Samantha Power and international justice

In New Hampshire in December of 2003, Samantha Power introduced Wesley Clark upon his return from the Hague. Clark had gone there (without suspending his primary campaign) to testify against Slobodon Milosevic, a genocidal tyrant whom Clark brought to justice without the combat death of a single American soldier. I transcribed her intro from VHS tape, since there were limited other options then. I particularly like the words she uses in the second paragraph to speak about international justice and the Hague. Maybe she’ll convey these sentiments to Obama.

Good afternoon.  It’s a real honor for me to be here with General Clark, and with Edita Tahiri.  My name is Samantha Power.  I spent about seven years looking into American responses to genocide in the twentieth century, and discovered something that may not surprise you but that did surprise me, which was that until 1999 the United States had actually never intervened to prevent genocide in our nation’s history.  Successive American presidents had done an absolutely terrific job pledging never again, and remembering the holocaust, but ultimately when genocide confronted them, they weighed the costs and the benefits of intervention, and they decided that the risks of getting involved were actually far greater than the other non-costs from the standpoint of the American public, of staying uninvolved or being bystanders.  That changed in the mid-1990s, and it changed in large measure because General Clark rose through the ranks of the American military.  The mark of leadership is not to standup when everybody is standing, but rather to actually stand up when no one else is standing.  And it was Pentagon reluctance to intervene in Rwanda, and in Bosnia, that actually made it much, much easier for political leaders to turn away.  When the estimates started coming out of the Pentagon that were much more constructive, and proactive, and creative, one of the many deterrents to intervention melted away.  And so I think, again, in discussing briefly the General’s testimony, it’s important to remember why he was able to testify at the Hague, and he testified because he decided to own something that was politically very, very unfashionable at the time.

Now, of course, it wasn’t enough to intervene, it was also essential that the United States won.  And one of the things that I think made General Clark a little unpopular, perhaps, with some of his colleagues, and something he can talk about, was that he actually wanted to make sure every option was left on the table.  This is risky, but it is the way to defeat an adversary, as again, he can testify far better than I.  And he understood that success in Kosova was not just about returning making sure the Kosovars returned to their homes,  and the genocide was prevented, but it was also about preserving the future of humanitarian intervention; a very, very fragile future with ground troops left off the table.  Third point, just finally, before introducing the General, and our esteemed Kosovar guest, I’d just like to say a word about the testimony that General Clark just offered at the Hague tribunal, and I do say offered because I think he is the only US official on either the political or military side who has actually been banging on the Hague’s door rather than the other way around.  And again, this isn’t something that is terribly useful, the timing could not be worse, and I don’t mean just because Saddam Hussein was arrested while the General was in the Hague, but because there’s actually an election, and a primary season back in America, and testifying at an institution like that, while admirable, isn’t always something that enhances your relationship with the American voter.  And again, I think it’s a testament to the integrity and the independence of General Clark, and his desire to make sure, not only that the case against Slobodon Milosevic is airtight, and to aid in the prosecution, but also to validate what’s going on at the Hague.  With his presence there as the only senior US military officer ever to do such a thing, to grace an international tribunal with his presence, he draws attention to a tribunal that has been forgotten, and to a trial that has unfortunately faded, but that is essential, not only for the people of the Balkans, but for the future international justice.  And finally, and crucially,  by his presence, he also reminds us of the importance of international justice, not only for American values, and for the sake of the victims and people who had to suffer under tyrants like Milosevic or Saddam Hussein, but also for American interests, to understand that America has to be engaged with international institutions, and that ultimately, nobody on the earth has more to gain from enforceable rules of the road and compliance with international law than the United States of America

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Posted by poputonian on 01/30/09 at 07:59 AM • Permalink

Categories: NewsPoliticsBarack ObamaElection '08

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without the combat death of a single American soldier

It’s still unbelievable to read that fact. It wasn’t brought up enough during the War in Error.

Thanks for posting the transcription, pop. A good read.

Good article.

What makes the contents of this article tragic is that General Clark was harping on Milosevic because it was convenient to do. Remember that he supported the Iraq war and Pentagons dirty work there until he decided to run for Presidency. If General Clark and Samantha Power now truly want to make a difference they will have to explain to the American generals that the whole world isnt their target practise and they will have to stop seeing wars as a way to make their soldiers battle hardened. And then they will have to learn to use them to stop real genocide problems like the one is Darfur. Not trying to overthrow tin pot dictators so that they can then plunder whatever natural resources the devastated country has. I am not optmistic that Samanatha Power or Obama will do any thing like that. Look at what happened to Gaza. 1300 civilians killed and nary a word from Obama. Guess its time to start thinking about the next election

Jeez, bimbo, you really checked out early. Obama disappoints me in many ways, but I’m still hopeful that he and the other dems, once they realize how much power they have, will start to change America’s war mindset. I also think your perception of Clark and Power is completely wrong. Have you not read Clark’s book? It’s all about leveraging international institutions and bringing them to bear on outlier nations, and doing so in a way that avoids war. I see Clark as a humanitarian, and not a war-monger.

Also, I thought Clark was against the invasion of Iraq from the get-go. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall him being an early supporter.

You’re right, Kevin. People had claimed Clark was originally for the invasion of Iraq (Tom Brokaw, for example) but mostly they misrepresented Clark’s position. Clark felt there should be ramifications to Iraq if they thwarted the weapons inspectors, but Iraq caved on this point and were willing to allow them in. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal didn’t give a rat’s ass, so eager were they to go to war. There’s a big contrast between them (Bush-Cheney-Rumsfailed) and Clark.

IIRC, Clark’s position on Iraq before the war was sort of like Hillary Clinton’s—authorize the use of force but as a lever in UN negotiations. But by the time the 2004 primary rolled around, he saw it for the fiasco it was. I could be wrong though. I was a Dean supporter back in the day.

@Bimbo:

“I am not optmistic that Samanatha Power or Obama will do any thing like that.”

I am guardedly optimistic, and more so now that Obama is adding Power to the mix. Her book was all about addressing genocide, and Obama was so impressed with her take on it that he called her to ask her to serve as his advisor without knowing anything else about her.

they will have to explain to the American generals that the whole world isnt their target practise

The problem, it seems to me, will always rest with the civilians running the government, not the generals. It’s to be expected that military leaders will want to get out there and do what they see as their jobs, rather than sitting behind their desks reading about negotiations.

Exactly, Mrs. Polly.  It’s why the Pentagon is trying to undermine the closure of Guantanamo with frequent and undocumented assertions about the number of released detainees who have returned to the “battlefield.”  In some cases, that has meant that the former detainee *gasp* GAVE AN INTERVIEW TO THE PRESS ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCE!!1!

In general, with regards to the military, the old axiom applies:

When the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

Allan, you took the words right out of my mind. I really was going to include that, um, old saw, but I just decided the “submit” button looked too good.

It might be passe now, but just for the record, I do think Clark is different than others in the military. Here he is writing in September of 2002, before the invasion of Iraq; this is the closing paragraph of a longer essay:

In the twilight of World War II we recognized the need for allies. We understood the need to prevent conflict, not just fight it, and we affirmed the idea that we must banish from the world what President Harry Truman, addressing the founding of the United Nations, called “the fundamental philosophy of our enemies, namely, that ‘might makes right.’” Truman went on to say that we must “prove by our acts that right makes might.” Since September 11, America has been in a similar position: the most powerful nation in the world, but facing a deadly enemy. The United States has the opportunity to use the power of the international institutions it established to triumph over terrorists who threaten not just the United States, but the world. What a tragedy it will be if we walk away from our own efforts, and from 60 years of post-World War II experience, to tackle the problem of terror without using fully the instruments of international law and persuasion that we ourselves created.

Of course, he was objecting to the idea of using military force in Iraq before all others means of intervention had been completely exhausted.

Kevin, Pop, Polly…

just wanted to clarify a cpl of things

Wes Clark never overtly said he was for the Iraq invasion but during his lame campaign primary, he did that he would probably have voted yes on Iraq war authorization. How could he have said that? He knew that the US military was bombing Iraq since the 1990’s and the sanctions had effectively crippled Saddam and Iraq’s nuclear program. Shit they didnt medicines to treat their children. The place was overrun with spies from CIA and other intelligence agencies. Hillary knew that. So did Wes, especially considering he was in the military, and he probably kept in touch with intelligence professionals even after his career in the miltary was over. How is what he said different than what Hillary did? Why should she get the flack and not he? That is a huge slip of tongue for someone that high up in the military and seen as a potential leader of the Democratic Party. He got a lot of flack that day and he backtracked but the damage was done. I will look for that quote and post it.

As far as the generals go, lets face some hard truths. At the time of preparation for the invasion, most generals were pumped up for the war. Some were complaining that their troops hadnt seen action in a long time and this was a way for them to get some experience. How does one measure a General’s and military leadership love for their country? One way to measure that is to see how generals think long term, especially when it comes to the future of the troops. if you read the best seller by Rajiv Chandrasekharan Behind the Imperial City and other authors who wrote books on post invasion Iraq, they lay a lot of blame on the generals. Tommy Franks was out of Iraq 2 weeks after he invaded and didnt challenge Rummy on the level of troops. Neither did Peter Pace. Franks didnt even want to stay and survey the situation and look what happened. Is he that dumb? I think not. he just wanted all the trapopings of pomp and power that came with ratfucking a poor country and then left right away because he knew Iraq would be a disaster and didnt want his name tied to it when the Iraqis striked back. If anyhting most generals went on cable networks and talked about how superior America is and how they were ready to kick some ass. I can only remember may Eric Shinseki saying that managing Iraq would have to be a long term affair. All those generals and ex lieutenants and colonels who were going on CNN and Fox and NBC, all of them who were selling the war, did their obligations to their troops cease when they left the military? I didnt even hear one word of caution or concern about what the troops could face if they invaded a large country on false pretenses, not from from any one of them. Most of military leadership wanted revenge for 9/11 and were willing to blindly follow the civilians on this. Couldnt they have gone on the networks and say they had grave doubts about the veracity of Iraq nuclear weapons?

Pop, I think Samantha Power is one of the smartest women around and she is one of the few people who questionsed why the world sat quiet while genocide happened in Rwanda. I am not laying any flack at her. But it does bother me that Hillary and Wes and giving Obama advice. And that combined with the fact that Obama didnt say anything on Gaza really bothers me. I hope Samantha can do something about bringing peace to that area. and I havent abandoned Obama. Im just saying so far I havent been impressed with what he has done.

may I add that this sort of establishment thinking is precisely why Hillary lost. this idea that USA can just bomb a nation to prove a point and not have to apologize for it. That was the Clintonian way of doing things. be liberal on the social side of things like gay marriage and abortion but disallow any discussion on the wisdom of the US beating the crap out of some nation, and that wisdom was usually a hawkish one. Wes maybe all against genocide and stuff now because its convenient, but so is Hillary. If he couldnt change his mindset on the invasion back then I dont see how he can be the kind of guy to oppose future unilateral invasions

ok here is the quote from Wikipedia

The day after he launched his campaign, for example, he was asked if he would have voted for the Iraq War Resolution, which granted President Bush the power to wage the Iraq War, a large issue in the 2004 campaign. Clark said, “At the time, I probably would have voted for it, but I think that’s too simple a question,” then “I don’t know if I would have or not. I’ve said it both ways because when you get into this, what happens is you have to put yourself in a position — on balance, I probably would have voted for it.”

again see here is my point…..the guy knew Iraq was surrounded from the 1990’s onwards. How could someone in his position not think that Iraq just didnt have the capability to reconsitute a medicine factory, let alone trying to assemble nuclear weapons.

I don’t hate Power, but I’m not exactly doing cartwheels over her appointment to the NSC
I read her book and was disappointed in her characterization of the U.S. support for Indonesia’s genocide in East Timor. Power said the U.S. looked the other way while Suharto invaded & occupied East Timor.  We actually gave them the green light and funded it. 
In fact, Suharto invaded shortly after he met with Ford, more info here:
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB62/#doc4

The funding continued through Clinton, who thankfully cut it off in 1999. 

Maybe Power’s publisher forced her to write what she did, but that’s no excuse either.  But the occupation of East Timor was a major war crime of the 20th century, she knows that, she shouldn’t have sugar coated it. 

Having said that, she’s a lot better than what we’ve had on the NSC in recent years,and I know she’s not a war monger(like the usual National Security “experts”). I gained respect for her when she got off the “monster” blast, so I’m glad her appointment will drive the pumas crazy(or crazier).

Comment by JasonM on 01/30/09 at 02:14 PM

I hear you, Jason, and I think Power could have taken a closer look at some of the shady shit the US had going on in South America too.

That was the Clintonian way of doing things. be liberal on the social side of things like gay marriage and abortion but disallow any discussion on the wisdom of the US beating the crap out of some nation, and that wisdom was usually a hawkish one.

Well, if it’s Bill Clinton we’re talking about, he wasn’t at all liberal on gay marriage, since he signed the Defense of Marriage Act. But I see what you’re saying, Bimbo.

It has consistently bothered me that there is a conventional wisdom that “nobody in Congress” opposed the Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq bill, when in fact many senators did, so if we could get over this idea that opposing the war was a completely iconoclastic lonely profile-in-courage, that would be swell, at least for setting the groundwork for pointing out to future politicians that you don’t have to go hawk in order to win elections. Not ENOUGH people opposed it, obviously. But there were at least twenty Dem senators who vote NO, including four who were up for re-election in fall of 2002. (Three of them got re-elected. The other was Paul Wellstone. RIP.)

More troubling was Hillary’s admission that she didn’t read the entire National Intelligence Estimate before the vote. That always struck me as very strange. I suspect that if she had read it, she would have lost plausible deniability—i.e., she wouldn’t have been able to say later, as she tried to do, that she was “misled” by Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, et al. But it also seems very out of character for a woman as prepared and wonkish as Hillary Clinton to conveniently miss out on thoroughly reading and analyzing a report of such significance, especially since she was on the Armed Services Committee. But I suspect now that she’s SoS, her natural abilities at analysis and command of facts will be more in the foreground than gaming votes for political gain.

There are aspects of Obama’s foreign-policy plans that give me pause, especially his stance in Afghanistan and raising troop levels. (I’m willing to wait and see on Gaza for now.) But I am heartened that he brought Shinseki back into the fold. And if Wes Clark can prove helpful in some situations, that’s good, too. Remember, even Obama, when asked at the 2004 convention if he would have voted for the AUMF even though he spoke out against it, demurred by saying something like “I don’t know what my vote would have been.” (I can try to find the original quote if anyone wants it.) He was trying to be diplomatic and not take shots at the Kerry/Edwards ticket, which of course was comprised of two men who voted for the AUMF. My point is that talking about AUMF in a Monday morning-quarterback way for politicians who weren’t in the Senate at the time is tricky to parse.

My take is that Obama tends to get the best he can from a wide range of people, even if some of those people have also had less-than-stellar ideas from time to time. That makes good sense to me from a management perspective.

There are aspects of Obama’s foreign-policy plans that give me pause, especially his stance in Afghanistan and raising troop levels.

I have major misgivings about that too. I was kind of hoping we could use the economic shitpile as an excuse to just come the fuck home from everywhere already.

Skepticism about the strictly “humanitarian” motivation behind the US/NATO intervention in Kosovo has been exacerbated in the years since by the construction (beginning in 1999, under the Clinton administration) of the major US base Camp Bondsteel, and by the oil pipeline deals we’ve made with our Kosovar allies, as well as a lot of alleged ‘looking the other way’ on the part of the US in the face of ethnic-cleansing efforts carried out by those allies.
In keeping, I’m made a little uneasy by Power’s praise for Gen. Clark here.

From the passages posted above:

“Now, of course, it wasn’t enough to intervene, it was also essential that the United States won.  And one of the things that I think made General Clark a little unpopular, perhaps, with some of his colleagues, and something he can talk about, was that he actually wanted to make sure every option was left on the table.  This is risky, but it is the way to defeat an adversary, as again, he can testify far better than I.  And he understood that success in Kosova was not just about returning, making sure the Kosovars returned to their homes, and the genocide was prevented, but it was also about preserving the future of humanitarian intervention; a very, very fragile future with ground troops left off the table.”

A fragile future for humanitarian intervention, with “ground troops left off the table”? “Every option left on the table?” Unpleasantly familiar phrase these days, isn’t it?
In the first place, General Clark became really “unpopular with his colleagues,” some of the British ones anyway, during the Balkans mission, over the Pristina Airport incident. It’s described in this 2003 piece in The Nation by Katrina Vanden Heuvel:
http://www.thenation.com/blogs/edcut/945 KVH mentions the issue of Clark’s advocacy of ground troops, and Sec. of State William Cohen’s opposition, in passing. Clark’s position on ground troops could be seen as the prudent one, for those who advocated not only security but ‘independence’ for Kosovo, as Clark has publicly done, so I understand, since leaving his NATO command.
As we know, the Bush administration strove ruthlessly to create the independent state of Kosovo, and that goal was achieved early last year—at least, a declaration of independence was made, with many nations recognizing the new state—but the Russian government is pretty angry about it. That move, as well as the decade-old Balkans campaign itself, are now widely seen as major steps toward a renewal of cold-war rivalry between the US and an economically-resurgent Russia.
A few months after Kosovo’s independence was declared, another major step came when the breakaway regions of US ally Georgia were attacked by that nation’s military, and then defended by Russia’s, with Russia and the US both rather comically (if not for the blood spilled) reversing the “principled,” “humanitarian” stances they’d taken in the case of Kosovo. Presidential candidate Obama, I’m sorry to say, took the same basic position as the Bush administration.

All of this, and more that’s going on (yes, Afghanistan), makes me worry a lot about interventionist and imperialist policies being pursued by the Obama administration. I hope that President Obama becomes convinced that such a course isn’t in the best interests of the country or the world. Maybe Americans, especially Democrats, can help convince him by letting him know about their opposition to military aggression, rather than conjuring up excuses to support policies they would oppose under Republicans.

Comment by pete on 01/30/09 at 05:19 PM
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