Samantha Power’s biggest qualification for her new position as US ambassador to the UN is her work on fighting genocide. She offered particular criticism for US inaction in Rwanda’s genocidal war in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book A Problem From Hell. With the second eruption — allegedly, anyway — of chemical-weapons use in Syria, the newly-confirmed replacement to Susan Rice had the perfect opportunity to act on her principles by forcing the UN to take some kind of action, at least in probing the claims.
Samantha Power, America’s new ambassador to the United Nations, skipped a major Security Council meeting Wednesday on the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, a move that drew sharp criticism considering her past comments denouncing the council’s inaction on the violence.
The strike early Wednesday could stand as the deadliest such incident since the country’s civil war began, with reports of hundreds dying. The U.N. Security Council called an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon to debate the allegations, but ended up issuing a statement that fell far short of what the U.S. and its allies wanted.
Yet Power herself did not attend the emergency meeting. She was instead represented by career diplomat Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo.
A U.S. mission official told Fox News that Power was on a “pre-arranged trip” and maintained that she was focusing closely on the Syria attack.
Richard Grennell, a former Bush administration adviser on foreign policy and the UN, erupted in outrage yesterday:
But while the White House was pretending to be in urgent mode, the new U.S. Ambassador didn’t think the meeting was worth her time. Her office reportedly told Reuters that she was on a trip. But to where? What was more important?
Samantha Power has been on the job exactly 19 days. In that time, she’s already traveled from New York to Los Angeles to deliver a speech. Her absence from the UN on Wednesday sends a terrible message at a time when U.S. credibility in the region is suffering.
While the main stream media continue to describe Power as a “human rights advocate”, the description seems pro forma and disingenuous. Shouldn’t a human rights advocate have to make human rights a priority? When President Obama nominated Power for the UN job, he called her a “relentless advocate for American interests…” I don’t think a relentless advocate would miss an emergency UN meeting on a chemical weapons attack that killed roughly 1,000 people.
Ambassador DiCarlo isn’t exactly a lightweight, but she’s certainly not an expert in this field. She filled in for Rice for a month before Power got confirmed by the Senate. Her diplomatic postings have been in Moscow and Oslo, not the Middle East, and her State Department resumé indicates no particular expertise in that region, nor in weapons of mass destruction nor genocide. Until this summer, DiCarlo’s career focus has been on Europe and Eurasia.
Sending DiCarlo to that meeting instead of Power — or someone with more familiarity with Syria, the region, and/or WMD and genocide issues — sends a pretty clear message of apathy on the point. After all, Power had blasted the Security Council for its indifference on Syria after being nominated for the post:
During her confirmation hearing, she testified that the failure of the Security Council to act on Syria is a “disgrace that history will judge harshly.”
She tackled Syria again during an online Twitter town hall she hosted last week. She said helping Syrian refugees is a priority. “Need peace so Syrians can lives safe at home,” she tweeted.
She tweeted about the latest allegations on Wednesday, writing: “Yesterday: Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.”
Without Power there to make the case, the UN ended up shrugging:
In her absence, the Security Council stopped short of calling for a probe on the latest alleged chemical attack amid pushback from the Russians and the Chinese, despite the fact a U.N. team is already in the country to investigate prior attacks.
National Journal’s Michael Hirsh argues that the Obama administration has written off the Arab Spring after the debacles in Libya and Egypt anyway:
What it all means is that we may now be at a historic turning point in the Arab Spring—what is effectively the end of it, at least for now. Assad, says Syria expert Joshua Landis, is surely taking on board the lessons of the last few weeks: If the United States wasn’t going to intervene or even protest very loudly over the killing of mildly radical Muslim Brotherhood supporters, it’s certainly not going to take a firmer hand against Assad’s slaughter of even more radical anti-U.S. groups. “With a thousand people dead or close to it, and America still debating whether to cut off aid, and how and when, that’s got to give comfort to Assad,” says Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma. “The Egyptians brushed off the United States and said…. Well, we don’t want to end up like Syria. And America blinked. And Israel and the Gulf states were in there telling them to hit the protesters hard.”
What began, in the U.S. interpretation, as an inspiring drive for democracy and freedom from dictators and public corruption has now become, for Washington, a coldly realpolitik calculation. As the Obama administration sees it, the military in Egypt is doing the dirty work of confronting radical political Islam, if harshly. In Syria, the main antagonists are both declared enemies of the United States, with Bashar al-Assad and Iran-supported Hezbollah aligning against al-Qaida-linked Islamist militias. Why shouldn’t Washington’s policy be to allow them to engage each other, thinning the ranks of each?
And by all accounts, the administration and the Pentagon simply don’t want to risk the “blowback” that could occur if the Assad regime collapses and serious weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaida. As one Washington-based military expert points out, Assad is just not enough of a threat to U.S. interests. “Look at how long it took us to decide to back the mujahedeen in the 1980s against the Soviet Union. Syria is not the Soviet Union,” the expert says.
Why bother to show up to fight this battle at the UN under the circumstances? That calculation Hirsh describes may sound harsh, but it’s realistic. Further intervention in Syria against Assad would almost certainly produce the kind of failed state we left in Libya, with AQ and its affiliates allowed free reign to recruit, train, and launch offensive operations. Maybe Power didn’t want to front for that kind of realpolitik and decided to stay away from the UN as a message of her own.
Update: I suggested in my conclusion that Power may have skipped the meeting as a protest against the flabby response from the White House, and Bill Kristol agrees, noting a tweet Power sent before skipping the meeting:
Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons. UN must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.
— Samantha Power (@AmbPower44) August 21, 2013
So why this seemingly pointless tweet? Here’s why. It’s as close as she can safely come to publicly expressing her distance from and disgust with her boss, President Obama. As we recall, and as Power does too, President Obama said a year ago that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons would be a red line. And he said it would be a red line for the United States, not the United Nations.
Samantha Power, I believe, favored intervention against the Assad regime. She is also, I believe, familiar with the work of Leo Strauss. On the surface, her tweet seems the pathetic statement of an unserious official in a feckless administration. But all the world knows Samantha Power is serious. The careful reader must therefore assume that Power was well aware of–that she fully intended–the subversive implications of her tweet. Her tweet is not a serious call for the United Nations to act. Samantha Power knows the United Nations will not act. Her tweet is an indictment, for the record and for the history books, of President Obama.
This would make more sense than “gee, I was on a trip and couldn’t get to the UN to serve my greatest passion.” It suggests that the Obama administration didn’t want Power to make those kinds of demands at Turtle Bay, which would be … rather remarkable, really.