The Magazine

Samantha Power, Cuban humor, etc.

Mar 17, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 26
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Power Outage

Samantha Power last week completed what might have been the most ill-starred book tour since the invention of movable type. A Harvard professor and foreign policy writer who won a Pulitzer for her 2003 study of genocides, A Problem from Hell, Power is a card-carrying member of the Obamaphile elite--she plays basketball with George Clooney and claims that Sen. Obama sometimes text-messages her in the middle of the night. She arrived in the U.K. last week looking to promote her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. (Vieira de Mello was the acclaimed top U.N. bureaucrat killed in the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003.)

On Monday, March 3, Power appeared on BBC radio and said that Obama, whom she had been advising, might be interested in doing some population relocation in Iraq. She said that such a course of action would be regrettable, but might be necessary, admitting that "moving potentially people from mixed neighborhoods to homogenous neighborhoods [is] tragic. .  .  . It's the equivalent of facilitating ethnic cleansing, which is terrible."

A week that began with her equating one of her candidate's mullings with ethnic cleansing only deteriorated from there. That same day, she sat for an interview with the New Statesman, telling the left-wing weekly that Obama was like Vieira de Mello in his "willingness to talk to dictators" (the magazine's phrase). Of the latter, she admitted, "In his relationship with evil, he almost got a little seduced."

On Thursday, Power appeared on the BBC TV show Hardtalk, where she tried to explain that Obama's commitment to withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq in 16 months is really just a "best-case scenario" (her words). Agog, the host asked, "So what the American public thinks is a commitment to get combat forces out in 16 months isn't a commitment?"

Power, who perhaps hadn't yet read the New Statesman's write-up of her interview ("Dissembling does not come at all easily to her, and if she is to be part of an Obama White House she will have to learn to deliver the odd fib more persuasively") responded: "You can't make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he's crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan--an operational plan--that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn't have daily access now, as a result of not being the president."

Later that day, the Scotsman published an interview with Power in which she called Hillary Clinton "a monster." It hardly seemed fair--to Power, that is. During the course of her Scotsman interview Power said, in words reproduced verbatim by the paper: "She is a monster, too--that is off the record--she is stooping to anything. .  .  . You just look at her and think, 'Ergh.' " (The Scotsman was dishonorable in publishing this all-too-honest assessment clearly not meant for public consumption, but who at this late date expects honorable treatment from the U.K. media? The Harvard faculty isn't what it used to be.)

By that point the karmic snowball was rolling so fast, there was no stopping it. Soon, Power was taking cheap shots at Condoleezza Rice ("I'm nothing like her. I don't have any conventional political ambition") and insulting the British prime minister, telling the Telegraph, "I am confused by what's happened to Gordon Brown. I thought he was impressive." So much for a new spirit of cooperation with allies.

A few hours later, the Obama campaign put Power out to pasture. It is telling that both Power and the campaign indicated it was her remark about Clinton--not any of the other missteps--that did her in. In that way, Power's very bad book tour told us as much about Obama as it did about her.

Coming of Age in Samoa

In a crass suck-up to the Communist leadership in Beijing, the Bush administration has spent the last several months complaining about the decision of the Taiwanese government to hold a referendum on joining the U.N. under the name of "Taiwan." (THE SCRAPBOOK wonders why anyone would want to join the U.N. under any name, but that's for another day.) What's been lost sight of in the midst of this ridiculous posturing by the administration is the fact that, on March 22, Taiwan will be holding its fourth free and competitive presidential election. No small feat for a little country sitting in the shadow of a huge neighbor that openly and daily threatens it with an arsenal of more than a thousand missiles pointed its way.