Samantha Power made her name as a reporter on genocide. After working as a freelance reporter in Bosnia, she penned her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell, that castigated the American response to genocide in places like Rwanda. Clinton administration officials were too willing to turn a blind eye. Few were willing to undercut career trajectories or put ambition aside to address the issue. Most simply continued with their climb up the Washington ladder, hoping that the problem would go away. Alas, it never does.
Fast-forward a couple decades: Power created and chaired the Atrocity Prevention Board, a body that, alas, seems to be more symbolic than real; it certainly has no success to its name. The administration to which Power has dedicated herself these past five years has sat aloof as a small civil conflict in Syria accelerated and transformed into one of this century’s cruelest conflicts. Power seemed to imply as much when she gave pointed remarks during a ceremony at the U.S. Holocaust Museum on April 30. “And to those who would argue that a Head of State or government has to choose only between doing nothing and sending in the military,” she declared, “I maintain that is a constructed and false choice, an accompaniment only to disengagement and passivity.”
How sad it is that Power has apparently come to personify all she once condemned: She is happy to posture and to preach, but wholly unable or unwilling to sacrifice her ambition. She sees herself as a future secretary of state and so doesn’t want to make waves, or at least big waves. But if ethnic cleansing reaches genocidal levels in Syria, that’s just the price that will have to be paid.
What Power doesn’t recognize, if she truly cares about principle and hasn’t cynically exploited it all along, is that if she were to resign she might not only bring the spotlight to problem about which she professes such concern, but might also force her commander in chief’s hand in a way that she hasn’t been able to do in any Cabinet meeting. Indeed, it might actually augment her cache among the progressive left and, frankly, among the right as well. I wouldn’t hold my breath, however. Rather than a model for principle, Power seems to personify why the American response to genocide has always been so weak.