Remarks on Samantha Power

11 Jun
[Dashed off this little polemical rant Saturday morning after a long night of bacchanalia at the Verso office in Dumbo, Brooklyn and set it aside to edit later.  As I’ve since been overtaken by other projects, it’s going up here rough and raw.]

That infamous interview with a Scottish journalist–a great moment!–and her subsequent apology is our new UN ambassador in a nutshell.

Samantha Power is, in many respects, an impressive human being.  There is no disputing that she has done a great deal of good, serious work both outside government as a journalist and scholar as well as within it as an advocate for a more human rights-oriented US foreign policy.  Her achievements clearly took some serious fortitude to pull off and I don’t doubt that what she does is generally motivated by noble instincts.

But when she ruffles the wrong feathers and has to choose between principle and political opportunism, she seems to take the coward’s way out every time.

Witness the craven histrionics she’s been staging to walk back her criticisms of Israel. Or the fact that her Pulitzer Prize-winning book–apparently a solid work of scholarship, from which I learned a great deal–has at its core a jingoistic and pretty unconvincing argument for greater US intervention in foreign conflicts which conspicuously ignores the long history of direct US participation in some of the worst crimes of the 20th century.

How can you argue for the moral authority of US militarism in Libya or Sudan without addressing the millions butchered by the US military in Southeast Asia? Or the US-backed genocide in Guatemala? Or the US-backed slaughter in East Timor, which, if I recall correctly, Power falsely claims was simply ignored by the Ford administration (it is no longer disputed among academic historians that Henry Kissinger directly greenlit the mass-exsanguination of East Timor by the Suharto regime). The ease with which Clinton was able to end the Indonesian occupation when it became politically expedient for him to do so both supports her contention that the US has unrealized potential to influence the world for the better and demonstrates that she’s at heart more interested in building her cv than speaking moral truth to power.

Jeremy Scahill taking Power to task for self-serving misguided positions on US foreign policy

Her record of very public, very oleaginous praise for some of the most grotesque blowhards in American political discourse is also deeply regrettable, and that’s putting it lightly.

I have a pretty hard time taking seriously anyone who thinks fucking Leon Wieseltier is “the wisest man in Washington and the most stirring moralist around.” All I know is if our new UN ambassador thinks cheerleading for the Iraq war, defending sundry Israeli warcrimes, and reflexively smearing your critics on these issues by calling them “anti-Semites,” “disgusting self-hating Jew[s],” and Islamofascist fellow travelers is “moral” and “wise” then god help us. Gore Vidal had it right about Wieseltier when he suggested the nicest thing you can say about that guy is that “he has very important hair.”

Her warm friendship with HLS embarrassment and serial liar Alan Dershowitz won her an endorsement as a “friend of Israel”–which is a little like getting RSS/VHP legal counsel to call you a “friend of India”.

This same Samantha Power gave a memorably lazy and dismissive review to Noam Chomsky. We all know ascending the ranks of the establishment requires a disavowal of its righteous critics–paradigmatically, Power’s current boss threw Jeremiah Wright and Rashid Khalidi under the bus and now shares lavish meals with the most execrable people on Earth, from Lloyd Blankfein to the Saudi royalty–but that review reads like it was written from a template for halfhearted mainstream Chomsky write-ups. I guess she was too busy polishing apples for the revanchist gasbags on the New Republic masthead to give it much attention.

In any case, let’s take a moment to reflect on the fact that, had she given Noam his due, she’d probably have to answer for it now, but it doesn’t appear she will face political repercussions for a longstanding association with disgraced racist and Islamophobe Marty Peretz.

I’ll leave you with a passage from the late Edward Said, a man possessed of an acute understanding of and contempt for this kind of moral evasion in the service of personal ambition. It’s interesting to note that the issue Power has of late been apologizing for addressing honestly some years ago at Berkeley is the same one Said had in mind when he said,

“Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.

For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”


2 Responses to “Remarks on Samantha Power”


  1. I May Not Believe in God, But the God in Whom I Don’t Believe is Serious, Dammit! | Nomad Sun - June 13, 2013

    […] ← Previous […]

  2. Samantha Power Shills for Israel | Nomad Sun - July 17, 2013

    […] clearly Samantha Power’s moral posturing really brings out the cranky-pants polemicist in me.  And as per the third law of  blogging dynamics, I received a raft of equally vitriolic emails […]

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