Several times I have questioned why U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, who rose to fame with a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on humanitarian interventionism to prevent human rights atrocities, is still in the White House. She is reduced to either spinning for the White House, sending out platitudinous tweets or — as we see today — indirectly badmouthing her boss.
Obama administration go-to journalist Jeffrey Goldberg writes on her speech at the Holocaust Memorial Museum dinner:
In the course of her speech, Power condemned those who argue that the choice facing the West in Syria is between full-on military engagement and doing nothing. She was also particularly harsh on the subject of leaders who avoid acting until humanitarian crises spin into chaos.
“In preventing mass atrocities, we must redouble our emphasis on early engagement,” Power said. “The sooner we act, the more options we will have. That requires developing solutions to potential atrocities before they become actual ones. And to those who would argue that a Head of State or government has to choose only between doing nothing and sending in the military — I maintain that is a constructed and false choice, an accompaniment only to disengagement and passivity.”
So who, exactly, is propagating these constructed and false choices?
Well, here is what Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s national security adviser, told David Gregory on Meet the Press in February: “We have every interest in trying to bring this conflict to a conclusion. But if the alternative here is to intervene with American boots on the ground, as some have argued, I think that the judgment the United States has made and the President of the United States has made is that is not in the United States’ interests. We are very much committed to trying to work to resolve this conflict, but in a way that doesn’t insert the United States back into a hot, bloody conflict in the middle of the Middle East.” . . . .
The president himself has spoken in the binary manner that Power clearly does not admire. In Manila last week, Obama said that, “Most of the foreign policy commentators that have questioned our policies would go headlong into a bunch of military adventures that the American people had no interest in participating in and would not advance our core security interests.”
Frankly, of all the ways to protest the administration’s policies, this seems the least morally defensible. If you are going to draw the check, take the New York apartment and add an item on the résumé, you have an obligation not to denigrate your boss. If you find his policies as morally repugnant as she seems to, the solution is not to — wink, wink — let others know she disagrees, but to quit.
Goldberg quotes Robert Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy: “Samantha Power is a serious person, whose views on the horror of genocide and the immorality of inaction to prevent it are well known. Given that the administration has defined the alternatives in Syria as stay away versus boots-on-the-ground, it is difficult to read her stark statement about this ‘false choice’ as anything but a critique of the administration she has sworn to serve.” If she can’t keep her complaints behind the doors of the administration she is sworn to serve, isn’t it time to go?
She’s not the first executive branch employee to convince herself (at least for now) that she shouldn’t quit on principle. It would be worse without me. Really? How is that even possible when it comes to the body count and renewed use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria? At least the president hears the arguments I am making. Apparently not, since she felt compelled to make a public speech about her disdain for his straw men arguments. Well, someone else would just do my job instead. Umm, isn’t this an argument for leaving, not staying?
There are infinite ways to delude yourself into staying with an administration that is behaving in ways you find deplorable. But at bottom this is simple careerism, the unwillingness to sacrifice career or monetary benefits (or fancy New York lodging) for the sake of principle. Staying put doesn’t make one noble; it makes one an enabler of the policies one finds despicable.