More than a year into the Trump administration, Obama alumni are still trying to rewrite the effects of their influence on American policy. But out of all of the efforts – from Susan Rice, to Ben Rhodes, to the Pod Save America crew – none of them are as disappointing, and as infuriating, as those by Samantha Power.
Power served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013-2017, a decade after writing A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2002), which critically examined how America has handled genocide; many assumed – and hoped – she would use her new position to live up to the ideals and actions advocated in her book. Unfortunately, Power ultimately fell far short of such expectations – with staggering costs in Syria. On Tuesday the 27th, Tablet magazine published a powerful letter that highlighted Samantha Power’s hypocrisy.
The letter was written by Kassem Eid, who fled Syria after surviving a chemical attack, about an April 2014 encounter with then-Ambassador Samantha Power, who told Eid she was “trying so hard to persuade President Obama to act decisively against the [Syrian President Bashar] Assad regime and that she was ashamed of Obama’s inaction.”
This recollection aligns with Power’s speech just months earlier, where she supported strikes against Syria, acknowledged “the Syrian regime possesses stores of chemical weapons that they have recently used on a large scale,” and lamented that the Syrian people “have suffered unimaginable horror these past two and a half years.” She also pointed out stepping in would ultimately serve to keep U.S. safer:
“Half of Syria’s refugees are children, and we know what can happen to children who grow to adulthood without hope or opportunity in refugee camp. The camps become fertile recruiting grounds for violent extremists.”
Furthermore, she was aware of the message it would send if the U.S. refused to act:
“If a violation of a universal agreement to ban chemical weapons is not met with the meaningful response, other regimes will seek to acquire or use them to protect or extend their power, increasing risks to American troops in the future.”
It’s clear from this speech, given just one month after the Assad regime murdered over 1400 people in Ghouta with chemical weapons, Power knew how unstable Syria was and therefore how dangerous inaction by the U.S. was.
And yet, it was inaction that the U.S. chose. And in choosing inaction, the administration therefore had to turn a blind eye to the atrocities being committed; Eid notes that the “Obama administration also refused to act on – or reveal – direct eyewitness testimony it received of the crematorium in Saydnaya Prison in Syria, where an estimated 100,000 people were brutally killed and then burned to ashes to hide the truth.”
Such deception, to provide cover for ignoring genocide, was one that Samantha Power would have unequivocally denounced in 2002.
But Power has since gained more influence and prestige – and disavowed her formerly unambiguous position supporting American intervention. Power and former Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes have recently participated in interviews regarding an upcoming Obama documentary, which have revealed Power’s clear evolution from denouncing leaders who ignored or excused genocide to joining the ranks of those who do.
On the Global POLITICO podcast in mid-January, Power praised “the integrity of the effort” regarding Syria; days earlier, Power and Rhodes had joined NBC’s Meet the Press podcast, where she rejected all her prior principles in order to praise U.S. inaction in Syria.
The problem is not that Samantha Power was unsuccessful in convincing Obama to act. The problem is that, although she once admitted that inaction was shameful in Syria and argued to intervene, she now defends and excuses that very inaction – all in order to save face, serve her political agenda and ambition, and avoid admitting any fault or mistakes.
Despite having literally written the book on the tactics American politicians use to shamefully turn their back on genocide, Power now uses those same tactics herself to pretend inaction was the best course, because it has become politically convenient for her to do so.
The same woman who revealed U.S. politicians misrepresent “the nature of the violence in question and the likely impact of American intervention” and “insist that any proposed U.S. response will be futile” or harmful now defends the decision to renege on Obama’s “red line.”
She now worries whether action would have “isolated” the U.S. instead of worrying about defenseless citizens left to fend for themselves against chemical weapons, which Power in 2013 said “kill in the most gruesome possible way.”
Despite the Obama administration’s 2014 claim that Syria had no chemical weapons, Assad continues to use chemical weapons against his country’s own people to this day. What other risks did Samantha Power weigh that somehow ultimately made her conclude she should support inaction?
Because this month will mark seven years since the Syrian civil war first started.
Nearly half a million Syrians have been killed.
More than 5 million Syrians have fled the country.
More than 6 million people have been displaced internally.
This is what chemical attacks look like.
This is everyday life for Syrian parents and children.
In her book, Power scolded State Department diplomats for not resigning over inaction during the genocide in Bosnia, yet she stayed in power in her Park Avenue penthouse while chemical weapons were used, while hundreds of thousands of innocents were murdered, while millions more became refugees.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20 – no one knew with certainty in 2011 that war would still be waging seven years later. But Samantha Power knew all the tricks politicians use to absolve themselves of responsibility – and came to use them herself.
Who would have thought the woman who ruthlessly criticized “bystanders to genocide” would become one herself? One has to wonder how viciously Samantha Power would have torn apart the Obama administration for its failure in Syria — if only she herself hadn’t participated in that failure.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.