by: Timothy Villareal on July 20th, 2013 | 1 Comment »
For the first time since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s mammoth, all-encompassing domestic and international surveillance programs, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee held a substantive hearing on the subject, which produced an unpredictable result: bipartisan outrage from legislators at the sheer scope of the surveillance. In a hearing exchange with the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, James Cole, Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, author of the now-notorious Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the Executive branch has used to justify the collection of telephone records of every American, said of that branch’s sweeping interpretation of the section, “Doesn’t that make a mockery of the legal standard…”
Sensenbrenner went on to tell Deputy Attorney General Cole, “Section 215 expires at the end of 2015. Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed. There are not the votes in the House of Representatives to renew Section 215. You have to change how you operate Section 215, otherwise in two and a half years you’re not going to have it any more.”
The dramatic turnabout of this powerful legislator’s position on a landmark U.S. law – a law that has defined the post-9/11 era – would never have come to pass but for the patriotic act of whistleblowing by one 30-year-old American man: Edward Joseph Snowden.
As House Judiciary members were venting their outrage over what they have learned from Snowden’s revelations of massive, unprecedented Executive branch spying, on the other side of Capitol Hill, former NSC staffer, Samantha Power, was answering questions in her Senate confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. When asked by Senator Ron Johnson, also of Wisconsin, to evaluate the overall state of play in U.S. – Russia relations, Power cited some positive Russian cooperation with the United States on several international fronts, including Russia’s support for peacekeeping efforts in the Ivory Coast and its support for the referendum in South Sudan. Yet Power assured the Wisconsin senator that, those positive areas of Russian cooperation notwithstanding, “None of this takes away from the [Russian] crackdown on civil society, takes away from Snowden and his presence in Moscow…”
Snowden’s presence in Moscow, of course, is the only thing keeping him from ending up in a U.S. jail cell.
Message from Samantha Power to the American people: Concern yourself with the rights and liberties of foreigners living under oppressive regimes, not your own rights and liberties, and most certainly not the freedom of brave whistleblowers, also your fellow citizens, who are informing you and your elected representatives in Congress about what the Executive branch of the U.S. government is up to.
If Power’s supporters in Washington, and there are many, would take umbrage at the charge that Ms. Power’s approach to human rights is far too morally simplistic for the modern world, they should take her own word for it. In response to Senator Christopher Murphy’s own question about how she would handle U.S. relations with Russia, Power said that with Russia, “The challenge is to stand up for U.S. interests and U.S. values. It’s a sort of simple formula.”
Ms. Power seems blithely unaware that there is no such consensus on what “U.S. values” actually are. Putting aside the polarized electorate when it comes to a wide array of social issues, there is no agreement on U.S. values with respect to the surveillance state: some would, like apparently Ms. Power herself, prefer that Ed Snowden be sitting in a jail cell, while others would prefer that Mr. Snowden be the one nominated to represent the U.S. at U.N. headquarters – not Samantha Power.
For certain, Samantha Power is not the first, and certainly will not be the last, ambitious foreign policy professional whose core political philosophy can be summed up in this way: “Because I am on the side of light, and other people are on the side of darkness, I’m the one who should be in charge.”
Yet what separates Power from her Lightness-Darkness foreign policy brethren is that at least the latter offer some indication in the course of their public careers what their personal definition of lightness actually is. Other than that she is opposed to genocide – at one point even embracing the rather strange title of “the genocide chick” – she has provided no solid grounds for the American people to evaluate how she separates moral light from dark.
Indeed, during her two hour Senate confirmation hearing, Power spent much of the time publicly disowning the very oeuvre which gave her a foreign policy name in first place. For example, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin grilled Power about a 2003 New Republic article in which she wrote the following about the U.S.’s role in the world:
Some anti-Americanism derives simply from our being a colossus that bestrides the earth. This resentment may be incurable. But much anti- Americanism derives from the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying such freedoms to others.
U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought. It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States. This would entail restoring FOIA to its pre- Bush stature, opening the files, and acknowledging the force of a mantra we have spent the last decade promoting in Guatemala, South Africa, and Yugoslavia: A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors.
Power now disowns that very doctrine of mea culpa, and stated repeatedly throughout her confirmation hearing that she will “not apologize for America.” When Senator Johnson attempted to get a better grip on Power’s massive shift in values, Power dismissively replied, “Working in the Executive branch is a lot different from sounding off from an academic perch.”
No longer calling for an overhaul of U.S. foreign policy, Power now believes that “American leadership is the light of the world.”
The light of the world? Tell that to the families of the tens of thousands of civilians who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade alone, not to mention the napalm and other horrors the U.S. government inflicted in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
In another 180 reversal, when Senator Marco Rubio brought up her 2002 interview calling for military intervention to impose peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Power immediately took back her words saying she “disassociated herself” from her previous military intervention prescription. Power told Senator Rubio that she was simply giving a “long, rambling and very remarkably incoherent response to a hypothetical question that I should never have answered.” Besides, she told the senators, her concern for Israel’s welfare was “indescribable,” and to buttress her pro-Israel credibility, Power told the senators, “I stood up against the Goldstone report.”
There is indeed one broad area where Power seems not quite as fickle: foreign military interventions other than Israel/Palestine. She even thanked Senator John McCain – who has seemingly never seen a foreign military intervention he didn’t like – for his “leadership on Syria,” which begs an important question for those who want to ensure that the U.S. does not get enmeshed in Syria’s civil war: If one is not already in agreement with the policy prescriptions of Senator McCain, what is there to thank him for in the first place?
When Senator Rand Paul tried to elicit Power’s views on the constitutional tension between the Executive and Legislative branches regarding military deployments, Power was evasive, but said to Senator Paul, “Consultation is indispensable…I promise to consult with you.”
There is a cultural analogy to be drawn with respect to Samantha Power. Starting in the late 70s and moving into the 80s, fundamentalist Christian preachers realized that there was a growing backlash against the cultural shifts toward liberalism of the 60s and early 70s. They packaged their preaching, makingit moretelegenic, and thus became what we now call televangalists: men and women who can communicate to large swaths of the morally frustrated, and with an air of force and moral certitude that the latter are desperately craving.
In an age of mass atrocities, including genocides, Samantha Power is – by intention, mere instinct, or an amalgam of both – operating from a page right out of the late Jerry Falwell’s televangelist playbook. People – especially those who have empathy for others suffering abroad – are looking for moral certitude in the midst of global chaos. Power has put extraordinary elbow grease into packaging herself as the go-to leader to bring moral clarity in an endless global landscape of political violence and abuse.
Time will tell if the emotional synergy between Power and her constituency of moral clarity-cravers is as strong as that synergy between televangelists and their devotees. But this much should be plain: just as the garden-variety televangelist provides a gloss of Christian culture which so many crave – even as they reap personal financial profits which are totally contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ – Samantha Power is likewise doing her utmost to provide the gloss of human rights culture for those who are craving it.
Yet as the case of Edward Snowden has so clearly demonstrated, Americans who crave a human rights culture at home and abroad would do far better to help create a global consciousness in which every human being is encouraged to stand up for human rights and human dignity within their own circumstances and stations of life, rather than putting false hopes in ambitious political climbers who create massive oeuvres devoted to human rights and dignity, only to summarily jettison those oeuvres when they prevent the latter from climbing up another notch.
Edward Snowden has never claimed himself to be a hero, or on par with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. Nevertheless, this young man has literally perfected the use of non-violent action to bring about massive pro-democratic change in our country. Far from being a pariah, he is a role model for men and women the world over.
That Samantha Power has effectively given her imprimatur to his arrest, and the potential ruination of his life or most of his life, is a clear indication that her firm commitment to human rights gloss will not abate in the slightest during her tenure at the United Nations.
Timothy Villareal is a Miami-based writer. His website is http://timothyvillareal.wordpress.com.