Kony emerged as a dangerous extremist Christian cult that kidnapped children and sent fear throughout the Acholi people who populated the north of Uganda. Supported initially by the Sudanese government in Khartoum, which then viewed Museveni as an upstart who aided the rebellious south Sudanese, the LRA’s ostensible purpose was the overthrow of Museveni. However, the primary victims of its campaign of pillaging, rape and abductions were the Acholi people. The latter were caught between the LRA, which they learned to fear, and the Museveni regime, which they loathed.

Though the LRA was both a spiritualist and an evangelical Christian organization as well as a personality cult, with the support of Sudan it also developed a strong political agenda, but its methods of intimidation and maiming, mutilations and abductions soon alienated Kony from the local Acholi population and eventually Khartoum. After failed peace talks that began in 1994 and a resumption of the war, in 2002, Museveni decided to bring the LRA reign of terror in the north to an end by launching a full-scale military action to hunt Kony down. He had obtained the agreement of the Sudanese government to allow Ugandan troops to invade southern Sudan in Operation Iron Fist. However, Kony counterattacked against IDP camps and escaped the pincer efforts of the government. Mediation in 2004 by both the Carter Centre in Atlanta and Pope John Paul II failed. Subsequently, Joseph Kony was made an international pariah, having been accused of crimes against humanity by the ICC. In 2005, the U.S. placed Joseph Kony on a list of most wanted terrorists. By 2006, UNICEF estimated that in the previous 15 years, the LRA had abducted 25,000 children (many became kadogo – child soldiers) and others estimated numbers as high as 60,000 including porters, sex slaves, etc. 95% of the Acholi population was living in over 200 IDP camps in the north of Uganda in February of that year, in part to protect them and in part to deprive Kony of a support base. Initially, a UN special forces operation to capture Kony failed abysmally at a cost of 8 Guatemalan commandos.

Peace talks began in 2006 and lasted until the end of 2008. As with previous efforts, they also ended in failure, according to Kony, because he and his lieutenants were not promised amnesty from the charges laid by the ICC. Operation Lightning Thunder (OLT) was then launched by Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CAR and Sudan. The U.S. supplied intelligence and logistical support. Kony escaped. Led by Dominic Ongwen, the LRA attacked villages in DRC on 24 December 2008, killing 865 civilians and abducting 160 more over the next several weeks. Just before the next Christmas in 2009, the LRA launched attacks in the northeast of DRC in the Makombo region, killing 321 and abducting 250. Human Rights Watch broke the news three months later.

Since then, however, as described in the third paragraph above, the whole of the command structure of the LRA has been eliminated. The only leader of the LRA left is Joseph Kony himself, the former Catholic altar boy, athlete (he played football) and reputedly brilliant dancer. He survives with an estimated 200 followers hiding in northeastern CAR. He is being hunted down by four African armies supported by 100 U.S. special forces troops, Navy Seals, who were featured in the movie American Sniper, reviewed last week. As I will try to make clear, this is not the only overlap between the Kony story and that of Chris Kyle, the top American sniper in American military history. However, unlike Iraq, the U.S. special forces in CAR only provide logistical, medical, training and intelligence support. In March 2014, the mission obtained four V-22 Ospreys and the total force authorized was expanded to 300, though evidently only 150 have been deployed.

Can Samantha Power (SP) and/or Barack Obama claim any credit? After all, when SP was Obama’s adviser on reducing atrocities, in May 2010, President Obama signed the “Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Recovery Act” that authorized the deployment of U.S. troops to the region. Obama said to the Invisible Children (IC), an activist group launched to bring attention to LRA atrocities and in attendance when the bill was signed, “We have seen your reporting, your websites, your blogs, and your video postcards—you have made the plight of the children visible to us all.” Obama gave IC enormous credit. Samantha Power had been an active promoter and backer of IC.

The first American military units arrived in October 2011. There is evidence that suggests that SP deserves some and perhaps considerable credit. After all, she has over the years been the main spokesperson arguing that NGOs who engage in activism and pressure their government are the main, if not the exclusive determinants, of foreign policy. This theme was echoed both in what she said and who she addressed in her first speech after she was named UN ambassador.

On 10 August 2013, SP addressed the Fourth Estate Leadership Summit in Los Angeles sponsored by Invisible Children (IC), the anti-Kony activist group credited by Obama. IC was started in 2004 by Bobby Bailey, Laren Poole and Jason Russell. Since then, IC has campaigned to stop the LRA warlord, Joseph Kony. Convinced (erroneously) that the world was unaware of the havoc of the LRA and Joseph Kony, they produced their first film, Invisible Children: Rough Cut. SP said, “Invisible Children doesn’t just lobby policymakers to go after the LRA, it designs fliers that tell LRA fighters how they might defect, and it distributes them – more than 400,000 so far – into LRA-affected areas in DRC and the Central African Republic…It has also built six locally-run FM radio stations in areas of high LRA activity. These stations now reach an audience covering more than 29,000 square miles.” For example, Radio Zereda (Zereda means peace in Zande) in Obo, broadcasts advice and information on UN camps and appeals by former abductees, such as Emmanuel Daba, to help those trying to flee the LRA.

If defections are way up and IC has had a significant responsibility for that result, and if SP has been a major champion of IC, then surely she deserves considerable credit for the diminution of the LRA threat. For IC’s effects went further. After all, the activism operates on two fronts – in the education of politicians in Washington and in the information spread in the field to undermine Joseph Kony. Further, there is a double effect in America for the media campaign in Africa reverberates back on the politics and policies in Washington.

In 2012, IC produced a video, Stop Kony, that went viral with more than 5 million views. It became the number one topic on Twitter, multiplied many times over by Facebook references. IC made a follow-up film, Beyond Kony, emphasizing post-conflict reconstruction. Yet, although the LRA was on its last legs, the objectives of IC remained, not only to publicize the evils about LRA, but also to pressure the U.S. government “To intervene militarily in Central Africa.” At the end of 2014, when IC announced that it was ending the bulk of its mass mobilization programs, it remained committed to the priority of political advocacy in America and its on-the-ground programs in Africa. When the poster child for grass roots political pressure, as both the necessary and sufficient cause of policy change, throws grass roots organizing out the window, the delusionary belief in its efficaciousness should be thrown out with it.

IC started making films about Joseph Kony and the abductees back in 2004. High school students in Massachusetts sent one of the films to their Senator. He and his colleagues then wrote a law directed at the LRA and modelled on the rewards offered for narco-traffickers. President Obama signed that anti-LRA bill in 2010 that created a rewards program to bring Kony and his thugs to justice. That Senator from Massachusetts was John Kerry who is now the Secretary of State. Based on that law, the State Department offered rewards of up to $5 million that lead to the arrest of LRA leaders.

In addition to its first 2004 film and famous 2012 film, Stop Kony, IC has produced many other films such as: Innocent: The Story of a Night (2005); Groce: The Story of a Child Mother (2006); and The Story of an Orphan (2006). Further, IC has won numerous awards over the years for its films:

  • 2007 Progressive Source Awards for best fundraising podcast
  • 2008 Human Security Award
  • 2008 People’s Voice Webby Award
  • 2008 American Advertisement Federation award
  • 2008 Summit Creative Award for its School for Schools and its Display Me websites
  • 2009 Interactive Media Award for The Rescue website
  • 2009 nominated for the Think Social Award
  • 2010 and 2011 Stay Classy Award for Most Effective Awareness
  • 2011 LRA Crisis Tracker for MediaPost Creative Media Filmography Award
  • 2013 Digital Campaign of the Year Award for Interactive Media

In an open letter IC sent to SP after she became ambassador to the UN concerning Joseph Kony, the following appeal was made:

Joseph Kony has been committing war crimes and crimes against humanity for nearly 30 years. And this month marks the nine year anniversary of his indictment by the International Criminal Court. But Kony still remains at large and the fact that he has, quite literally, gotten away with mass murder for this long is completely unacceptable. We know you agree.

We also know that for the last few years, Kony has regularly received safe haven in the Sudanese-controlled region of Kafia Kingi, but this area is largely out of the reach of African Union and U.S. forces that are pursuing him.

Most importantly, we know that you are among the few people who can do something about it. Ambassador Power, you, along with nine other U.S. and world leaders, have the unique power to help end Kony’s impunity and finally stop decades of LRA violence. We’re asking you to publicly reaffirm your commitment to bringing Kony to justice and stopping LRA violence.

More specifically, your commitment to stopping LRA violence must include the following actions during the upcoming U.S. Security Council Briefing on the LRA crisis:

Ask the new UN special envoy on the LRA, Mr. Abdoulaye Bathily, direct questions about what the UN is doing to prevent Kony from a) enjoying safe haven in the Sudanese-controlled Kafia Kingi enclave and b) poaching elephants in D.R. Congo.

–Ensure that the UN Security Council’s statement on the LRA in response to the briefing highlights deep concern about Kony’s safe haven and elephant poaching by the LRA, and clearly directs the UN to do more to address these issues.

Thank you for all that you’ve already done to help end LRA violence and arrest Joseph Kony. We’re so grateful for your committed leadership on this issue. With these additional actions, you can help us make sure the 10-year anniversary of Joseph Kony’s ICC indictment is a celebration of justice — not only for Kony, but also for the millions that have been affected by his crimes.

The letter clearly acknowledges SP’s past influence on and efforts on behalf of the campaign of IC to capture Joseph Kony and beseeches her to do more now that she is the American ambassador to the UN. SP clearly comes across as the go-to person in the Obama administration with respect to Joseph Kony, even though John Kerry, the Secretary of State, authored the bill that created the reward program for capturing Kony and his lieutenants. To what extent can SP claim and be awarded credit for the decline in the LRA?

Tomorrow: Samantha Power and the Diminution of the LRA


X: Samantha Power, Obama and Darfur

X: Samantha Power, Obama and Darfur


Howard Adelman

Between the time Samantha Power (SP) traveled to Darfur in the first half of 2004, the publication of her article in August of that same year and the rally in Boston in 2007, a large number of initiatives were underway in Darfur. When Samantha circled back to the beginning of her piece at the end of her New Yorker article, back to the refugee camps in Chad, she exuded despair while echoing the hopes of the refugees for the arrival of international peacekeepers. In April 2004, a ceasefire had been negotiated in Darfur. The African Union then sent peacekeepers to Darfur, NOT to protect civilians, but to protect the EU monitors that had been sent to the region to monitor the ostensible cease-fire between the rebels in Darfur and the Sudanese government. In the same month that SP published her piece in The New Yorker, August 2004, 150 Rwandan soldiers of the African Mission in Sudan (AMIS) arrived in Darfur.

Within a year, the force grew from an original small contingent to a force of 7,000. However, given that Darfur is the size of France, the inadequate training and equipping of AMIS, the rhetorical cooperation but on the ground non-cooperation of Sudan, the repeated breakdowns in the cease-fire, the repeated schisms that developed among the rebel factions (originally there were two, JEM, the Justice and Equality Movement, and the SLA, the Sudanese Liberation Army, but eventually there were twelve), and the mobility of the Janjawid, this proved to be an impossible task even though countries like Canada tried to help by enhancing AMIS’ equipment and mobility. At the end of 2006, Canada had sent 105 armoured personnel carriers to Darfur when AMIS was to come under UN auspices. For the rebels had turned against AMIS, branding it as an arm of the Sudanese government, and humanitarian convoys started refusing AMIS protection lest they be attacked.

UNAMID, the United Nations Mission in Darfur, was established to take over from AMIS in September 2006, but was not actually deployed until the end of December 2007, after the Boston rally. Sudan each time acceded to African Union and then UN pressure to permit the entry of peacekeepers because an oil embargo was threatened and because of internal pressure from the new autonomous South Sudan within the government to settle the conflict in western Sudan. However, the Sudanese government would no sooner accede to international demands than it undermined its implementation. Thus, the African Union’s Peace and Security Council repeatedly had to renew the mandate of AMIS, first from 1 April 2006 to the end of September. But when the 31 August 2006 UNSC resolution 1706 could not be implemented, the AMIS mandate was extended again, first to the end of 2006, then to July 2007 when the UNSC passed resolution 1769 mandating the deployment of UN peacekeepers, until the end of December 2007 when, at long last, the AU troops were folded into the UN peacekeeping force and 20,000 peacekeepers were deployed.

Between Sudanese stalling tactics, largely by means of arguments over the details of the deployment, the collapsing financial and security situation for AMIS troops and the inability or unwillingness of UN members to pay for the peacekeepers, the UN peacekeeping mission was repeatedly stalled. AMIS had gone beyond its crisis point when 10 AMIS soldiers (7 Nigerians, I Mali soldier, 1 Senegalese and 1 from Botswana) were killed when 1,000 SLA rebels overran an AMIS base in Haskanita on 30 September 2007. Sudan had only agreed to the deployment when the threat of sanctions was removed from the authorizing resolution and the principle of absolute state sovereignty clearly trumped R2P and the right of the international community to intervene without the approval of the nation in which UN troop deployment was to take place. However, finally, peacekeepers had a mandate to protect civilians as well as monitor the arms embargo, protect humanitarian workers and support the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.

By the end of 2014 when Sudan insisted on downsizing the force and the removal of the UN heads of both the humanitarian and development UN mission in Sudan, when the UN human rights office in Khartoum had been ordered closed, when reports of mass rape by Khartoum forces, not Janjawid, of 200 women that UNAMID refused to confirm, ostensibly because its “partnership” with the Sudanese government would be further imperiled, the conviction had settled in that the peacekeepers had been ineffective. Last week, in two separate incidents, UN peacekeepers were directly attacked. The Janjawid had not been stopped. The war between rebels and the government continued. The protection of civilians had evidently not improved. And now the attacks against the UN forces that had reached a peak in mid-2013, seemed to be on the verge of escalation once again.

When Samantha acquired influence and then a position of power in the Obama administration, in 2009, why did she not manage to influence Obama to take real action? Why was the civil society constituency she helped grow and raise funds for on the Darfur issue, the sine qua non for Presidential action according to her, not more effective? On 20 July 2012, when she was a prominent fixture in the White House, she spoke at Harvard at a Facing History and Ourselves conference. SP had been a fixture at Facing History and Ourselves conferences going back to at least 2005 and including speaking engagements in LA in March of 2006. Once again in 2012, using the atrocities in Darfur as an example, she insisted on the difference that, “students can make in stopping gross violations of human rights…as an example of creative participation in the face of an ongoing genocide.” She apparently had not changed her views. Yet, the situation had not improved, and, in the opinion of many observers, had grown much worse.

On 27 December 2014, under intense pressure from the government of Sudan, the United Nations planned “to shrink its floundering peacekeeping force in Darfur.” What is the difference between the American position in April of 1994 with respect to Rwanda and Obama’s current position with respect to Darfur, except that ten years had passed and not several weeks, and that Obama cannot offer ignorance as an excuse. The Government of Sudan expelled the UN Resident Coordinator, Ali Al-Za’tari, and UN Development Program Country Director, Yvonne Helle, from Sudan. Samantha complained that, “The decision…damages the Government of Sudan’s credibility with the international community and represents one in a series of actions taken by Khartoum that have frustrated the UN’s ability to meet its humanitarian, development, civilian protection and security objectives in Sudan.”

What actions would follow: “consultations with our UN Security Council colleagues” to raise U.S. “serious concerns” while stressing “the importance of UN peacekeeping and development personnel being able to continue their work unimpeded and without fear” just when the UN was withdrawing part of that UNAMID peacekeeping force and just after reports were received that 200 more women had been raped in the Darfur village of Tabit in spite of the fact that the joint Sudan/AU peacekeeping mission has 16,000 military personnel, with the second-highest budget of all UN peacekeeping forces. The U.S. pays 1.3 billion annually for its costs. Nevertheless, the U.S., through Samantha Power as the spokesperson, simply urged Sudan to reverse its position. After an additional motherhood proposition, the statement concluded: “The United States reaffirms its commitment to working with the UN to try to ensure that all UN missions, agencies and personnel are able to carry out their efforts to serve the people of Sudan.” One could not craft a weaker statement of protest however hard one tried. It deserves an inverted Pulitzer Prize.

A lot of good 7-8 years of the Darfur lobby, the Enough Project, had accomplished. The lobby had its own person in the White House and the President nevertheless was left to exude impotence. Further, while I have heretofore been reluctant to use the term “genocide” and previously preferred ethnic cleansing to describe the situation there, last year I became convinced that key people in the regime, including Gosh and Al-Bashir himself, are now committed to genocide as well as the scorched-earth practices of the last decade, in part, ironically, in reaction to the war crimes and crimes against humanity indictments issued by the ICC. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” as the old English expression goes when the penalties are exactly the same anyway. Besides, with Russian troops occupying eastern Ukraine, the war in Syria, the resurgence of the war in Iraq with the sudden and effective emergence of Islamic State, the problems in Libya and in West Africa, the Ebola crisis, the truly evil regime of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir and its actions against Darfur and Darfurians throughout Sudan has moved off the radar screens. Hence, the minimal publicity given to the massacre perpetuated on the students of Darfur Students Association at the University of Khartoum on 10 March 2014 with tear gas, canister bombs and live ammunition. Two days after, Samantha Power spoke of the lack of protection for civilians in Sudan, but her words never translated into actionable policies. The Doha Document for Darfur Peace (DDDP) has not been exposed for the fraud it clearly is. No moves have been made to arm the rebels, though, admittedly, and much more than in Syria, the rebels have splintered into multiple factions. Once more, three months from now, al-Bashir will be “elected” president of Sudan.

A year before those scheduled elections, Janice Elmore, a former foreign service officer in the American State Department who attended the 2004 ceasefire meeting in N’Djamena and follow-up meetings in Addis Ababa and Abuja, wrote a piece entitled, “Never Again – Until Next Time,” in War on the Rocks published on 17 April 2014. Like Samantha, she noted how the world stood by while the Rwanda genocide forged ahead over 100 days. Unlike Samantha’s illusions, however, Elmore accurately, and presciently, described the realist position of nation-states. “Nations act and react in their perceived national interest, while spending billions of dollars on U.N. peacekeeping missions that benefit participating countries and U.N. officials more than the victims.” Janice did not offer Samantha’s explanation that the only way to get President’s to act was the strong exertion by civil society organizations of enough pressure. Rather, “It was, and is, in our national interest to support a strong reaction, but the argument to do so has at best been relegated to the back pages due to our poor understanding of the conflict and its concomitant issues.”

Accurate knowledge and incisive analysis were key. As she explained the situation, geography, history and culture (moderate versus Islamist) separate Darfur from Khartoum, though Samantha had offered a glancing mention of history in her article. The treatment of Darfur prior to the rebellion was not a matter of benign neglect, as Samantha claimed, but of a deliberate policy of de-Africanization as Samantha herself suggested at a different point in her article. However, African countries have learned a very different lesson that the erroneous one Samantha took from Rwanda and applied willy-nilly to Darfur. As Elmore put it, “Regardless of labels of ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing,’ Western democracies were not particularly interested in getting involved in anything beyond humanitarian assistance and giving advice on living together peacefully, democratic elections, and rule of law — none of which applies to burning homes, dead livestock, raped daughters, and poisoned wells.”

Ocampo has been unable to bring Omar al-Bashir before the International Criminal Court nor the other high officials in the Khartoum regime. The Sudanese government argued that the ICC indictment was the true spoiler of peace. However, the argument that the ICC threatened the peace process seems fatally flawed, not because the indictment exacerbated the violence, which I believe it may have, but because no credible peace process was ever underway. Al-Bashir may have fomented more violence in Darfur and certainly undermined the position of the peacekeepers to at least prove his contention that the ICC indictment would foment more violence.

Last week I watched the 2007 documentary Darfur Now and the terrible news is that so little has changed. Don Cheadle, the Oscar-nominated actor in Hotel Rwanda, Adam Sterling, a waiter from an activist family who helped organize the passage of a California Bill requiring the state to divest itself of funds related to companies doing business in Sudan, a process which simply opened up room for Chinese investments in Sudan and for China to become Sudan’s protector in the UN, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the ICC prosecutor already discussed, the cheerleading Pablo Recalde, who headed the World Food Program in West Darfur, Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, a former contractor and farmer who ran a 47,000 IDP camp in Sudan, and Hejewa Adam, a Darfurian whose child was beaten to death by Janjawid and who was then a soldier in the Sudanese Liberation, were all featured in that film. From today’s perspective, without the intervention of a powerful state, their efforts seem both inconsequential and irrelevant.

In 2004, Barack Obama said that, “Genocide is underway in Darfur, Sudan. Already, 50,000 African Muslims have been killed and 1.2 million displaced by the Sudanese Government and by Arab Janjaweed militias armed and encouraged by Khartoum…We cannot, in good conscience, stand by and let this genocide continue.” In 2007, when he was campaigning for president, Barack Obama insisted that the United States, as the most powerful nation on earth, had a moral obligation to prevent and stop atrocities. During that campaign, he dubbed the reports of the Bush Administration’s “negotiating a normalization of relations with the Government of Sudan” as “reckless and cynical,” an initiative that “would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments.”

Then, in 2009 when he had become President, Barack promised a “menu of incentives and disincentives” for Sudan, a government that the U.S., and Obama in particular, has repeatedly accused of genocide. The incentives and disincentives did not work. Sudan is in the process of wriggling free of the UN presence. Last year at this time, Mia Farrow, a pro-Darfur activist along with Samantha Power, wrote, “There was a time when Mr. Obama expressed outrage over the mass murder and aerial bombardment of civilians in the Darfur region of western Sudan. Now President Obama has joined that silence.” For Samantha, Power and the Obama Administration, “Never Again” remains just a slogan and R2P a defunct doctrine.

VII Samantha Power: Machinations on the 31 December 2014 Jordanian Resolution

VII Samantha Power: Machinations on the 31 December 2014 Jordanian Resolution


Howard Adelman

In the maneuvers to prevent passage of the Palestinian resolution put forth by Jordan at the end of December, at least two questions arise. First, who? Who did what and how did they succeed in preventing passage of the resolution? In particular, was the UN American delegation headed by Samantha Power instrumental in the failure of the resolution to pass? Second, why? Why did the Palestinians push for a vote when they were virtually guaranteed passage after January 1st when Rwanda and Australia, countries which abstained or voted against the resolution, left the Security Council and countries which supported the resolution, including Venezuela and Malaysia as well as Jordan, joined the Security Council? The two issues are interrelated. But first the question of Palestinian motives.

Two facts are clear. The Palestinians aggressively pushed for a vote before the end of December. Second, they were blindsided by the Nigerian vote to abstain; they expected Nigerian support almost right up to the hour before the vote. Here are a number of propositions vying to explain the situation:

  1. They expected to win and just miscalculated;
  2. They calculated that the risk of losing was very low, but even if they lost, they could simply have a second vote in the New Year, which they would win and thereby double the publicity and triple the exhilaration that came with a win;
  3. They were indifferent to the results since the whole point of the exercise was to deepen the rift between Europe and Israel, and even a loss would do that;
  4. They did not care whether the resolution passed or was vetoed, or even lost, because, ironically, they wanted to help Netanyahu win the March election in Israel, lest the Palestinian Authority (PA) be faced with an Israeli government strongly committed to a two-state solution and, therefore, putting the PA on the defensive internationally for not being able to conclude a deal, and on the defensive domestically against those critical of any deal;
  5. Given the pressure John Kerry as Secretary of State put on President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, they wanted to lose because they would win their case in the world of public opinion, particularly in Europe, without alienating the U.S.A. significantly by provoking a veto that in turn might then even lead to the cancellation or reduction of foreign aid from the U.S.

The first proposition is feasible given the aggressive campaign the Palestinians waged, but, if true, revealed the weakness of their diplomatic intelligence. Further, the loss makes the PA subject to ridicule by its critics. However, it does not explain the rush given a guarantee of success only weeks later. The Palestinian explanation that further delay would have led to a loss of momentum does not initially appear credible. The loss not only weakens the PA in terms of its domestic critics, but wearies the diplomatic UN delegations from other states given that the UN spends a huge disproportionate time on the Palestinian issue, a situation particularly troubling when there are so many other urgent and far more horrific situations on which to focus. This is especially true since, even those who supported the resolution are firmly convinced that, in the final analysis, the only route to peace is through direct negotiations between the PA and the Israeli government.

The second thesis is also possibly true, and we soon may be easier to tell. However, the situation is not as simple as it might appear given the rules of procedure of the Security Council and an understanding of the issue of momentum. There is no prohibition against resubmitting a resolution that has not passed. But the Palestinians had floated the motion in October. It had been worked on and re-worked and had to be approved by the Arab League at each change. Look how much time it took to get a resolution in writing put before the Security Council in a form that would not attract amendments, since amendments are voted on first.  Further, Rule 32 in the procedures and practices of the UN Security Council requires that resolutions be placed in the order of their submission, unless the UNSC itself deems the issue a matter of great urgency, which this resolution is not. Therefore, since a new session starts the clock again, and since there are always other resolutions being put before the Security Council, a vote on a re-tabled Palestinian motion would not take place immediately.

The UNSC deals with an average of two resolutions per week not counting the even more numerous presidential statements brought before the UNSC. For example, when Nigeria, a subject of this blog, was president of the UNSC for the month of April – the presidency rotates month-to-month – 7 resolutions and 11 presidential statements came before the UNSC. The UNSC dealt with topics ranging from Western Sahara to South Sudan, Central African Republic, Darfur, Cote d Ivoire, Syria, Ukraine and genocide. But if you google UNSC resolutions, and even specify 2015, 90% of the items that come up are about the resolution on Palestine that failed to pass at the end of 2014.  And what else comes up is usually historical – an old debate on South Africa or on reforming the UN Security Council. One has the impression that the Palestinian issue is the overwhelming preoccupation of the United Nations.

However, yesterday, the UNSC took up the issue of the horrific attack by Islamic militants in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in which twelve were killed. The day before, Mali was the main subject on the agenda that also dealt with Syria and MINUSMA, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali. Today, the UNSC has on its agenda an update report on the situation concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) to be followed by a closed session on UNOWA. In the rest of January, the UNSC will deal with UNFICYP (the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus), UNOCI (the United nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire) and sanctions against that state, CAR (Central African Republic), as well as many others that I will not bother to spell out – UNFICYP, UNMIK, DRC, BNUB, TCC, UNRCCA, MONUSCO, UNIOGBIS, UNFICYP, UNAMI. In addition, full debates will take place on thematic topics: sanctions in general, post-conflict peacebuilding, the whole of the Middle East, maintenance of international peace and security, and the protection of civilians. One has to be in love with the alphabet soup of international relations to follow the workings of the UN Security Council alone. Yet, if your knowledge of the UN comes simply from the media or from google, you might swear that the Israeli-Palestinian issue took up 90% of the UNSC’s time.

In a calculation of gains and losses among various scenarios interpreting the failure to pass the UNSC resolution on Palestine, Israel’s Foreign Minister Lieberman’s claimed that the failure “must teach the Palestinians that the provocations and attempts to force Israel into unilateral moves will not lead them to any gains – only the opposite.” This is sheer rhetoric. Because, whatever the alternative scenarios, none of them was intended to advance the cause of peace, only to advance the position of the Palestinians, in particular, of the Palestinian Authority, in the esteem of their own people and in the international game of diplomatic jockeying. For no deal is on the horizon with this Israeli government or its possible centre-left successor unless three issues are resolved: the status of the Old City; clarification that refugees will largely be compensated and how that compensation process will work, and, most importantly, on how security will be assured for Israel, an issue which has reached the highest in importance given what happened in Gaza after the Israelis withdrew and given the disintegration in general in the Middle East following the Arab Spring.

So gains sought are strategic, most importantly, relative to the shifting sands in the international community, particularly in Europe. That suggests that the third to fifth propositions appear on initial examination to be most relevant. However, since all Palestinian efforts were so strenuous and the Palestinian and Arab delegations expected to secure a majority of nine votes needed for passage of the resolution at the UN Security Council on 30 December 2014, all three are actually implausible because it would mean all the Arab delegation members were superior actors. Not one of them, let alone each and every one, is a Sadat. This pushes us back to proposition1 and possibly 2.

The plausibility of accepting proposition 1 as the correct explanation, that is, the failure to pass the proposed resolution was simply a Palestinian miscalculation, increases because the Palestinians waited to actually table the resolution until both France and Luxemburg had been persuaded to vote in favor of the final version of the resolution. The PA had then clearly calculated that they had the necessary nine votes to win. After all, their claims for momentum is plausible given the wind behind their sails as a result of European developments. Europe had become increasingly feisty about the inability of the USA to push forward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition to the EU itself passing a strong resolution by a very large majority in support of a two-state solution (498 to 88, with 111 abstentions), Sweden, the British Parliament, Ireland, Spain, Denmark and France had also passed such resolutions. These parliamentary votes on foreign policy issues are not binding on a country’s stance, hence Britain’s abstention. However, such votes do change the political climate.

Further, Israeli delegates at the UN indicated repeatedly that they were expecting the vote to pass by the minimum vote required and that the resolution would be vetoed by the U.S. Was this a feint to hide the knowledge that Nigeria would switch from the approval to the abstention column? It appeared that the Nigerian delegates did not know of the switch until the delegation received last minute instructions directly from Afula, the capital of Nigeria, to abstain. Why did the Palestinians not take this possibility into consideration? Had the Israelis played them to at least deliver a temporary and symbolic defeat?

That takes us to the other half of the story – the backroom manoeuvres to get Nigeria to change its vote. Here Avigdor Lieberman, so at odds with his clumsy rhetorical posturing and exercises in self-promotion, looms large. The Foreign Ministry of Israel in general and Lieberman in particular had targeted African states for diplomatic attention.  Back in September 2009, Lieberman traveled to Africa and visited Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda. In June 2014, Lieberman returned to Africa and visited Rwanda, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Kenya, but, interestingly enough, not Nigeria. For by then, Netanyahu had established a personal relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria. The latter had visited Israel twice in 2014 alone, the last time in October 2014 when he flew in his private plane to join 3,000 Nigerian Christian pilgrims to Israel. At that time, he placed his own personal note in the Western Wall.  Netanyahu went out of his way to offer Jonathan a gracious welcome and the two, among other things, discussed Nigeria’s votes in the Security Council. Once Netanyahu knew that a vote was immanent in the Security Council, he phoned Jonathan personally to request that Nigeria abstain from supporting the Palestinian resolution in contrast to the usual pattern of Nigeria routinely voting for Palestinian resolutions.

So although Israel had been doing poorly on the diplomatic front in Europe, it had been developing friends and supporters in Africa, in particular in Rwanda, Nigeria and other African states facing the rising threat of radical Islam. Israel had been first off the mark to offer Nigeria help in combatting Boko Haram, President Jonathan’s most lethal internal domestic threat. Though John Kerry also phoned  President Goodluck to convince him to instruct his UN delegation to abstain in the UN Security Council vote on the Palestinian resolution, evidence suggests that he was not successful, not because John Kerry lacked persuasive powers, but because the U,S, has been so up-and-down in assisting Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.

A very brief background first. In 1995, when Ken Saro-Wiwa, leader of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni Peoples (SOP), opposed Shell Oil Company’s polluting the Niger Delta, Saro-Wiwa, along with eight others, was executed by the military rulers of Nigeria. Nigeria was suspended from the Commonwealth and an arms embargo was imposed by the EU and the USA. It was just after that suspension that we (a consortium of university research units and the office of the UN secretary-general) sent our first pilot early warning team to gather information on the struggle between the pro-democracy movement and the military rulers in the belief that the internal tensions might result in a civil war. To our surprise, we learned that the military rulers were strongly entrenched. More important, we learned of a nascent conflict, about which none of our Nigerian experts had any knowledge. A low-level conflict between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria was not only brewing; it was underway and was far more serious than all the inter-ethnic conflicts in that country (there are well over a 100 tribes and language groups). However, out exclusive funder, the government of Canada, decided that the information produced was not “actionable” and discontinued support. We would later revive the early warning effort in other African venues backed by American money.

Since that time, democracy was restored in Nigeria and sanctions were lifted by the beginning of this century, but the new focus in the last six years has not been on arms supplies, but on reinforcing democracy, integrity and good governance.  However, the religious conflict, largely propelled by an anti-Christian insurgency led by radical Muslims, grew. The most famous were attacks by Boko Haram founded in 2002. An estimated 5,000-15,000 civilians have been killed, mostly Christians, by Boko Haram. That terrorist organization reached its greatest infamy this past year with the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls. After all its infamy, the UNSC finally, on 23 May 2014, imposed sanctions against Boko Haram to close off funding, travel and weapons to the group after attacks against two villages in Boro State killed 30 and twin blasts compounded their heinous crime of kidnapping the 200 girls by killing at least 118 people in a market in the central city of Jos. Samantha Power was a leading voice in pushing for sanctions in the Security Council against Boko Haram. After the unanimous vote, she boasted that, “Today, the Security Council took an important step in support of the government of Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram and hold its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities.”

However, at the beginning of last month, the Nigerian government ended its U.S.-sponsored military training program in response to a decision by Washington not to sell Nigeria Cobra attack helicopters which Nigeria said it needed for its battle against Boko Haram. The U.S. explanation for its action: “concerns about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain this type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram and ongoing concerns about the Nigerian military’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.” James Entwistle, the American ambassador to Nigeria, added that complaints about human rights violations by Nigerian troops in the north-east of the country also were reasons. The United States blocked Nigeria’s ability to purchase any weapons for its military; the U.S refused to even consider the Nigerian military’s request for arms.

Yet in the spring, Samantha Power had said that, “The sanctions designation [for Boko Haram] is the latest step in the international community’s long-term effort to help Nigeria counter this terrorist threat.” SP continued, “We will continue doing everything we can to help the people of Nigeria bring back their girls, and we will work with the government of Nigeria to eliminate Boko Haram, including refuting their [Boko Haam’s] backwards and bloodthirsty ideology, because no child anywhere should ever be afraid to pursue a brighter future.” Helping in a rescue effort, refuting a militant ideology, but not supplying weapons to the government best equipped to fight Boko Haram. This was SP’s and the Obama administration’s strategy.

U.S. Ambassador Entwistle told the Nigerians that U.S. support was “unwavering”. Americaa’s interpretation of its unwavering support for Nigeria was bound to make Israel even more sceptical of America’s unwavering support for Israel. Support for the battle against Boko Haram takes many forms: military training, information sharing and supplying military equipment. Except re the latter, sometimes not. A part of Ambassador Entwistle’s rationale for the cancellation of the helicopter deal is worth quoting at length.

Over the years, the United States has always been willing to share appropriate military equipment with Nigeria.  That remains the case today but must be understood in the context of our global policy on arms transfers.  The U.S. government undertakes a rigorous evaluation process before proceeding with the sale of military equipment to any country, including Nigeria.  The U.S. Departments of State and Defense review all potential arms transfers for their consistency with U.S. policy and interests, as detailed in the U.S. Conventional Arms Transfer Policy.  This includes any requests from a country that we have sold or donated weapons to resell or donate those same weapons to another country, such as Nigeria.  We examine whether an arms transfer makes sense for the needs of the prospective country.  Part of our review considers whether equipment may be used in a way that could adversely affect human rights.

SP had traveled with Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to Nigeria, as well as Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) and Chad just two weeks before the 31 December vote, but the agenda did not include Nigeria’s vote on the Security Council on the Palestinian resolution which had been tabled on the day SP left for Africa. Instead, SP focused on promoting human rights and good governance as well as coordinating regional security. On the Security Council, SP clearly supports the Obama administration position of watching Israel’s backside while remaining critical of the front. But SP’s real heart is not in how to deal with state power or how to use diplomacy to win state support, but on rhetorical support for ideals – human rights, democracy, good governance.

So, in the end, the explanation is the simplest one available. The PA miscalculated and the Netanyahu administration, of all parties, outmaneuvered them.  The Palestinian offensive and the Israeli defense were synergistic. The US was totally sidelined in its preoccupation with human rights, democracy and good governance, all the issues dearest to my heart. But unless you also know how to play hardball, you are bound to be impotent even in advancing these ideals.

The emphasis on ideals is not just SP’s. It is that of the Obama Administration.

Tomorrow: Samantha Power on the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)


The Nigerian military is reported to be short of adequate munitions and ammunition. This past week, after capturing a military base in northeast Nigeria and using gasoline bombs and explosives, Boko Haram destroyed Baga, the last town in northern Borno under federal control, and burned down 16 villages. Estimated death toll – 2,000. Thousands of other Nigerians are trapped without food and water.

V. Samantha Power, the UN Security Council and the Jordanian Resolution on Palestine

V. Samantha Power, the UN Security Council and the Jordanian Resolution on Palestine


Howard Adelman

This morning, I had planned to write a blog on Samantha Power’s relationship to the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect and reserve my discussion of her role on the Security Council for my series of case studies. It would allow me to follow up on the question of the extent to which Samantha Power has become a supporter of Israel, an issue that I raised in yesterday’s blog. But I have also been itching to write about the recent UN Security Council vote on the Jordanian-sponsored Palestinian resolution that failed to pass. In particular, I wanted to write about my puzzlement over the Palestinian decision to push the vote for the end of last year, which I had not expected, instead of early this year when Venezuela and Malaysia, both strong supporters of Palestine, replaced two friends of Israel, Australia, which voted against the resolution, and Rwanda which abstained. If they waited, the Palestinians would have been assured of the nine votes needed, and, in any case, may still bring up the resolution again. As it is, most of us counting the numbers thought the Palestinians had enough support for the resolution tabled at the Security Council on the 30th of December and brought up for a vote on the 31st.. As it turned out, the key to the failure to pass turned out to be Nigeria.

I will deal with the voting itself tomorrow. In this blog I will present and analyze the resolution. On 31 December 2014, the UN Security Council convened to vote on a so-called compromise motion of the original draft circulated by Jordan just before Christmas. I have appended the resolution tabled on the 30th at the end of this blog. The additions to the 17 December resolution are in bold. Where there were changes in wording, the new wording is in bold and the older version is in italics.

There are a few significant but relatively minor differences between the two drafts, but both called for peace between Israel and the Palestinians to be negotiated within a limited time frame of one year. A preamble clause was added citing relevant previous UN resolutions on Jerusalem declaring that the annexation of East Jerusalem was illegal. Another preamble clause cited the advisory ruling of 9 July 2004 of the International Court of Justice that the wall constructed in the Occupied Territories had legal consequences. Instead of one of the parameters of a peace agreement referring to an agreed settlement of other outstanding issues, the word just was substituted. The biggest change, in line with the change in the preamble on Jerusalem, was to alter the paragraph calling for Jerusalem to be the shared capital of the two states. A more general wording called Jerusalem the capital, not a shared capital, of the two States. In other words, each state could have its capital in a part of Jerusalem.

Instead of weakening the original document through a compromise with the French version, the new version was even stronger, except for the clause on Jerusalem. The French were supposedly pushing for a resolution that might win American support. There was no chance of that. Further, the French voted in support of the resolution even though it still included the idea of finalizing a peace agreement within one year and did not seem to include any of their suggestions. The Palestinians misleadingly had insisted that their draft was a compromise with the French version. When the French were asked about this, they were non-committal and very diplomatic. The French Foreign Ministry said, “Our aim is to bring the international community together in support of the peace process. We therefore wish to see presented to the UN Security Council a text likely to get unanimity…The Palestinians have announced the submission of a text in New York. We will examine it in light of this objective.” There was no chance of the wording of the text achieving unanimity. Instead of it being a compromise with a phantom French text, the final text was stronger. The French supported it anyway.
Why? In putting the resolution to a vote in the Security Council, the French supported the Palestinian drive to avoid the American-Israeli diplomatic dead end by setting a short timetable for negotiations and an end to the occupation, The peace process had to move on and evolve. That meant taking Barack Obama at his word and adopting a multilateral approach, or, as the French envoy to the United Nations put it, with the vision of a two-state solution receding, “the peace process must evolve. If parties can’t take decisions alone, the international community has to share the burden.”

The key terms of the resolution were:
• endorsement of the two-state solution with each state having secure and recognized borders
• the borders were to be based on the 1967 borders with agreed, limited and equivalent land swaps
• the right of the Palestinian state to have East Jerusalem as its capital
• rejecting settlements, including in East Jerusalem, as illegal
• defining the annexation of East Jerusalem as illegal
• calling for a just and agreed resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of international law [not international practices] citing resolution 194 (III) which does not, contrary to what many have been led to believe, specify a “right to return”
• clauses denouncing the illegality of the wall in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza
• reiterating peaceful means as the exclusive method of conflict resolution
• denouncing both terrorism and the failure to protect civilians in time of war
• acknowledging American peace efforts but effectively sidelining the USA and shifting the peace negotiations to the auspices of an international conference
• affirms the urgent need (not the requirement or the obligation) to get an agreement in 12 months
• security arrangements for both states to be secured by a third party presence
• a phased withdrawal of Israeli security forces to be completed by the end of 2017 at the latest

Even before the revised resolution was modified and submitted, there was strong opposition to the resolution circulated by Jordan on 17 December from within the Palestinian community, not including Hamas which opposed submitting a resolution altogether since Hamas adamantly opposes a two-state solution. The criticisms included:
• absence of an enforcement mechanism
• absence of penalties against Israel for its continued occupation, expansion of settlements, its imposition of “apartheid,” and its denial of Palestinian rights for 66 years
• failing to recognize the imbalance in power between the two sides and, instead, treating Israel and Palestine as equal partners
• the resolution did not mandate the creation of a Palestinian state within 12 months, but simply “affirmed the urgent need” for its creation
• the resolution introduced nothing new since there have been many UN resolutions already on record affirming “a just lasting comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967 and fulfills the vision of two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognized borders.”
• The strongest criticism was aimed at the acceptance of the principle of negotiated “mutually agreed, limited and equivalent land swaps” since, for the critics, land acquired in 1948 is occupied and is not to be bartered away while legitimizing the land acquisitions by Israel in the 1948 war. (For those critics who do not even recognize partition, Israel itself must be dismantled and all of its territory is occupied land.)
• Resolution 194 (III) is interpreted as endorsing the right of refugee return, a right that cannot be negotiated or bargained away; the resolution, in effect, retreated in favour of a “negotiated solution” as supported by the Arab League Peace Initiative rather than a mandated requirement
• The major stress on Israeli security merely legitimizes the Israeli military occupation as a “security” arrangement and the IDF as a “security force” rather than an imperialist colonial occupying army
• Existing settlements are not labeled illegal, as UN resolutions usually do, but the resolution merely calls upon the parties to abstain from settlement activities.”

Even Marwan Barghouti, sitting in solitary confinement in an Israeli jail for calling for a new uprising, criticized the Jordanian resolution, although he does support both a two-state solution and putting a resolution before the Security Council. The revised document incorporated his criticisms of Jerusalem as a “shared capital” and his demand to include a reference to prisoners. He was also critical of the mild wording of the reference to the settlements and disliked the endorsement of land swaps, thereby, in his interpretation, legalizing the Israeli settlements. As far as he was concerned, any resolution had to label all Israeli settlements as illegal and, hence, that they be removed. Finally, the refugee right of return had to be endorsed.
There was a great deal of politics in the week leading up to the vote, some necessary, such as submitting the compromise back to the Arab League for ratification. But it became very clear, and Saeb Erekat, spokesperson for the Palestinians, repeatedly reinforced that interpretation, that the Palestinian delegation seemed very eager to bring the resolution to a vote before the New Year, that is, before they would have a guaranteed number of votes necessary to pass the resolution. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas phoned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to tell him that he intended to press ahead in spite of U.S., and, of course, Israeli opposition. Israel threatened retaliation because the Palestinians were engaging in an end run instead of negotiating directly with Israel. Israel did not want to be bound by third party imposed deadlines, even though the deadline was aspirational rather than mandatory. Israel had too much experience with so-called goodwill resolutions that were soon interpreted to be embedded with poison. Israel quickly acted upon its threat by withholding tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority due in the New Year just because of the initiative, even though it failed to pass.

What were American objections? Since the resolution simply affirmed the need to end the occupation and arrive at an agreement in twelve months, it did not seem to cross Washington’s red line which adamantly opposed any unilateral action. But it did cross a line. For the results were a product produced by one side instead of a negotiated one. There was also an unstated process objection. The Americans were being sidelined. The Palestinians had become convinced that the Americans were too biased towards Israel and they could not get a fair deal as long as America was the key mediator. Quite aside from the insult to America’s status, the U.S. was convinced that there could be no deal without American help given the position and security concerns of the Israelis.

The United States also differed with the resolution on several substantive issues. Some issues, as the British Ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant stated, were largely linguistic, though nevertheless very significant, such as the language dealing with refugees. Others were problems with timelines even if only moral and not imposed. On Jerusalem, Israeli support for a divided Jerusalem was required. But Israel would never support any deal unless there were strong provisions to protect Israel’s security. The resolution was totally flimsy on that issue. When Americans said the resolution was not constructive, they usually added the clause that it failed “to address Israel’s security needs.” But the most important issue for the Americans, which could not be discussed, was the Israeli elections in March. The Americans were determined not to give Netanyahu a platform on which to beat a battle drum and increase his chances of forming the next government. Given their experience with Bibi, they had become convinced that, as long as he was at the helm, no agreement with the Palestinians was possible.

What was Samantha Power’s position? She insisted the resolution was “deeply imbalanced” and only addressed the issue of one side. In comments after the vote, she said that: “the effort of pushing the resolution to a vote, instead of giving voice to the aspirations of both Palestinians and Israelis, addressed only one side.” She insisted that the Palestinians, in pushing for the Security Council vote, had staged a “confrontation” that would push the parties farther apart. But she gave no evidence that she had any idea of how to get them together.

Did Samantha Power play any significant role in ensuring the failure of the resolution?

Tomorrow: The Machinations Behind the Vote on the Palestinian Resolution

Jordan: draft resolution tabled at the UN Security Council on 30/12/2014

Reaffirming its previous resolutions, in particular resolutions 242 (1967); 338 (1973), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), 1544 (2004), 1850 (2008), 1860 (2009) and the Madrid Principles,
Reiterating its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders,
Reaffirming the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to independence in their State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital,
Recalling General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947,
Reaffirming the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force and recalling its resolutions 446 (1979), 452 (1979) and 465 (1980), determining, inter alia, that the policies and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East,
Recalling also its relevant resolutions regarding the status of Jerusalem, including resolution 478 (1980) of 20 August 1980, and bearing in mind that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community,
Affirming the imperative of resolving the problem of the Palestine refugees on the basis of international law and relevant resolutions, including resolution 194 (III), as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative,
Recalling the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice of 9 July 2004 on the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,
Underlining that the Gaza Strip constitutes an integral part of the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, and calling for a sustainable solution to the situation in the Gaza Strip, including the sustained and regular opening of its border crossings for normal flow of persons and goods, in accordance with international humanitarian law,
Welcoming the important progress in Palestinian state-building efforts recognised by the World Bank and the IMF in 2012, and reiterating its call to all States and international organizations to contribute to the Palestinian institution building programme in preparation for independence,
Reaffirming that a just, lasting and peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only be achieved by peaceful means, based on an enduring commitment to mutual recognition, freedom from violence, incitement and terror, and the two-State solution, building on previous agreements and obligations and stressing that the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an agreement that ends the occupation that began in 1967, resolves all permanent status issues as previously defined by the parties, and fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties,
Condemning all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism, and reminding all States of their obligations under resolution 1373 (2001),
Recalling the obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians and ensure their protection in situations of armed conflict,
Reaffirming the right of all States in the region to live in peace within secure and internationally recognized borders,
Noting with appreciation the efforts of the United States in 2013/14 to facilitate and advance negotiations between the parties aimed at achieving a final peace settlement,
Aware of its responsibilities to help secure a long-term solution to the conflict,
1. Affirms the urgent need to attain, no later than 12 months after the adoption of this resolution, a just, lasting and comprehensive peaceful solution that brings an end to the Israeli occupation since 1967 and fulfils the vision of two independent, democratic and prosperous states, Israel and a sovereign, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security within mutually and internationally recognized borders;
2. Decides that the negotiated solution will be based on the following parameters:
– borders based on 4 June 1967 lines with mutually agreed, limited, equivalent land swaps;
– security arrangements, including through a third-party presence, that guarantee and respect the sovereignty of a State of Palestine, including through a full and phased withdrawal of the Israeli occupying forces, which will end the occupation that began in 1967 over an agreed transition period in a reasonable timeframe, not to exceed the end of 2017, and that ensure the security of both Israel and Palestine through effective border security and by preventing the resurgence of terrorism and effectively addressing security threats, including emerging and vital threats in the region;
– a just and agreed solution to the Palestine refugee question on the basis of Arab Peace Initiative, international law and relevant United Nations resolutions, including resolution 194 (III);
– a just resolution of the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship; [v.s Jerusalem as the shared capital of the two States which fulfils the legitimate aspirations of both parties and protects freedom of worship;)
– the just (vs, an agreed) settlement of all other outstanding issues, including water and prisoners;
3. Recognizes that the final status agreement shall put an end to the occupation and an end to all claims and lead to immediate mutual recognition;
4. Affirms that the definition of a plan and schedule for implementing the security arrangements shall be placed at the centre of the negotiations within the framework established by this resolution;
5. Looks forward to welcoming Palestine as a full Member State of the United Nations within the timeframe defined in the present resolution;
6. Urges both parties to engage seriously in the work of building trust and to act together in the pursuit of peace by negotiating in good faith and refraining from all acts of incitement and provocative acts or statements, and also calls upon all States and international organizations to support the parties in confidence-building measures and to contribute to an atmosphere conducive to negotiations;
7. Calls upon all parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949;
8. Encourages concurrent efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region, which would unlock the full potential of neighbourly relations in the Middle East and reaffirms in this regard the importance of the full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative;
9. Calls for a renewed negotiation framework that ensures the close involvement, alongside the parties, of major stakeholders to help the parties reach an agreement within the established timeframe and implement all aspects of the final status, including through the provision of political support as well as tangible support for post-conflict and peace-building arrangements, and welcomes the proposition to hold an international conference that would launch the negotiations;
10. Calls upon both parties to abstain from any unilateral and illegal actions, as well as all provocations and incitement, that could escalate tensions and undermine the viability and attainability of a two-State solution on the basis of the parameters defined in this resolution;
11. Reiterates its demand in this regard for the complete cessation of all Israeli settlement activities in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem;
12. Calls for immediate efforts to redress the unsustainable situation in the Gaza Strip, including through the provision of expanded humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian civilian population via the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and other United Nations agencies and through serious efforts to address the underlying issues of the crisis, including consolidation of the ceasefire between the parties;
13. Requests the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of this resolution every three months;
14. Decides to remain seized of the matter.

Samantha Power, Jews and Israel

III: Samantha Power (SP), Jews and Israel


Howard Adelman

In my first blog in this series, I tried to suggest what might have been some of the psychic influences on SP. In the second, I tried to indicate that, although she had been appointed Founding Director of a very prestigious school on human rights at Harvard, she did not have a profound respect for scholarly authority. She was an excellent writer, a great narrator of tales and anecdotes and a very moving moral voice. But her intellectual work was sloppy and she ignored, if she ever read them, scholars who offered different analyses than her own.

She certainly did not wrestle with those interpretations, a major point her husband, the legal scholar, Cass Sunstein makes about the importance of keeping a mind open to new ideas. As he wrote, “A democracy needs to ensure competing points of view. For example, it needs to provide accurate, not anecdotal or inflammatory, information about terrorism and other risks.” (Cf. Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide, Oxford University Press: New York 2009.) The same principle applies to information about humanitarianism and the risks of intervening with military force for humane purposes. In that sense, her disposition seemed at first to be not very different from those who single-mindedly and actively pursued policies that ensured they would be mindblind about events that might disturb the preformed picture they had constructed of the world.

But that is NOT Samantha Power. She is not scholarly in her thought processes and habits, but that could be a good thing. Scholars usually do not make the best politicians. She is an excellent synthesizer and a very fast learner. As the reader will come to see, she does have an open and flexible mind. This is both true of her attitudes to Israel as well as the fundamental planks that she once articulated on foreign policy. Those views are subject to change because, though she communicates as a person of deep moral convictions, those convictions are malleable, perhaps depending on influences, on opportunities and even on encounters with reality.

In this blog, I want to talk about another dimension in SP becoming the UN ambassador that is mentioned briefly in Evan Osnos’ article, “In the Land of the Possible”. After depicting Samantha as “manipulating the targets of her lobbying without alienating them” and being a superb networker, a capacity which she exercises as U.S. ambassador to the UN in visiting the heads of other delegations in their offices, she used her extensive contacts and manipulative skills in preparation for her confirmation hearings in the Senate to put to rest, or, at least, shunt aside, her past stated views on Israel.

First, as indicated in an earlier blog, SP is married to a very prolific and original legal scholar, Cass Sunstein. She met him as part of Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008. Cass Sunstein’s parents were both Jewish, his first wife was Jewish and his second partner was the famous philosopher, Martha Nussbaum. There is no indication that I could find that Cass Sunstein had any connections with Israel or Zionism or any significant links to the established Jewish community. The evidence is to the contrary. Samantha Power herself tells the story that Cass had never heard the term, Shoah, (incredible to believe) and knew nothing about Claude Lanzmann’s film by that name until she educated him. “He looked at me with that smile of his when he has no recognition.” Cass added, “I find the Holocaust really upsetting.” Cass seems to have an emotional blockage about his own Jewish history.

There is another indication that her husband’s Jewish roots will have no influence on her approach to Israel. For Cass and Samantha were married on a very blustery and rainy American Independence Day, 4 July 2008, six months after they met. Perhaps the reason for the short engagement is that they believed that they had been blessed with Irish luck since, though they were 16 years apart in age – Samantha was then 38 and Cass was then 54 – they had been born on the same day of the year, 21 September, the first day of Fall.
The ceremony was a full formal wedding with Samantha in a long lace white wedding dress. What makes the wedding interesting is not the reception for 150 guests at the Waterville Lake Hotel and who were in attendance, but that they were married in the small wood frame Mary Immaculate Catholic Church in Waterville, County Kerry, on the south west corner of the Ring of Kerry. My wife and I were in the Ring of Kerry this past June, and if Cass and Samantha wanted perfect weather, they should have invited Nancy to the wedding. Her Irish luck may not guarantee her a stellar political career, but it would have ensured a beautiful day for SP’s wedding.

Bad jokes aside, this story is odd in at least three ways. First, Samantha would have needed a church dispensation to marry a non-Christian in a Catholic Church. Second, Cass would be required to obtain an annulment of his first marriage before a Catholic priest could sanctify a marriage between a single woman and a divorced man. Third, Cass Sunstein is strongly intellectually opposed to any superior authority sanctifying marriage, whether it be the government creating an official license regime or the church. His opposition was publicized in an appearance before the Senate on 11 July 1996 when he challenged “The Defense of Marriage Act”. “Under our proposal, the word marriage would no longer appear in any laws, and marriage licenses would no longer be offered or recognized by any level of government.”

However, my concern here is not to point out any possible hint of hypocrisy let alone to get into greater depth in discussing the legal foundations of marriage. It is merely to point out Cass Sunstein’s tenuous connection to the Jewish community and his Jewishness. A fourth point makes it clear. The couple have had two children in probably what were the busiest and most pressured three years of both their lives – itself a testimony to their stamina and resilience. Their four year old son is named Declan. Declan means “full of goodness” and was the name of an early Irish saint in the fifth century who was beatified for converting pagans to Catholicism. As for their fourteen-month-old daughter, Rian, another name of Gaelic origin meaning king (perhaps the feminine form of Ryan), used for both boys and girls, is, in J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium, a woman of the First House of the Edain in the First Age. Most importantly, she is gentle of heart, a lover of flora, a singer and a composer; she hated war.

Whether in rituals or in child naming, there is absolutely no effort to connect with Cass Sunstein’s Jewish origins even though the children’s last name is Power-Sunstein. All this means is that SP’s attitude to Israel is unlikely to have anything to do with personal attachments.

What about her personal pronouncements on Israel? On this subject, Samantha made some early missteps explaining the strong need to line up rabbis in support of her nomination referred to in Osnos’ article. In fact, she did far more than Osnos suggests. But first her early gaffes.

Early in her career as a public intellectual, in 2002 she was asked a fairly straightforward question about monitoring the potential for genocide in the Middle East, particularly with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. If she were to be appointed as a political advisor on foreign affairs, if either party in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict appeared to be moving towards genocide of the other, what action would she advise the President to take?

SP could have answered by insisting that it is perilous to deal with hypotheticals. She could have prefaced an answer by insisting that the likelihood of such a scenario was so low, it was not worth considering. She could have insisted that universal monitoring, including the Middle East in general and Israel-Palestine in particular, was necessary because otherwise countries like Rwanda, and later the Central African Republic, fall through the cracks, as she continued to insist. She could have strayed into the issue of intervention, even if that was not the question, by answering in a generality: wherever there appeared to be a drift towards genocide, and not specifically the Middle East, the response anywhere should be first to verify what is taking place. If she just had to throw in intervention, she could have said that any action taken should be proportionate to what is taking place on the ground. She could even have said that if either side seemed to be making such a move, a highly unlikely prospect, the first obligation would be to check and double check one’s information and then warn that respective party that if that side did not desist immediately, the United States and its allies would be giving serious consideration of the options available to the international community to stop the genocide.

But SP has a restless tongue. To complicate and bastardize the metaphor, she once had a strong propensity to put both her fists in her mouth. Here is the precise question Harry Kreisler, the director of the Institute for International Studies at Berkeley, asked: “Let me give you a thought experiment here, and it is the following: without addressing the Palestine–Israel problem, let’s say you were an advisor to the President of the United States, how would you respond to current events there? Would you advise him to put a structure in place to monitor that situation, at least if one party or another [starts] looking like they might be moving toward genocide?” It is a question clearly about monitoring, not about intervention.

How did she answer? Samantha welcomed the opportunity to express her views, for the United States needs to make the Middle East safe for the United States. Further, that obligation exists even if it means “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import [that could only mean AIPAC] or investing…billions of dollars, not (my italics) in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine.”

She had not simply dropped a bombshell; she had dropped a barrel bomb. First, the long-understood obligation to defend Israel was not in the equation. Nor was there any sensitivity that genocide was a real existential threat to Israel given Iran’s moves to acquire nuclear weapons. Third, her suggestion stirred up images of rich and powerful Jews throwing their money around even to prevent any USA actions against Israel if Israel was, in fact, on the path to committing genocide. She threatened U.S. military intervention against that party – and one could only presume the party to be Israel, given the reference to the rich and powerful domestic constituency. Finally, she suggested that the USA was propping up Israel’s military when that money could be used preferably to help the downtrodden or strengthen Palestine.

These were her precise words in jumping from a question about monitoring to an answer about intervention. She called on the United States to put itself on the line even if it meant “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import. It may more crucially mean…investing literally billions of dollars not in servicing Israeli military, but actually investing in the new state of Palestine.” Further, that investment of billions of dollars might entail “a mammoth protection force…a meaningful military presence” even when that intervention is fundamentally undemocratic.

Her statement was not an aberration of her usual views. In a 2004 review of Noam Chomsky’s Hegemony or Survival, she pointed to the sins of America’s allies as compromising the war on terror. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan included in that list of sinners, so was Israel. In a 2007 interview, when she was already working for Senator Obama, Samantha claimed that American foreign policy decision-makers deferred “reflexively to Israeli security assessments” and replicated Israeli tactics. As a result, the USA had brought terrorist attacks upon itself. Why? America had aped Israel’s violations of human rights.

These were not one-off comments, even though she herself later depicted them as “weird”. Though she is clearly not an expert on either Israel or the Middle East, and never pretended to be, and has never, in fact, been outspoken and vociferous on the subject, nevertheless these comments form a pattern and reflect widespread left liberal views of Israel. In addition to its concerns with her past anti-Israel expressed views, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) expressed fears that Samantha’s endorsement of humanitarian intervention could be used to interfere with Israel’s self-defence. ZOA feared that international norms intended to protect innocents could be applied to situations like Gaza (where civilians were inadvertently and unintentionally being killed) to stop legitimate Israeli self-defence military action.

So why, in spite of these widely publicized comments, especially by the ZOA, did the few rabbis in Evan Osmos’ article endorse her for her appointment as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations? Further, there were many other prominent Jews and others who came to her defence. And they did so in spite of comments made immediately after her nomination, such as those of Ted Cruz (R-Texas), that she had been “sharply critical of our nation’s strong support of Israel.” In contrast, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) insisted that she would be “a strong supporter of the United States’ close ally, Israel.” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, insisted that Samantha had “experienced first-hand the hostility faced by Israel and the abuse of the U.N. bodies to promote anti-Israel bias” and that she understands the injustice of those who “target Israel’s legitimacy.” Josh Block, the Director of the Israel Block, argued that “Samantha has made a commendable effort to build ties with the pro-Israel community and develop deeper appreciation of the issues vital to our interests in the region, Israel’s security, and the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

However, recognizing a UN bias against Israel, opposition to those who undermine Israel’s legitimacy, and superb networking with supporters of Israel, does not mean that she either understands Israel, assesses that country’s policies fairly or has adopted reasonable policies in relation to Israel. Perhaps the most insightful comments were made by Martin Peretz and Max Boot back in 2008, long before she would have ever been considered for such a lofty post. Peretz, writing on 4 December 2008 in Commentary, confirmed that Samantha was a good friend and even “uttered some phrases about Israel that I did not like and that I thought were erroneous,” but insisted that, “she truly, truly loves Israel and the people of Israel.” Earlier that year in the same magazine, in the 29 February issue, Max Boot chastised those who accused Samantha of harboring hostile views of Israel. She is not hostile to Israel; she even loves Israel. But what policies does she endorse with respect to Israel?

Last year (Huffington Post, 6 June 2013), Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote an article entitled, “Defending Samantha Power on Israel.” Though the rabbi erroneously believes that Paul Kagame ended the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and though he did travel to Rwanda to see for himself and talk to Kagame personally, he may not be an astute observer. Shmuley, an Orthodox rabbi, is a celebrity. He hosted The Shmuley Show on The Oprah and Friends Radio Network and was a Republican nominee for Congress in the 2012 el
ections in New Jersey.
Shmuley is no left liberal. He has a daughter serving in the IDF, champions rather than just defends Jewish “communities” (not “settlements”) in Judea and Samaria, argues that the United States must move its embassy to Jerusalem and should declare Jerusalem to be the undivided and eternal capital of the Jewish people. Though he has policy disagreements with Samantha over Israel, he strongly supported Samantha’s nomination.

The reasons are several. First, when he wrote something critical of Samantha, she reached out to him through a common friend, Mayor Cory Booker of Newark who, as a Rhodes Scholar, was in contact with Shmuley who was president of a Jewish student organization at the University of Oxford in 1994. On Shmuley’s request, Mayor Booker initiated a closed-door meeting of a wide spectrum of 40 American Jewish leaders. After Samantha presented an overview of American policy in the world’s troubled regions, she took on the accusations that she harboured animus toward Israel. In the process, she became deeply emotional and tears streamed down her cheeks.

Will the real Samantha Power please stand up?

In fact, there is really no contradiction. There is NO evidence that Samantha Power is antithetical to Israel and every reason to believe she both appreciates and loves Israel and its people. She is truly and deeply committed to the security of Israel. But she can still share in the left liberal view that Israel is an outlier in attention to human rights, that the country has abused Palestinian rights and has disproportionately mistreated Palestinians far beyond the needs required for its own defence. These perspectives are not incompatible. They are held by many left liberal Israelis. But they do suggest a policy orientation that not only runs antithetical to the direction of the current Israeli government, but reveals significant faults and offers a deformed portrait of Israel.

On the other hand, Samantha is a fast learner. She has mastered the art of diplomatese. She has learned to deflect or disguise her deep beliefs in order to remain within the acceptable norms in Washington in dealing with Israel. She is a fantastic networker. She has both cognitive and emotional appeal. Yet I, who do not support the settlements, who believe that East Jerusalem should be made part of a Palestinian state, am also very critical of her left liberal viewpoint that sees Israel as a significant human rights abuser. I adamantly defend Israel against wholesale and erroneous charges of war crimes, even though Israeli soldiers have committed some. I have become more and more concerned about the contradictions in the progressive approach, an approach that genuinely and truly loves Israel and defends Israel’s security but, at the same time, is quite unjust in weighing Israeli actions when Israel acts in defence of its own security.

So is Samantha Power good for the Jews and good for Israel? Read the rest of the blogs on Samantha and you decide.

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence

II: Samantha Power and Rwanda – Authority and Impotence


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.

I: Samantha Power – Influences

I: Samantha Power – Influences


Howard Adelman

This is the first of a series of articles on Samantha Power, the United States permanent representative to the United Nations. Though the essays are about her, they are more by way of a window into the positions of the United States and the Obama administration on foreign policy, not with respect to its main interests in Europe and Asia, particularly China, but with respect to handling crises, particularly those where conflict, atrocities or humanitarian assistance were and remain prominent. The first group of essays will offer background by exploring particular themes while the ones that follow excavate different contemporary foreign policy issues in a specific country. The focus on Samantha Power was triggered by an article on her in The New Yorker just before Christmas and by the decisions over the holidays to downsize the UN peacekeeping mission in Sudan and Sudan’s decision on 30 December to expel the two top UN officials dealing with political and humanitarian issues in Sudan and Samantha Power’s response to these events, particularly because of her commitment to Darfur and identification with the doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect.

Evan Osnos is a 38-year-old American journalist who, after earning a B.A., graduating magna cum laude in Political Science from Harvard, became a journalist. In 2008, he joined The New Yorker as a staff writer in 2008 as the magazine’s Chinese foreign correspondent. He had already made a name for himself for his writing on China and as part of a Chicago Tribune team that won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. This year, he published Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China. That book, along with Canadian journalist and very recently retired Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto, John Fraser, and his book on a previous generation, The Chinese: Portrait of a People, have given me the vey little I know about China. Both books provide insights into the larger collectivity by incisive portraits of individuals caught up in the maelstrom of a rapidly changing country.

Following Osnos’ very readable and incisive portrait of Joe Biden in a July issue, in the 22 December 2014 issue he wrote one of those feature articles on famous personalities at which The New Yorker excels. My favourite one this year was George Packer’s “The Astonishing Rise of Angela Merkel” in the 1 December issue. Osnos takes a different approach than Parker did, focusing not so much on how a famous but very unassuming individual acquired the position and power Merkel did, but on the relationship between influence and power, in part by tracing the trajectory of someone who has risen to the pinnacle of power, not through the electoral process, but because of her past journalism and writing (influence) and then transitioning to the role of confidante and advisor to an individual in pursuit of the top of the pinnacle of power. His article is called, “In the Landscape of the Possible: Samantha Power has the President’s ear. To what end.” (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/22/land-possible) The question is: does influence translate into power?

The portrait painted is doubly interesting because Power, like Osnos, began as a journalist. Whereas Osnos made his name covering China, Power earned her journalist spurs covering the hell of Bosnia in the nineties. Both are Pulitzer Prize-winners, Samantha Power for her 2002 book, Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, which I both read and reviewed and about which I will have more to say in my next blog when I discuss Rwanda. Both Osnos and Power were at Harvard, Osnos as an undergraduate, Power (she was at Yale as an undergraduate) as the co-founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

When Osnos was well into his article, he introduced a personal note with a brief aside on Samantha’s early background in Dublin. When Samantha was only nine, her mother, Vera Delaney, left Dublin and her piano-playing dentist husband, who spent a considerable time drinking and being a pub raconteur. Vera went to Pittsburgh and then onto Atlanta with her medical boss, Edmund Bourke. Jim Power died at the young age of forty-seven when Samantha was 14. When Samantha returned decades later with her current husband, Cass Sunstein, the barkeeper told Samantha that she remembered Samantha’s father. He died, she recounted, because his family, particularly Samantha who had been close to him and spent lots of time accompanying him to the pub and reading in a corner, left for America. The implication: he died of a broken heart.

Osnos does not explore what affect this had on Samantha Power’s psyche. However, the reader cannot help wondering whether it did, particularly since Samantha has always been attracted to men somewhat older than herself who manage to combine the power of words with political power. I am not just speaking of her husband, Cass Sunstein, who is sixteen years older than Samantha. For her attraction to Obama is of the same order as indicated by her close reading and underlining of Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope. I have no idea how close her relationship was with Michael Ignatieff, but, to the surprise of many of us in academe, before Samantha had any book out and almost immediately after graduating with a law degree, she became a director of the Carr Centre at Harvard. Cass Sunstein offers another case in point, though he is only a very faint shadow in the background of the story Osnos tells about Samantha.

Cass is one of the most prolific wordsmiths and legal scholars in academe and publishes on a very wide variety of subjects from constitutional law to environmental law, from animal rights to second generation human rights. He is self-designated as a proponent of paternalistic libertarianism, the overt use of federal, more particularly, presidential power, to enhance individual rights and liberties. He is a friend of Barack Obama from their days together as faculty members at the University of Chicago Law School, but they also have a common background as editors at Harvard Law School, Cass of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and Barack of the even more prestigious Harvard Law Review.

Their lives then took different routes. Obama was expected to clerk at the Supreme Court but instead went back to community organizing in Chicago. Cass did go on to law clerk, first for Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and subsequently for Justice Thurgood Marshall of the United States Supreme Court. Recently, he introduced what might be regarded as wild ideas into the conversation in the Obama administration when Cass served as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Power between 10 September 2008 and 21 August 2012. Currently, Cass Sunstein is the Robert Walmsley University Professor and Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School. Cass met Samantha when they were both working for Obama in January of 2008 and they were married that July.

Obama and Sunstein both share an intellectual approach and yet differ. Both are interested in solutions that overcome polar oppositions. Both are inclusionists who try to bring as many into the discussion as possible. Cass, however, is much stronger in excluding fruitcakes, especially conspiracy theorists. If Obama approaches a problem from the centre as a listener, Cass approaches a problem as an outfielder, often bringing what are initially regarded as eccentric ideas into the discussion. Obama manages a discourse; Cass stimulates one. Thus, they complement one another.

Since Osnos’ article is about influence and power, one drools to know how Cass influenced Samantha in the evolution of her ideas while serving the Obama administration. At the same time, one would like to know whether and how Samantha influenced Cass when he was the regulatory czar in Washington for four years. But you will not find any answers in the article or even the question raised. Further, a reader might at least have been expected to compare and contrast Cass’ Senate approval process in 2008 with Samantha’s own as U.S. Ambassador to the UN.

Osnos does discuss Samantha’s approval process, which begins with bets that she only has a 20% chance of being approved (Tom Nides a former Deputy Secretary of State), her husband, Cass’, introduction to her nomination and with a lineup of Republicans determined to stop the appointment. It ended with her winning 18 of 20 votes on the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs with her virtually guaranteed approval by the full Senate that voted 87:10 for ratification. Contrast that process with the way the Senate only voted for Cass as Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in 2009, when the Democrats had an overwhelming majority, by a vote of 63-35 by the Office of Management and Budget, and then only after the Senate voted for cloture did the Senate confirm Sunstein’s appointment by a vote of 57 to 40. In comparing Sunstein’s hearings with those of Samantha, she proved to be a superb diplomat in parrying questions after being confronted with some of what were regarded as her more extreme statements from her past.

A reader might have expected or just hoped that Osnos would have compared her husband’s theory of “nudge” to her own complementary version of encouraging, cajoling, pushing and prodding. Nudging, however, is structural and educational. For example, in the science of behavioural policy, nudging involves laws (systems of formal authority) and architecture (the arrangement of artifacts in space), material incentives as well as educational and information campaigns. Nudging is, therefore, about creating lawful authority and regulations as well as conventions (persistent social norms over time) to provide a continuity framework. It also involves three dimensions of influence – aesthetic, material, and cognitive. Nudging may have the same semantic roots as the Yiddish word, “noodge”, but noodge does not entail leading a horse to water but poking and pestering a horse as if it were a mule. Nudging is creating a context of temptation so that an individual more willingly chooses what is better for him or her as well as society to overcome the proneness of individuals to bias and laziness. Noodging, on the other hand, is driven by moral assertions aimed like whips at your backside.

Samantha’s concentration is on the question of ends: “To what end can America’s power be directed?” Cass focuses on the best means to facilitate citizens in a democracy making more informed, and, hence, better choices for themselves and the polity to which they belong. But most of all, in Osnos’ relatively flattering portrait of Samantha, there is a strong suggestion that her skills constitute seduction (not sexual) – the French ambassador at the UN, Henry Kissinger, the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Where can the psychic roots for such skills be found? After all, the contrast with the portrait of her relations – or, better, lack of intimate relations with women – is stark, whether Hilary Clinton, whom she once, off the record, to a journalist from the Scotsman called a “monster” (Hilary and Samantha later made up) or to her close but non-intimate relationship with Susan Rice.

I would especially have loved an exploration of some of the deeply substantive issues on which Cass has written that directly impacted on her duties – most significantly on the relationship between rational analysis and risk in making foreign policy decisions. Perhaps my concern with her substantive beliefs, her psyche and her relations with men goes back to a meeting in 2002 just before her famous book came out that made her a superstar public intellectual. The meeting was on early warning, conflict and genocide, interests which we had in common. But I cannot remember what she said or her role at the meeting, a fault I am sure of my bad memory rather than her performance. But I do have a record of what she wrote at the time. (See tomorrow’s blog.) What I also remember is that she was close to Sergio Vieira de Mello, who had just been made a Special Representative to Iraq by the UN Secretary General. It was in that position that he would die, killed not long after in the terrorist explosion of the UN headquarters in Baghdad and about whom Samantha would write a book published in 2008 called: Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World, a volume that has been on my “to read” list for six years.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian diplomat, was a unique UN professional who was even better dressed than the French delegates and had a style that combined intimacy with brutal honesty, diplomatic language with sharing inside stories. He was also a connoisseur of food and wine and loved beautiful women, Samantha Power in her heels towered over him for Sergio was not a tall man. Until that meeting, I had never heard the rumours of their relationship, which my colleagues said were widely known, but I could not tell you even today whether there was any truth in them. We all – or the colleagues I knew well – wanted, and expected that someday, Sergio to become Secretary General of the UN.

What influence did Sergio Vieira de Mello have on Samantha? She wrote, and it is quoted at the end of Osnos’ article, that de Mello “started out as a humanitarian, but, after years of contending with crises around the world, “he had become a diplomat and politician.” At the end of the article, Osnos depicts Samantha through the same trope and, further, suggests that this depiction may be one that Samantha projected onto de Mello. However, as I understood Sergio Vieira de Mello, ideals and the real political world were not at loggerheads. Rather, the issue is how do you use and manipulate the nature of the real world to serve higher ends. Sometimes you are unable to. But you should always use your best efforts to try.

Samantha is portrayed as a very intelligent, very savvy, very persuasive individual, and an absolute star at networking. But as Osnos also depicts her, she had a powerful influence on policies on Libya and Syria, with very ambivalent results, and a powerful influence on some relatively marginal issues – the Central African Republic and the Ebola crisis (all examined in later blogs). However, on the Ukraine, on the nuclear negotiations with Iran, on refugee resettlement, on the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, to all appearances she seems to have little or no influence. At least any account of such influence is absent from Osnos’ article.

So the question is: who influenced Samantha Power and how did she in turn influence government policy? There were many other men in her life than the few discussed above that I would like to have had the influence-power relationship clarified, the influence of those men on her and her reciprocal influence on them and the policy issues which they faced and had to deal with.

Much earlier there had been Richard Holbrooke. Senator Patrick Moynihan said that a new kind of war correspondent had been created by the war in Bosnia, one who covered atrocities committed against civilians rather than battles. Samantha Power was one of those new kinds of journalists who covered those atrocities by the Serbs. George Will summarized them at the time in very graphic language. “Today, with abundant evidence of rape used as a weapon of war, of Muslims’ eyes gouged out and ears and noses sliced off by Serbian “soldiers” (it is disgusting to give that honorable title to snipers killing Sarajevo children), with testimony about heads on stakes and a woman forced to drink blood from her son’s slit throat, it is reasonable to suspend disbelief concerning all reports about the cowardly mob called the Bosnian Serb ‘army’, which is a proxy for war criminals in Belgrade.” The events, in which ethnic cleansing of at least 500,000 and the killing of 65,000-75,000 Bosniaks, are generally collectively referred to as the Bosnian or Bosniak genocide.

The New Republic, which is currently in a coma expected to be terminal after a century of publication, wrote at the time that, “The United States seems to be taking a sabbatical from historical seriousness, blinding itself to genocide and its consequences, fleeing the moral and practical imperatives of its own power …. You Americanize the war or you Americanize the genocide. Since the United States is the only power in the world that can stop the ethnic cleansing, the United States is responsible if the ethnic cleansing continues. Well, not exactly the United States. The American president is an accomplice to genocide. Not so the American people. The president of the United States does not have the right to make the people of the United States seem as indecent as he is. He has the power, but he does not have the right.”

Journalism, with Samantha Power very much in the lead, had become the moral superego of the nation in the aftermath of President Clinton’s gross failures concerning the Rwanda genocide. Was Samantha used by special U.S. envoy, Richard Holbrooke, to spread his policy options and preferences through the media to enhance support back home, since it was well known that Powers and Holbrooke had become close? Or did Richard Holbrooke bow to Samantha’s hectoring and powerful moral voice? And what about the practical issues – the Dayton Accords that empowered the ethnic cleansers. After all, fewer than 10% of voters cast ballots, as they were entitled to do, in the original locations where they had their homes. Given the divisions of Bosnia-Herzegovina into ethnic enclaves in which the majority ended up voting for the most nationalist parties, the prospects of integration had been undercut. When compounded by ballot stuffing, non-cooperation and other devices to undercut democracy, one despaired at the peace – except if one compared it to the three horrific years of war that had preceded it.

I had a front seat for one dimension of the effort to devise practical solutions. At the time I had written proposals and studies that were very pessimistic about the prospect of refugee and displaced persons returning to their original homes and had made a number of proposals to help their local integration and settlement. One concerned currency. A meeting of three academics, including myself, with the UN heads of the seven key ministries, was held in Geneva to discuss the proposals. I had made the suggestion that the currency be based on the value of real estate and then the currency created could be used to allow sales of homes in the abandoned enclaves and purchase of new homes in the enclaves where the refugees and IDPs now lived. We were all thunderstruck when we learned from the representative of the International Monetary Fund that, given the past record of the former Yugoslavia as a communist state, a decision had been made to create the currency based on monies owed for labour expended, that is, on a labour theory of value. The effect was that the members of the armed forces and militias who were owed past wages (most of the others, except for party apparatchiks – had been unemployed), were rewarded. The foundation of monetary policy meant that the currency being created went disproportionately – extremely so – to those who committed ethnic cleansing, atrocities and genocide. Further, the whole idea of creating a market in real estate backed by the Deutsche Bank had been undercut.

The point of telling this story is that the moral issues are settled in the details – electoral, monetary, etc. – and not in high sounding moralistic general principles. And in almost all cases, these details were widely askew. I do not recall – but I could be very wrong – Samantha Power probing these details, for by then she had returned to the U.S to study law. But she had been a moral crusader during the war, not a practical reformer. What had she learned from Richard Holbrooke and how had her strident positions influenced him? The article does not tell us. The article summarizes but does not explore that period. The focus is on the Obama administration.

Tomorrow: Samantha Power and Rwanda: Authority and Powerlessness