The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

You got some nerve, Madame Ambassador

Samantha Power rose to prominence and snagged a Pulitzer on her way in propounding a brand of liberal interventionism in which human rights takes center stage. She was appalled by the Clinton administration’s (Susan Rice, center stage) indifference to genocide in Rwanda:

Why did the United States not do more for the Rwandans at the time of the killings? Did the President really not know about the genocide, as his marginalia suggested? Who were the people in his Administration who made the life-and-death decisions that dictated U.S. policy? Why did they decide (or decide not to decide) as they did? Were any voices inside or outside the U.S. government demanding that the United States do more? If so, why weren’t they heeded? And most crucial, what could the United States have done to save lives?

That was Power in 2001. In 2003, she won the Pulitzer for her book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Human rights, she intoned, must be a central focus in foreign policy, and the United States and other Western nations need not have alternative security concerns before taking military action; mass murder was enough to justify action by the West. In her first round in the Obama administration, she headed the Atrocities Prevention Board, which prevented no atrocities. (Unfortunately, the true atrocities prevention agency, the U.S. military, is under the tutelage of the dull-witted and indifferent Chuck Hagel, who wasn’t prepared in his confirmation hearing to quibble with Iran’s characterization of its “elections” as “democratic.”) After a brief stint away, she returned as ambassador to the United Nations.

Alas, unlike the great ambassadors to that hotbed of hypocrisy and anti-Semitism, she has not shamed the world’s despots. She cheerily presided over the U.S.-Russia arrangement — with no enforcement mechanism — to take away Assad’s chemical weapons but leave him firmly ensconced in power. She now cheerleads for the administration, making excuses for its inaction.

That brings us to her tweet this week: “BREAKING: Justin Bieber gets a DUI. In other news: Syria, South Sudan, Iran, Central African Republic . . . ”

Hmm. What about other news from these fronts, or from Egypt, Ukraine and China for that matter?

In Syria, even in the face of mass atrocities, the president refused to take decisive (or even “targeted”) military action against Bashar al-Assad. The latter now has free rein to slaughter civilians by conventional means. Perhaps as many are 200,000 Syrians are dead. There are millions of refugees. Polio is back in Syria. The president, Power coos, is deeply concerned about all this. But, alas, he does nothing.

Iran? There, the president had his opportunity to be the heroic human rights figure for whom Power pined. Instead, he snubbed the Green Revolution, choosing to “engage” the mullahs in the dream that he could induce the largest state sponsor of terror to join the “community of nations.” It is not the right forum to bring up disappearance and torture of dissidents, however. We’ll put that on the back burner for now. What — you want to offend these people?! Have them walk out of talks? War-monger, harrumph.

In Egypt, we’ve sided again and again with whoever could grab power — Hosni Mubarak, Mohamed Morsi, the army. As for China, the uptick in human rights abuses has not dimmed the secretary of state’s hopes for a “special relationship” with the regime.

It is no surprise then that it has been a rotten time for democracy dissidents, religious and ethnic minorities and freedom advocates. Liberty is in decline around the world, Freedom House reports. We suffer from a leadership gap:

As the year 2013 neared its end, the world stepped back from ordinary affairs of state to signal its deep respect for a true giant of the freedom struggle, Nelson Mandela. Praise for Mandela’s qualities as dissident, statesman, and humanitarian came from every part of the globe and from people of all stations in life. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton tellingly described Mandela as “a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life.”
But the praise bestowed on the father of post-apartheid South Africa was often delivered with more than a note of wistfulness. For it was apparent to many that the defining convictions of Mandela’s career—commitment to the rule of law and democratic choice, rejection of score settling and vengeance seeking, recognition that regarding politics as a zero-sum game was an invitation to authoritarianism and civil strife — are in decidedly short supply among today’s roster of political leaders.

The report continues: “In an earlier period, it was the United States and its allies that were the guarantors of political change in the world. Self-assured and optimistic, they provided the material resources and diplomatic muscle that tipped the balance in favor of freedom movements and struggling new democracies. . . . Unfortunately, the American government has failed to recognize the historic moment that presents itself in the region. It is true that there have been setbacks, that democratic forces have made mistakes, and that rigid geostrategic priorities sometimes conflict with the goals of democratic change. But there is a real danger that policymakers will become locked into a defeatist loop, seeing validation for their inaction in the very problems it produces.”

It’s the sort of attitude that manifests itself in President Obama’s blithe retort that he couldn’t imagine having done anything different in Syria. At least Bill Clinton had the decency to articulate regret for his failure to act in Rwanda.

So, Ambassador Power, it is not enough to tweet your disapproval of celebrity journalism. The administration in which you serve is the most indifferent to human rights of any in memory. You’ve been part of it, defending and excusing its moral sloth. In a better world, you’d resign, give back the Pulitzer and do something more constructive. Write a sequel, perhaps, about the age of genocide. You’ve been there, every step of the way.