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Samantha Power, U.N. Nominee, Highlights Obama’s Genocide Problem

June 7, 2013 12:42 am 10 comments

Samantha Power speaks at Harvard Law School in 2010. Photo: Chensiyuan/Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.org – The nomination of Samantha Power for U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations has drawn the Jewish community’s attention to her controversial 2002 remark about hypothetical U.S. action against Israel to protect Palestinians from genocide. But Power’s confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate is also likely to address a broader question: How can lawmakers judge her record on responding to genocide, when the government agency she has headed for the past year has no office, no staff, no phone number, and no public record of taking any action to fulfill its stated mission—to prevent atrocities in Darfur and elsewhere around the world?

Just weeks after President Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for spearheading the Darfur genocide. He was charged with sponsoring the Arab militias that were “murdering, exterminating, raping, torturing, and forcibly transferring large numbers of civilians, and pillaging their property” in Darfur.

The Obama team included many outspoken advocates of U.S. action against the Bashir regime. Before becoming U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice had publicly urged airstrikes on Sudan. Samantha Power wrote a book urging U.S. intervention against perpetrators of genocide. Joe Biden, as a U.S. senator, called for imposing a no-fly zone over Sudan. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama himself vowed, “I won’t turn a blind eye to slaughter” of civilians abroad and said, “There must be real pressure placed on the Sudanese government.”

Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. Developments on the ground in Sudan during President Barack Obama's first term provided good reason for U.S. action, including Bashir's mass expulsion of foreign aid agencies that led to widespread starvation among genocide survivors, but the Obama administration's response was lethargic, writes Dr. Rafael Medoff. Photo: U.S. Navy.

Developments on the ground in Sudan during Obama’s first term provided good reason for U.S. action. In 2009, Bashir’s mass expulsion of foreign aid agencies led to widespread starvation among genocide survivors. In late 2010, the ICC reported hundreds of civilians murdered and thousands displaced in renewed attacks by government-sponsored Arab militias against villages in Darfur. By the summer of 2012, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was reporting from Sudan about new “mass atrocities that echo Darfur” against non-Arab tribes in the Nuba Mountains.

Yet the Obama administration’s response was lethargic—and worse. The new U.S. envoy to Sudan, J. Scott Gration, told the Washington Post in 2009 that American policy should be based on “giving out cookies” and “gold stars” rather than punishing Bashir. In 2010, Gration told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. now supports having Bashir judged by a local Sudanese court rather than by the ICC (even though that would increase the chances of an acquittal or a light sentence). In 2011, Gration’s successor, Princeton Lyman, told an interviewer, “We do not want to see the ouster of the [Bashir] regime, nor regime change.”

Meanwhile, Bashir was brazenly flaunting the ICC indictment, by traveling openly to various Arab and African countries. Even though some of those countries were major recipients of U.S. aid, such as Egypt, Iraq, and Libya, neither Obama nor advisers such as Dr. Power publicly criticized them. Bashir had become the least-wanted most-wanted man in the world.

In the face of all this, disheartened Darfur advocates were given new hope by the president’s dramatic 2012 announcement—from the podium of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum—that he was creating an Atrocities Prevention Board, with Power as its chair. The most optimistic among us were tempted to see parallels to the remarkable lifesaving work undertaken by the War Refugee Board, after pressure by congress and Jewish activists forced President Franklin Roosevelt to establish that agency in 1944.

And there was substantial public support for Obama’s initiative: a poll by Penn Schoen Berland found 69 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should “prevent or stop genocide or mass atrocities from occurring in another part of the world.”

With public opinion on its side, would the Obama administration finally turn a corner in its genocide policy?

Unfortunately not.

When U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) introduced a bill in 2012 to suspend non-humanitarian aid to countries that host visits by Bashir, the State Department worked behind the scenes to bury the measure. A petition by 70 leading Holocaust and genocide scholars to Dr. Power, urging her to back the bill, went unanswered. (Ironically, Power, in her book, had urged the U.S. government to use “economic sanctions” and pressure on its allies to combat genocide—a fact noted in the petition.)

Asked by a Fox News interviewer in January 2013 why the U.S. had been silent over a recent Bashir visit to Egypt, outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged that Bashir “does need to be held accountable for what happened on his watch as president” (Curiously, she made him sound like a bystander rather than a perpetrator). But, she emphasized, the U.S. had to “prioritize” and focus on maintaining good relations with Egypt.

Last month, the Obama administration announced that a delegation representing the Bashir regime would soon visit the U.S. Heading the delegation will be Bashir adviser Nafie Ali Nafie, a prominent participant in the Darfur massacres. A petition by 107 genocide scholars to Obama, urging him to cancel the visit, has so far gone unanswered.

Ironically, countries far smaller and weaker than the United States have shown much more backbone on this issue. Uganda, South Africa, and even tiny, deeply impoverished Malawi have threatened to arrest Bashir if he attempts to take part in international conferences in their countries. The president of Brazil stormed out of a banquet rather than sit next to Bashir. Yet the U.S., apparently worried about angering Bashir’s allies in the Arab League, continues to stand idly by as the Butcher of Darfur travels freely.

And the Atrocities Prevention Board under Samantha Power? Thirteen months after it was established, it still has no office, no web site, no phone, no public record of action, not even a single statement issued about Bashir’s travels or other issues related to atrocities in Sudan or anywhere else.

No wonder the major news media seem unaware of the Atrocities Prevention Board’s existence. In reporting Power’s nomination as U.S. ambassador, the New York Times mentioned only that she “worked on human-rights issues on the National Security Council during Mr. Obama’s first term.” The Washington Post described her as “Obama’s adviser for multilateral affairs and human rights before resigning earlier this year.”

Has the Atrocities Prevention Board been preventing atrocities on the sly? Presumably Obama would not have chosen such a high-profile setting for the announcement of the Board’s creation had he intended it to be some kind of top-secret operation. Hopefully Power can resolve this mystery at her confirmation hearing.

In the meantime, while Obama named Susan Rice to replace outgoing National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, and Samantha Power to replace Rice, there was no mention of who will be replacing Power as head of the Atrocities Prevention Board. But given the Board’s inactivity, does it even matter?

Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. His most recent book is “FDR and the Holocaust: A Breach of Faith.”


10 Comments

  • E Pluribus Beagle

    The key takeaway is that Obama is a micro micro manager and there’s not a single person in his cabinet or inner coterie who’s ever permitted a single independent thought or action. Any role, be it UN ambassador or Secretary of State or any of them could be filled by anyone. Hell he could appoint his dog. It does not matter because none of them are anything but mouthpieces for Obama saying Obama’s words on cue like trained parakeets.

  • Disgusted with your posting the Bernard Ross comment that insists on spelling Obama with a small “o” – and to the substance of the original posting I would like to note that the last overt military intervention by the USA in the Arab world – it was President G.W. Bush who stayed on in Iraq – after deposing Saddam – for reasons of oil. Now we realize that besides leaving Iraq in greater mess then he found it, eventually the only tangible result is that he made Iraq oil safe for China.

    The Arab world is in a mess, much of it because of past intervention pushed by oil interests. Now President Obama tries to disengage from dependence on foreign oil and from being oil-policeman of the world. Republicans-from-oil fight him for that, and it surely is not Israel interest to join them.

    • pincas, you need to check your facts! “the last overt military intervention by the USA in the Arab world – it was President G.W. Bush who stayed on in Iraq” Really? Is obama not conducting overt drone strikes in Pakistan this very month? What do you call that? AMERICANS have a 1ST AMENDMENT right to free speech and can spell obama any way they like! If you think the current administration is truly trying to ween us off petroleum you need to have your head checked! Congratulations on being able to capitalize the word President! The Arab world is not a mess because of US intervention, it’s a mess because of radical Islam and everyone knows it, the foreign interventions such as drone strikes in Pakistan which are going on right now make us more enemies and have less to do with oil and more to do with abusive corrupt governments in the US and Pakistan. Sorry my friend I feel I needed to correct you.

    • Raymond in DC

      And what would you call the US military intervention in Libya? That took place under Obama, not Bush. Is that not in the Arab world?

  • Fredric M. London

    Obama is a terrorist sympathizer, if not outright supporter. His administration is a rogue one, which is accountable to no one. If congress were not so polarized with extremists, perhaps it would have the credibility to challenge Obama. However, Obama knows full well what the American people think of congress (and rightfully so), so that when it does attempt to do something right, he feels no fear of consequences for ignoring them. In issue after issue Obama has demonstrated that he is far more in sync with terrorist regimes and terrorist organizations than he is in seeking justice. You will NEVER see his regime go after a kindred spirit in Bashir.

  • Bernard Ross

    “Yet the U.S., apparently worried about angering Bashir’s allies in the Arab League,….” The money to obama comes from the GCC/sauds. everything is done in relation to them. All obama picks are anti semites and anti Israel. No rocket science here, move along now.

  • YAEL TAUBMAN

    WTF…..????

  • Mike Danziger

    Way 2 go Obama

  • Felicity Scott

    I find interesting that Ms Power felt it appropriate to speculate about Israel *hypothetically* perpetrating genocide against Palestinians, when I have found no evidence of any mainstream Israeli politician calling for any action approaching that – yet she doesn’t feel there’s a problem when the elected leadership of the Palestinians (Hamas) has a constitutional policy of obliterating Israel through any means. Or when Hamas’ puppet masters in Tehran talk about wiping the Jews off the face of the Earth. H’mmm.

    • Kris Kristian

      When will the US Jews wake upi and admit they made as midtake by voting for the Muslim in the WH
      Did they not realise that Obama will appoint an open Jew/Israel hater to the Un as an ambassador?

      The one man who would have been good for USA and Israel, was Mitt Romney.

      I hope that the uS Jews will wake up after Obama is out of the WH and be careful who they vote for.

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