In Defense of Samantha Power
Last Friday, the Clinton campaign, via a group of Congressional surrogates, called for the immediate dismissal of Obama foreign policy advisor Samantha Power for an inappropriate comment she made to the Scotsman newspaper.
As has been widely reported, she called Senator Clinton a "monster" for attacking Senator Obama in an aggressive manner. Since then, in order to insulate a candidate she has been working hard for, Power immediately resigned. While this is obviously a blow to the Obama campaign, we strongly believe it is also a great loss to the foreign policy discussion taking place in this critical election season.
Power is a brilliant foreign policy thinker and her Pulitzer Prize winning book on the failure of successive U.S. administrations to effectively halt genocides in places like Turkey, Cambodia, Iraq and Rwanda should be mandatory reading for every U.S. presidential candidate and anyone concerned with American security and global human rights. She is an individual who not only questions the status quo but also provides thoughtful alternatives to the formulaic foreign policy approaches of the post-Cold War world.
The next president will have to address a plethora of challenges ranging from the crises in Darfur and Southern Sudan to Iraq and U.S.-Cuba relations. "Foreign policy as usual" is no longer sufficient.
The United States and the international community need the next president to develop a vision for addressing these challenges in new and effective ways; the next president needs advisors like Samantha Power to push, cajole and revitalize their thinking and not simply "recycle" the views of the same cadre of VIPs, or Very Important Policy experts, that have continuously failed to find lasting, systemic solutions in an ever-growing set of global challenges to peace and security.
We are not suggesting that Power's comment was trivial - it was inappropriate and inexcusable. But she apologized immediately, and did so before anyone from the Clinton campaign had even addressed the issue. The real question that needs to be asked is whether we as a nation are better served with a chastened Power in the political process, or with Power being driven from it for a regrettable slip of a sharp tongue during a heated election season?
The answer for us is clear: The United States and the international community need people like her participating in the process. The foreign policy challenges facing the United States demand that the truly best and brightest among us are involved in helping to shape and guide the foreign policy of the next administration.
Unfortunately "gotcha" politics won another round and the Clinton campaign efforts succeeded.
Unfortunately, we cannot help but wonder whether the response from the Clinton campaign is driven, at least in part, by Power's past critique (as an individual, not a campaign adviser) of the Clinton administration's failures during the Rwanda genocide. In a critically important 2001 article in Atlantic Monthly, she queried President Clinton's partial apology for his administration's inaction on Rwanda:
"This implied that the United States had done a good deal but not quite enough. In reality the United States did much more than fail to send troops. It led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda. It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements. It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide. And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term 'genocide,' for fear of being obliged to act. The United States in fact did virtually nothing 'to try to limit what occurred.' Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective."
Whether this critique motivated the Clinton campaign is impossible to know, and for the record we believe that the Clinton administration did fail in Rwanda, just as the Bush administration is failing on Darfur. What is clear is that the status quo seems to breed inaction in the face of genocidal acts.
To challenge this reality in Washington, it will be necessary to ensure that the president is surrounded by foreign policy thinkers willing to challenge conventionally accepted wisdom: Samantha Power is one such individual and we hope that she, and those like her, play critical roles in the next administration.
Raj Purohit is the Director and CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions and Rich Stazinski is its Director of Engagement.