The Rise of Samantha Power and the risks for the American- Israel relationship
As stories leak out regarding who was responsible for Barack Obama's sudden pivot from passivity regarding Libya towards military engagement (albeit with England and France being in the lead) one name has emerged as playing a key role in persuading him to push the button: Samantha Power.
Her influence might cause qualms among supporters of the American-Israel relationship. As has been covered by American Thinker and others (notably Noah Pollak in Commentary Contentions, among them), Power has been critical of the strength of this friendship and alliance. This concern should be now be heightened. Not only has she emerged as a key player in foreign policy but the rationale that was used to justify American actions towards Libya can be used by other nations - if not the United States - to justify more active involvement in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Power was Barack Obama's most influential foreign policy adviser during the campaign; they go back years and are basketball and Blackberry buddies. Any influence she has would not be good for the American-Israel relationship-for reasons outlined here and here (where she said this regarding problems Barack Obama had during the campaign; "So much of it is about: Is he good for the Jews?").
Power may also have played a role in the granting of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, a person with a checkered record regarding actions towards Israel.
She now serves on the National Security Council. Foreign-policy making in this administration has been opaque at best. But one dynamic that has been now made clear is that Power has emerged as a key player.
From John Podhoretz's column in the New York Post:
The Tuesday-evening meeting at the White House at which the president decided to move on Libya was "extremely contentious," according to a report in Josh Rogin's excellent blog, The Cable.
Power and a few others took the position that the United States couldn't stay on the sidelines as Moammar Khadafy murdered his own people and snuffed out the people-power revolt in the Middle East in its infancy.
They were opposed by Power's own boss, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
But apparently, Samantha Power and Hillary Clinton persuaded Barack Obama to act. The rationale they used that led to military can come back to haunt friends of Israel's.
Again, from Podhoretz:
According to Rogin, the governing doctrine that helped Obama to make his decision to act was not an appeal to the national interest, but rather to a recent concept promulgated at the United Nations called "responsibility to protect," or R2P.
R2P is an effort to create a new international moral standard to prevent violence against civilians.
In her career as a genocide expert, Power was an indefatigable proponent of R2P, and now on the National Security Council has been "trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward." Hillary is her ally in this effort, it appears.
So it was not an appeal to our national interest that led President Obama to act but rather a new concept circulating in international policy circles - and one actively promoted by Power - that prompted his shift.
(By the way, the fact that Power played a key role in persuading Barack Obama to apply military force to protect civilians in Libya is akin to the same advice she counseled regarding Israel: Power also advocated that America send armed military forces, "a mammoth protection force" and an "external intervention", to impose a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians).
But there are other problems inherent in the concept of R2P (how easy that must be to tap out on Blackberrys) and with the precedent that has now been established that allows international intervention.
It is not hard to envision that this R2P concept, swirling through the United Nations and in international foreign policy circles, can one day be applied against Israel when that nation is forced to respond from attacks coming from the West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon. Terrorists hide behind civilians; Israeli actions to defend themselves often happen in densely populated areas where civilian deaths are almost inevitable - despite all the precautions Israel takes to prevent them.
Power's promotion of the R2P concept is not a surprise. Barack Obama's adoption of the same concept should be cause for concern. A Pandora's Box may have just been opened. Power's emergence as a key playe, and her influence over the President, who already is inclined to outsource American foreign policy to the "international community," should heighten this concern.
Just one more reason to try to keep track of the role and influence that Samantha Power has in the Oval Office. If Hillary Clinton decides to resign as Secretary of State (she has already declared she will not serve in a second term) there will be a reshuffling of positions of power (Susan Rice, Samantha Power, etc) and there is no telling who may end up moving closer to the center of power.UPDATE:
The always astute Omri Ceren has more regarding the R2P concept over at Commentary Contentions. He notes that there is a bit of history regarding the concept's application to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. There was a group created in 2009, the International Coalition For The Responsibility To Protect, that has spoken out against Israel, notably during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The Coalition released this statement:
The recent escalation of violence in Gaza has raised serious questions about the use of the Responsibility to Protect to urge international action to protect civilians in the conflict. The Responsibility to Protect has been referred to, notably by Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also others who claim that crimes committed in Gaza by Israeli forces have reached the threshold of R2P crimes.
This is part and parcel of the statements that the ICRtoP has been publishing since it was established in the immediate aftermath of Cast Lead. They published a petition absurdly insisting that "the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not... amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence." They passed along Richard Falk's "Israelis could be charged with war crimes" lawfare spin on the Goldstone Report. They reprinted other articles accusing Israelis of war crimes here and here and here and here and here. All of this was under the umbrella of "evaluating" whether R2P should be brought to bear against Israel's self-defense campaigns.
The Responsibility To Protect, in other words, is an international norm that has been incubated with eyes on Israel at least since Cast Lead.
Now Samantha Power has seemingly slipped this concept into the mind and policies of Barack Obama. Once these international "concepts" are formed and promoted they often transform from mere intellectual ideas into the basis of international policy.
Israel should be worried.
Update II:One more clue to Power being the promoter of the R2P concept within the Obama administration is her history. She opened a symposium put on the by the International Coalition for The Responsibility To Protect (ICR2P) as recently as November, 2010, with a keynote address. Furthermore, Sergio Vieira, was an international diplomat who pioneered the concept of the "responsibility to protect." Vieira was later killed in a suicide bombing attack in Iraq. Power wrote an admiring biography (if not a hagiography) of Vieira a few years ago that noted his role in developing and promoting that concept.
Concepts become norms and, in the wrong hands, norms can become weapons.