In Batman Vs. Superman, the intrepid reporter Lois Lane (played by Amy Adams), tries to expose a dastardly villain and gets herself into a deadly predicament from which Superman must save her. This has been the Lois Lane formula since 1938. But in this case, the rescue has blowback. The villain in question was an African warlord/terrorist. And the intervention of Superman (and the CIA) somehow precipitates a massacre of local civilians. Lois’s efforts end up leading to the very kind of atrocity she was crusading against.
This also aptly describes the Africa policy of Samantha Power, the most strident “humanitarian interventionist” in the Obama administration. Power’s career was encapsulated in a single awful moment last week. A New York Times story relates that:
“As the convoy barreled through a village in northern Cameroon on Monday, a 7-year-old boy darted to the road, excited to see the chain of white S.U.V.s carrying Samantha Power, the first cabinet-level American official to visit the country since 1991.
Distracted by a thundering noise, the boy glanced up at the helicopter providing security from above. Suddenly, he was struck dead — killed by the same convoy that had brought officials to showcase American efforts to help protect West Africa’s women and children.”
Running over one of those children with a car may seem a botched “showcase.” However it quite accurately, if tragically, exemplified the sort of “protection” that the U.S. government, and Ms. Power in particular, has provided the people of the African continent. The Times continues:
“…Ms. Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, had come to West Africa to help raise awareness and win people over. It was planned as part of an effort to convince residents who are terrorized by the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram — but who are also disenchanted by the heavy-handed tactics of their governments — that their paths lie with the American-backed state, not with the militants.”
While stumping for the region’s brutal and predatory presidents-for-life, Power probably failed to mention that Boko Haram was boosted by her own policy. As The New Yorker recalled in late 2014:
“Power was ‘the first and most decisive advocate for aggressive actions in Libya, and she was a consistent voice before anybody else was,” a senior official involved in the Libya actions told me. “She really put on the agenda the use of military power to respond to what was happening there, at a time when the President wasn’t sure.’ Dennis Ross, then Obama’s top Middle East expert, said…”
Power, then a National Security Council official, was quickly joined in her interventionist agitation by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice, her predecessor at the UN. The Valkyries Three persuaded POTUS, and the Libyan ruler Moammar Gaddafi was soon overthrown. Following the intervention, jihadi groups conquered large swaths of territory, rebels committed massive anti-black pogroms, and a whole country was shattered, with a proliferation of militias warring over the fragments.
Gaddafi’s arsenals were looted by Islamists and other militants. The arms and fighters were then disseminated far and wide, destabilizing countries and fueling wars throughout north-west Africa (and Syria too). Many weapons ended up with the butchers of Boko Haram, who are famous for kidnapping little girls.
The Libyan intervention blanketed much of the continent with atrocity. Yet Power’s sold it as necessary to prevent atrocity. She lead the chorus that claimed a massacre in the rebel-held city of Benghazi was imminent. As it turned out, there was no substantial basis for this claim.
Atrocity prevention has been the defining cause of Power’s career from the very beginning. Shortly after graduating from college, she, like Amy Adams’s Lois Lane, was a fair-haired intrepid war correspondent. Instead of the Daily Planet, she wrote for the Boston Globe, as well as other outlets, covering the war in Bosnia from Sarajevo. There, she and her like-minded colleagues became known as the “Bomb the Bastards Bunch.” As the Globe related in 2013, “…she called the Clinton administration immoral for not using military strikes to halt ethnic cleansing.”
As The New Yorker tells it:
“In 1995, the same year Power enrolled at Harvard Law School, NATO bombed Serb forces, and she rejoiced. She told me, ‘These guys who had been terrorizing these people were going to be stopped!’ Until then, she had been dismayed that nothing she and her colleagues wrote about—Srebrenica, rape camps, torture—seemed to have much effect. ‘Then, suddenly, not only do we care but we’re prepared to put something very meaningful and difficult on the line!’ She added, ‘Your average journalists knew that they should not admit that was their longing. But you see that much terrorization of people and you’re just a human being in that context, and people were rooting for that outcome and that intervention.’”
A Serbian-perpetrated massacre in Srebrenica was a chief justification for subsequent US/NATO interventions, which only led to more death, suffering, and chaos. It is worth noting that many advocates for the Libya War warned of Benghazi otherwise becoming “another Srebrenica.”
The New Yorker tells the next step in her journey:
“In her second year of law school, Power took a class on the just use of force. ‘I began looking at the historical cases of genocide, looking at the Armenians, the Khmer Rouge, and Saddam Hussein’s Al Anfal campaign and Rwanda,’ she said.”
A paper she wrote for that course evolved into the book that would be her ticket to fame and power: “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, published in 2002. In the book, Power analyzed the deliberations within the Clinton administration that led to what she regarded as a failure to fulfill America’s “responsibility to protect” (R2P), especially in Rwanda. After the book won the Pulitzer Prize, she became a sought-after public intellectual.
One fan of the book who sought her out was a senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. From then on, she has been one of Obama’s closest advisors. Obama has been her vehicle for translating her obsession with humanitarian intervention from the world of ideas to the realm of policy. The power of his office turned a relatively harmless activist into what Isabel Peterson called “the humanitarian with the guillotine.” She is the Obama inner circle’s chief champion of hyper-paternalism in foreign policy. She also happens to be married to Cass Sunstein, the Obama inner circle’s chief champion of hyper-paternalism in domestic policy.
Besides the Libya intervention, Power has also pushed for military intervention in Syria, American support for French military intervention in the Central African Republic, and pervasive, if lower-grade, intervention throughout Africa.
After all this meddling, Africa has only descended deeper into chaos. As journalist Nick Turse wrote:
“…Washington is increasingly involved in the growing wars for West and Central Africa. And just about every move it has made in the region thus far has helped spread conflict and chaos, while contributing to African destabilization. Worse yet, no end to this process appears to be in sight.”
And yet Samantha Power presses on for more intervention.
H.L. Mencken wrote that, “The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.” This may or may not be the case for Power herself. Yet, her careless crusading has certainly been useful for those in the war party who are primarily motivated by a lust for power and plunder.
Power’s savior complex has provided a patina of righteousness to obscure the cynical avarice driving the U.S. empire’s rapacious scramble for Africa. This new scramble has been effected through a stealth invasion of the continent. Saving African women and children from terrorists, warlords, ebola, and poverty is the cover story for the drone bases, troop deployments, and built-up proxy armies. But, as always, resource extraction and military dominance are the real motivations.
But Power is to blame for more than merely being a useful idealistic naif. To soldier on with her crusades in spite of so much disastrous failure indicates a staggering degree of self-absorption. To be so oblivious to the men, women, and children who have been run over (sometimes literally) by her do-gooder campaigns speaks of an overwhelming concern with her own “heroic story” at the expense of the actual impact she is having on the lives of others.
Satirists have lampooned “voluntourists” who join programs like the Peace Corps chiefly for the “experience” and the photo ops with Third World villagers, and not for actually doing any lasting good. See for example the piece in The Onion titled, “6-Day Visit To Rural African Village Completely Changes Woman’s Facebook Profile Picture.” Power is a case of this kind of narcissism gone to deadly extremes thanks to her access to state power. After she learned that her motorcade had crushed a child to death en route to photo ops with African refugees, she said:
“Oh, my God. I want to go see his family.”
She probably did, and I’m sure it was a memorable, poignant experience. Maybe the moment will be an emotionally complex scene in the movie of her life, starring Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain.
Power’s time in power is reminiscent of a quote by C.S. Lewis:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
Samantha Power has dedicated her life to combatting genocide, to solving “a problem from hell.” Yet she has only succeeded in turning much of a continent into a hell on earth, paved with her good intentions.