Is Samantha Power Powerful?

by Stanley Kurtz

Over at Outside the Beltway, James Joyner takes issue with my piece on Samantha Power (click through via Hot Air). For the most part, Joyner is tilting at straw men. Joyner writes as though I don’t know that Power has published two books and many articles putting forward her views, although I link to her extensive body of work throughout my piece. My point is not that Power has never revealed her interest in humanitarian intervention or her passion for international law. I do argue, however, that Power often pushes forward thin and unpersuasive “pragmatic” arguments as a way of minimizing and disguising her real motivations and goals, just as Obama has done on health care.

Whoever said Power always gets what she wants, or that Obama hears no contrary advice? The point is that Power prevailed in Libya against more sensible advice from others. I don’t doubt, as Joyner says, that McCain would have intervened under similar circumstances, but McCain would at least have gone in to win–that is, to quickly displace Qaddafi. Instead we’ve gone in under Power’s inhibiting rules, and that makes all the difference. The fact that we haven’t carried out many more Power-style interventions is far less important than the fact that we’ve undertaken one at all, since these are very rare, and we’ve done so at a moment of broader international peril when our military is greatly overstretched.

Do Noam Chomsky and Tom Hayden agree with everything Samantha Power says? My piece makes it clear that they do not. The very real overlap that does exist is plenty disturbing enough, however. Joyner himself agrees that Power’s views are “unquestionably” radical by the standards of America’s foreign policy elites. I’ll take that concession.

The idea that United Nations bureaucrats and international lawyers might someday be able to impose their will on the United States is in no way absurd. We are already being told that we cannot push for regime change in Libya because it will bust our coalition and contravene the authority of a UN resolution. So the Obama administration is already subordinating an explicit American foreign policy goal of real importance to United Nations authority (without even having asked for authority from Congress). In doing so, Obama and Power are trying to set a precedent that will tie down future presidents.

Have a look at Martin Kramer’s account of Power’s proposal for American military intervention on behalf of the Palestinians and against Israel. (This was linked in my original piece.) Power’s idea here is nothing if not radical, and it’s coming straight from her, not from Tom Hayden or Noam Chomsky. Kramer’s critique of Power’s proposal makes several things clear: Power has unusual access to Obama, her policy ideas are extreme, and she is not being frank about her real plans. That someone like this should be an influential foreign policy advisor to the president is disturbing, to say the least.