Samantha Power and Obama's Foreign Policy Team

Senator Barack Obama, though impressive in his oratorical abilities, may not have the foreign policy experience that many would like to see, or that his opponents possess. It is reasonable to expect that he may rely on the foreign policy advisors he has chosen to a greater extent than would a new president more adequately grounded in foreign affairs and national security matters.

Over the past month, controversy has erupted over the issue of Senator Obama's foreign policy advisers and the impact that they might have on a future President Obama's policies toward Israel, and on American foreign policy in the broader region. Articles in the Washington Post, Newsweek, American Thinker, New York Sun, Politico, Commentary Magazine, The New Republic, CAMERA and other publications have precipitated this controversy.

Both those who support Senator Obama and his quest for the presidency and those who have concerns often share the same goal: ensuring that our next president comes to office well-prepared for the demands of the highest office in our nation. The President is uniquely powerful in the realm of foreign policy. In these perilous times, all of us want to ensure that the man or woman who steps into the White House in January is well-prepared to deal with the foreign policy challenges that lie ahead.

Who are Obama's Foreign Policy Advisors?

Newsweek published a list of Senator Obama's foreign policy advisers that included Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert Malley. A few weeks later, the Washington Post on October 2, 2007 published a list of foreign policy advisers for all the major candidates, which list included the names of Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, Samantha Power and Susan Rice as advisers to Senator Obama.  Subsequently, Martin Peretz -- an Obama supporter -- wrote at the end of December that he got the "shudders" when thinking about the foreign policy influence of "Zbigniew Brzezinski... Anthony Lake, Susan Rice and Robert O. Malley".

Peretz touched upon some of the reasons to be concerned about Malley, whom he characterized as "the most horrific name on the list".  He was particularly concerned about the impact on America-Israel relations given Brzezinski's and Malley's involvement. Brzezinski's lack of concern for the safety and security of Israel is well known. Opposition to his role in the campaign was voiced across the political spectrum
.  Peretz touched upon some of the reasons to be concerned about the role of Malley, which were further developed in an article on our site  that focused on a long series of articles Malley has written that reveal views that should give pause to all those concerned about the future of the America-Israel relationship.

The articles on Obama and his advisors in American Thinker were sourced to many news outlets before we characterized the individuals as foreign policy advisers. Subsequent to the controversy, some pushback from the campaign has developed. Emails have been circulating denying that Malley is an adviser or that stating that he does not provide advice on the Middle East, or denying that Zbigniew Brzezinski advises on issues related to Israel and the Palestinians.  As Commentary's Noah Pollak has asked, is there just clever wordplay going on (otherwise, known as "spin")?

In a perplexing development, Martin Peretz subsequently wrote a blog entry denying that there were reasons to be concerned about Senator Obama's foreign policy team. He wrote that ‘spooky" stories have been circulating about his foreign policy staff and, trying to justify his new view, offered only one example to assuage concerns. He stated that Robert Malley was not a foreign policy adviser ("Malley is not and has never been a Middle East adviser to Barack Obama" -- remember this because it will come up later in this column) and there were no reasons to be concerned about the Senator's team.

Mr. Peretz wrote this without even mentioning his article just a few weeks before which expressed concern (if not outright loathing) about Robert Malley and other members of the team as mentioned above (welcome to the updated version of 1984's Memory Hole). 

Then, to confuse the issue even further, he wrote just a few days ago   that he is concerned about the foreign policy team of  Senator Obama's and mentioned his previously listed names (except for Malley)

Martin Peretz is not alone with his concerns. In the last few days, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius (who has strong liberal credentials) also expressed qualms about Senator Obama, and specifically mentioned the realm of foreign policy and his foreign policy advisors. 

If there has been a rethinking of the roles assigned to members of Obama's foreign policy team, that could be reassuring.  Dennis Ross, Dennis McDonough, and Dan Shapiro have been mentioned as the "real" Middle East advisors. However, an important question remains: why did the campaign not ask for a correction to numerous articles (including the original Washington Post article) when they listed, among others, Robert Malley as an Obama foreign policy advisor? The Obama campaign staff has been lionized for its efficiency. Did it not register that there were lists in prominent publications that identified several people as foreign policy advisers that might give rise to concerns? 

Or did the campaign not care until it became a political problem?

Regardless, there remains a cloud around the foreign policy team. And one name in particular now requires greater scrutiny: Samantha Power.  

Samantha Power

Senator Obama's supporters have uniformly ignored the role and the views of Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor Samantha Power, who is very problematic regarding Israel, Iran, and for that matter, American supporters of Israel (see below). Power left her position at Harvard to work for Obama for a year after his election to the US Senate.  She is now identified as a "senior foreign policy advisor."

In the case of Power, it was Senator Obama who made the initial contact with her after reading her book on genocide. Power is now actively working for the campaign.  She cannot be casually dismissed as one of Obama's many advisors, with no particular assigned role.

It is not at all hard to imagine her having a senior foreign policy role in an Obama administration, perhaps as US Ambassador to the United Nations, an organization she views warmly. The problem for those who favor a strong US-Israel relationship is that Power seems obsessed with Israel, and in a negative way.  Much like the authors of the Baker-Hamilton report, she believes resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to solving other problems in the Middle East. And it is clear that her approach to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be for the US to behave in a  more "even handed" fashion, which of course means withdrawing US support for Israel, and instead applying more pressure on Israel for concessions. 

Commentary Magazine, and in particular Noah Pollack, have done a superb job of investigative reporting regarding Power's record and views.  She is a headliner for Senator Obama -- a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a professor at Harvard.  Power has a column carried by TIME and she writes frequently. Indeed, it is her writing that reveals reasons to be concerned. From Commentary:

Power is an advocate of the Walt-Mearsheimer view of the American relationship with Israel. In a recent interview published on the Harvard Kennedy School's website, Power was asked to explain "long-standing structural and conceptual problems in U.S. foreign policy." She gave a two-part answer: the first problem, she said, is "the US historic predisposition to go it alone." A standard reply, of course. The second problem, though, should give us pause:

Another longstanding foreign policy flaw is the degree to which special interests dictate the way in which the "national interest" as a whole is defined and pursued....  America's important historic relationship with Israel has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics, which, as the war in Lebanon last summer demonstrated, can turn out to be counter-productive.

So greater regard for international institutions along with less automatic deference to special interests -- especially when it comes to matters of life and death and war and peace -- seem to be two take-aways from the war in Iraq.

Power is not just assenting to the Walt-Mearsheimer view of American foreign policy, but is also arguing that Israel had something to do with the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003: an appalling slander, and a telling one.

Also of note is a recent opinion piece Power wrote for TIME, titled "Rethinking Iran," the thrust of which rethinking involves the need to engage diplomatically the mullahs and pretend that the Iranian nuclear program is a figment of the paranoid imagination of the Bush administration. She writes:

The war scare that wasn't [the recent incident between Iranian speedboats and the U.S. Navy in the Straight of Hormuz] stands as a metaphor for the incoherence of our policy toward Iran: the Bush Administration attempts to gin up international outrage by making a claim of imminent danger, only to be met with international eye rolling when the claim is disproved. Sound familiar? The speedboat episode bore an uncanny resemblance to the Administration's allegations about the advanced state of Iran's weapons program-allegations refuted in December by the National Intelligence Estimate.

Does Power actually believe that the NIE put to rest concerns about the Iranian nuclear program? If she actually thinks that -- and it appears she does -- she deserves voluminous ridicule from thinking people everywhere.

Power also advocates that America send armed military forces, "a mammoth protection force" and an "external intervention", to impose a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. This directly contradicts her criticism of the invasion and "occupation" of Iraq and her call for the removal of American forces from that nation. On the one hand, Power abhors American efforts to remake an Arab nation, but takes the contrary view when it comes to inserting American forces in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to impose a settlement. These troops, if sent, would be seen as occupiers and be sitting targets for Arab extremists. The colonial image of America and charges of imperial overstretch would echo throughout the Arab world.

If America sought to avoid being so tarnished -- which is presumably what Samantha Power would desire -- then the alternative would be for the United States to take a confrontational attitude toward Israel, so as to be seen as standing up for the Palestinians. Given her inclination to view Israel as guilty of war crimes  she would probably look favorably on such an approach towards the Israelis and Palestinians.

Power's views on the problems caused by the US-Israel relationship also place her in the same camp as Zbigniew Brzezinski and George Soros (an influential supporter of Barack Obama's), who also oppose the so-called "Israel lobby" and reject the participation of American supporters of Israel, including Christians, in the foreign policy discussion. Power writes of her willingness to

"alienat[e] a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import; it may more crucially mean sacrificing...billions of dollars, not in servicing Israel's military, but actually investing in the state of Palestine."

Power appears to support slashing, if not eliminating, military aid to our ally (surrounded by 300 million people who wish to destroy her) and giving it to the Palestinians, whose charters (whether the Hamas or Fatah version) advocate the destruction of Israel. The PA has used aid dollars to teach hate and sponsor terror, and Palestinian society has devolved into an internationally-supported welfare state characterized by enormous corruption. Why is there any reason to believe that massive amounts of additional aid be used any differently and more constructively?

Power also showed her animus toward Israel in another instance, appearing to argue with the New York Times for more negative coverage of Israel in the paper.  As Noah Pollak writes: 

"Martin Kramer points us to an interesting quote from the 2003 book Ethnic Violence and Justice, in which Samantha Power, one of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisers, asks a question of David Rohde, a reporter who covered the intifada for the New York Times. The quote is as follows:
Samantha Power: I have a question for David about working for the New York Times. I was struck by a headline that accompanied a news story on the publication of the Human Rights Watch report. The headline was, I believe: "Human Rights Report Finds Massacre Did Not Occur in Jenin." The second paragraph said, "Oh, but lots of war crimes did." Why wouldn't they make the war crimes the headline and the non-massacre the second paragraph?

(The article to which Power refers is here, and its headline is: "MIDEAST TURMOIL: INQUIRY; Rights Group Doubts Mass Deaths in Jenin, but Sees Signs of War Crimes." Obviously, Power has misremembered the headline.)

Here we have another window into the thinking of Power: Israel is accused in sensational press reports of a massacre in Jenin, and is subjected to severe international condemnation; Human Rights Watch finally gets out a report and says there was no massacre; the NYT reports this as its headline; and Power thinks the headline still should have been: Israel guilty of war crimes!"


Revelations regarding Power's views of Israel can be found in her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira De Mello and the Fight to Save the World, a biography of the UN official killed in Baghdad in a 2003 terrorist bombing.  A series of terrorist attacks emanating from the mini-terror state created in Southern Lebanon by the PLO had led to an Israeli occupation of the southern portion of Lebanon. The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon had been inserted to quell the conflict, but was proving ineffectual. Israeli forces remained in place.

Power wrote:

" Israeli forces refused to comply with the spirit of international demands to withdraw and the major powers on the Security Council were not prepared to deal with the gnarly issues that had sparked the Israelis invasion in the first place: dispossessed Palestinians and Israeli insecurity".
The "spirit of international demands" to withdraw? Aside from wondering what that means and the enforceability of such a spirit, how about that phrase "dispossessed Palestinians and Israeli insecurity"? The dispossessed Palestinians had left Palestine mostly at the behest of calls by their Arab brethren to step out of the way as armed forces invaded Israel upon its founding. They and their descendants were denied rights by Lebanon and were unable to assimilate -- unlike the 600,000 Jews who were stripped of their possessions in Arab lands and whom Israel welcomed. The term "Israeli insecurity" makes it seem as if the Israelis were suffering from an emotional or psychological condition. In fact, it was not insecurity, per se, that the Israelis suffered from. It was Palestinian terrorism that the Lebanese government refused to prevent.

There is more from Ms. Power. Israel warned UNIFIL of its upcoming move into Southern Lebanon. Power talked of this move as a "ploy" and then wrote of "humiliation" that was to come as Israel ignored UN efforts to stop them. She wrote:

"Israel had thumbed its nose at the Security Council resolutions that demanded that Israel stay out of Lebanon, and in the course of invading a neighbor, its forces had trampled on the UN peacekeepers in its way".

She quotes the subject of her book -- really a hagiography -- calling the Israelis "bastards". She writes that the degradations suffered by UNIFIL before the Israeli invasion was felt far worse after the Israelis came into Lebanon. She writes that the Israeli authorities "threatened the peacekeepers and regularly denigrated them".

And now she is a senior foreign policy adviser to Presidential candidate Barack Obama, as well as occupying the Anna Lindh Professorship of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy  How appropriate: Anna Lindh, the late Swedish Foreign Minister, was a dedicated  opponent of Israel 

Questions also remain about Malley and Brzezinski.

News reports as recently as February 15th continue to indicate that Robert Malley is an Obama adviser and a Middle East adviser. An article by the Jewish Telegraph Agency on that date, stated that Malley "advises" Barack Obama . The Forward on the same day identified Malley as, "One of the experts who advised Barack Obama's campaign on Middle East issues" (recall the Peretz quote from above).  Haaretz this past weekend also identified Malley as an adviser. It strains credulity to imagine that Robert Malley not offering his views on the Middle East and Israel, in particular, since those are the areas that have been the basis of his career. How does that square with Obama supporters who have recently claimed in the wake of controversy that Malley "is not and has never been a Middle East adviser to Barack Obama"  On what other topic would Malley be offering advice to the candidate?

Furthermore, if the role of Zbigniew Brzezinski is limited to only the Iraq issue, that would be a surprise to anyone familiar with the man and with his career. Brzezinski is one of the grand old men of the foreign policy establishment. After all, he is a former National Security Adviser, not merely an Iraq or Middle East specialist. Would he limit himself just to one nation and one issue, particularly since he has shown over the last thirty years an obsession with Israel, and an unhealthy one at that?

Even if his portfolio were limited to Iraq, it is hard to disentangle actions taken with respect to Iraq and the effect those actions may have on other nations in the region. For example, one would like to know the role Brzezinski may have had in Senator Obama's decision to pass on the vote to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRG) as a terror group and then to criticize those who voted to do so. On the one hand, by appeasing Iran this may make the ground a bit more stable in Iraq (at least temporarily). On the other hand, the IRG is responsible for the deaths of many innocent people around the world-Iraqis, Americans, Argentineans, Israelis.

The IRG is the force behind Hezb'allah. Furthermore, if President Obama were to remove forces precipitously from Iraq, far greater instability might result and this could have dire implications for the entire region. So too, Brzezinski, on a well-publicized trip to Damascus this week, made statements  about the US and Syria having common interests in stability. This flies in the face of Syria's destabilizing role in Lebanon, Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories.  Given Brzezinski's well-advertised role as an Obama adviser, would it be hard for the Syrians to read his statements as indicating that Obama wants to make "nice" to them, and may be willing to overlook their hostility to American policy objectives in the region?. 

.  .  .  .  .  . .  .   .   .

We believe that there are serious questions about Senator Obama's foreign policy team that remain unanswered. Among them:

  • The campaign  should clarify the role of Samantha Power?  Does Senator Obama share her views -- and those of George Soros and Zbigniew Brzezinski -- that American supporters of Israel should be sidelined-at best in the foreign policy discussion?
  • Since there are conflicting accounts regarding Robert Malley with the latest accounts-February 15th-indicating he is a Middle East adviser, can the campaign please issue public statements that clearly disassociates Senator Obama from Malley?
  • Will Malley, Brzezinski, or Power have roles in a future Barack Obama Administration? What kind of role?
  • How were these members brought to the attention of Senator Obama? What sort of vetting process took place since at least two of them (Brzezinski and Malley) are well-known for being problematic at best regarding Israel and the America-Israel relationship?
  • Who will be Obama's choices, if elected President, to be Middle East envoys? This question should be asked of all candidates.

Since this controversy over Obama's advisors has erupted, many people have expressed concern regarding Senator Obama's foreign policy team. Clearly, the issue resonates with people. We personally know and respect many Obama supporters. We all wish for the same ideal -- a strong and prosperous America that is willing to support and strengthen our allies, including Israel.

Instead of relying on emails distributed through supporters or leaks to a few selected reporters, it might be better  for Senator Obama himself to speak up on the issue of his advisers: to clearly, firmly and publicly announce the roles of his foreign policy advisers and to indicate who might occupy these roles in a President Obama administration.

Richard Baehr is political director and Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.
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