Realist Attack on the “Genocide Chick”

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Under the cover line “Interventionista”, the National Interest this week fronts a lengthy story on Samantha Power, Obama’s special assistant for multilateral affairs. Power was an advocate for intervening in Libya, and the article spends a lot of time reviewing her writing to lay out her efforts as a supporter of humanitarian intervention. Its central assertion is that:

“[Power] is a testament to to the collapse of the old foreign-policy establishment and the rise of a fresh elite… united by a shared belief that American foreign policy must be fundamentally transformed from an obsession with national interests to a broader agenda that seeks justice for women and minorities, and promotes democracy whenever and wherever it can–at the point of a cruise missile if necessary. The same century-long progressive expansion of the democratic franchise that has taken place at home is also supposed to occur abroad. She is, you could say, the prophet armed.”

The article is absurdly overstated on a number of counts. First, it falls into the trap of Power-mongering, that is, obsessing over the supposed influence Power brings to bear on Obama’s foreign policy. The article offers no shred of reported evidence of her influence over a single foreign policy decision. There may be a reason for that: She is a mid-level staffer. That’s not to say she hasn’t influenced Obama in some ways–Obama himself has said she has, through her writing. But that’s different from suggesting she’s got the swat to launch cruise missiles. Second, it caricatures Obama’s foreign policy as driven by knee-jerk military interventionism in support of women’s and minorities’ rights and democracy “whenever and wherever it can,” which is ridiculous on its face.

That said, the Obama administration has largely been given a free ride on the justifications and forethought of its adventure in Libya, and the ideology underlying it. Obama declared days into the war that “The core principle that has to be upheld here is that when the entire international community almost unanimously says that there is a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy, decides to turn his military on his own people, that we can’t simply stand by with empty words; that we have to take some sort of action.” Ben Rhodes of the National Security Council later explained that Obama meant to ensure “the ability of collective action to be a tool in circumstances like this.”

To the extent the National Interest promotes a discussion about the ideological underpinnings of the war, and the administration’s justifications and forethought in getting into it, great.