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Hullabaloo


Friday, December 29, 2006

 

Matchmaker Made In Heaven?

by poputonian

In American politics, successfully threading religion through a needle is no easy task, and Barack Obama, in my opinion, missed the eye-hole in his earlier attempts to accomplish that feat. I criticized him back in July for suggesting that young, impressionable minds are unaffected when adult authorities make them stand and perform quasi-religious pledge rituals. I still believe Obama was wrong in what he said.

However, if the Democrats want to field a candidate in 2008, some compromises will have to be made, and based on something I learned yesterday, via Matthew Yglesias, the above might be the area where I'll make mine. I'm not there yet, but peace is certainly a higher priority today than the pledge, and it was important good news yesterday to hear that Samantha Power was working with Barack Obama:

Obama Shapes an Agenda Beyond Iraq War

Key advisers in Mr. Obama's foreign policy orbit include Ms. Rice; a Pulitzer Prize-winning anti-genocide activist, Samantha Power; a national security adviser to Mr. Clinton, Anthony Lake, and Senator Obama's foreign policy staffer, Mark Lippert.

Ms. Rice, who now works at the Brookings Institution, is unabashed about her views on a potential Obama presidency. "I think he'd be excellent," she said.

However, Ms. Power, who took leave from Harvard's Kennedy School last year to work in the senator's office, may be the foreign policy specialist campaigning most publicly on Mr. Obama's behalf. During a speech last month at Northwestern University, she spoke of what a "President Obama" might do and sowed doubts about two of his potential primary opponents, Senator Clinton and the Democratic nominee in 2004, Senator Kerry of Massachusetts.

"Hillary Clinton came out about two-and-a-half, three weeks ago and endorsed the president's position on coercive interrogation techniques, not McCain's position, distinguishing herself from McCain, perhaps with 2008 in mind," Ms. Power said. She also faulted Mr. Kerry for failing, during his debates with Mr. Bush, to mention the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. A columnist for Time magazine, Joe Klein, has reported that Mr. Kerry made the decision based on focus groups his campaign conducted. "The answer came back, ‘It's not a winner politically,'" Ms. Power said.

Recall that Ms. Power was an advocate and force behind the candidacy of Wesley Clark. She was also the counterweight to a character attack made on Clark by former General Hugh Shelton, who just happened to be on John Edwards' payroll at the time. Back in 2003, I wrote the following on that topic:

Shelton's smear of Clark can be juxtaposed with something written about Clark before he entered politics. This view of Clark is given by Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of "A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide." Power is the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

In her book, written before Clark entered politics, Power credited him with saving the lives of 1.3 million Albanians. She gives a more plausible explanation for Clark's removal from Europe than Shelton does, and her opinion of Clark's character and integrity more than outweigh Shelton's.

At Clark's press conference last week upon his return from the Milosevic trial, Power introduced Clark as someone who led an intervention in genocide for the first and only time in US history. Alluding to Washington politics, she said Clark was "willing to own something that was very unfashionable at the time." She notes in her book (again, written before Clark entered politics) that this personal sacrifice caused Clark to suffer his early retirement at the hands of Washington bureaucrats.

The following excerpts from Power’s book give the details. The narrative surrounding the quotes was written by another person commenting on the book. Note especially Power's last comment on Clark's pariah status in Washington:

"General Clark is one of the heroes of Samantha Power's book. She introduces him on the second page of her chapter on Rwanda and describes his distress on learning about the genocide there and not being able to contact anyone in the Pentagon who really knew anything about it and/or about the Hutu and Tutsi. She writes, "He frantically telephoned around the Pentagon for insight into the ethnic dimension of events in Rwanda. Unfortunately, Rwanda had never been of more than marginal concern to Washington's most influential planners" (p. 330) .

He advocated multinational action of some kind to stop the genocide. "Lieutenant General Wesley Clark looked to the White House for leadership. 'The Pentagon is always going to be the last to want to intervene,' he says. 'It is up to the civilians to tell us they want to do something and we'll figure out how to do it.' But with no powerful personalities or high-ranking officials arguing forcefully for meaningful action, midlevel Pentagon officials held sway, vetoing or stalling on hesitant proposals put forward by midlevel State Department and NSC officials" (p. 373).

According to Power, General Clark was already passionate about humanitarian concerns, especially genocide, before his appointment as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces in Europe. When genocide began to occur in the Balkans, he was determined to stop it.

She details his efforts in behalf of the Dayton Peace Accords and his brilliant command of NATO forces in Kosovo. Her chapter on Kosovo ends, "The man who probably contributed more than any other individual to Milosvevic's battlefield defeat was General Wesley Clark. The NATO bombing campaign succeeded in removing brutal Serb police units from Kosovo, in ensuring the return on 1.3 million Kosovo Albanians, and in securing for Albanians the right of self-governance."

"Yet in Washington Clark was a pariah. In July 1999 he was curtly informed that he would be replaced as supreme allied commander for Europe. This forced his retirement and ended thirty-four years of distinguished service. Favoring humanitarian intervention had never been a great career move.""

So, I wonder: Who would Samantha Power like to see team up with Obama in '08? Clark and Obama held the same position on Iraq before the invasion was launched, something that could amplify nicely on the campaign trail, and both suggest that concerns for human welfare should be at the core of American foreign policy. Indeed, the world has had enough of the Republican conqueror mentality.



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