QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JERRY FOWLER: As I mentioned before, you have the index cards, and colleagues have been going down the aisle to pick up your questions, and while they are doing that, first let me just thank you. That was wonderful.
SAMANTHA POWER: How do you still take notes when you have been to so many of my talks?
JERRY FOWLER: Well, not to shamelessly pander, but you always say something new. One thing I just want to start with--and I think you were kind of leading into this--but on the issue of Darfur, we have an op-ed piece in The New York Times on April 17 which I think in some ways had a very galvanizing impact--it was April 17 or shortly before that--and you had some very specific, concrete steps in the toolbox that could be used in Sudan, and I was wondering if you could just elaborate on those.
SAMANTHA POWER: Let me just say that the guilt that exists around Rwanda is felt very exploitable for a single reason. It is as if we couldn’t really talk or have a series of discussions about what to do about Darfur or any other genocide until April 1, 2004, until we hit the ten-year anniversary slot. Then, once we rolled into the following week and were already on April 10--maybe we had all of April--but there was an amazing kind of moment where, because of all of the requisite regrets--and I should say actually sincerely felt in a lot of quarters--there was this moment, so that is the moment in which the piece on Sudan ran, and just because it happened to coincide. I knew that President Bush and the Secretary-General were each making speeches the next day, so it just seemed if you had something in the paper, a record that said remember Rwanda, but take action in Sudan, that it would be just a little bit harder to make that speech without a nod to Darfur. Maybe it had some effect. Other things were happening other sectors, and there were a lot of pressure points.
One of the things--and this gets to the point that I made about non-American actors--is that we do have an International Criminal Court now. We don’t know much about it, because John Bolton said that the day that he applied White-Out to the American signature was the happiest day in his life. So we aren’t a participant in a way in the processes there, but you already had two investigations under way, one for Congo and one for Uganda, both of them referrals to the Court that had come about by the states of Congo and Uganda. But there is another way that a case can get referred and an investigation can begin, and that is that the Security Council could refer it. Now, this is obviously going to be very tough to do given U.S. opposition to the Court, but given that the Bush administration has come out in front in terms of moral rhetoric when it comes to Darfur, I think it will just be that much harder for them to say no to a resolution that had the support of the other members of the Council. Again, it’s going to be hard to get by Russia and China and others as well.
I proposed 10,000 peacekeepers on the grounds--not that it would take that many actually to disarm the Janjaweit, the horsemen militia, these nomads who are responsible for much of the pain on the ground, but because you actually have a million refugees now already displaced just in the last months who have no homes to go back to and who are in some cases gathered in displaced persons camps that have been set up, to which humanitarian access is very limited, but in many cases are just kind of sprinkled throughout a country the size of France.
Part of the idea of the number -- and people like John Pendergrast who is here and will be at the conference tomorrow, can give you more specifics operationally about how something like that would work -- is to create an escort service in effect as well as a disarmament force.
One thing I didn’t mention in my talk is how important I think it is prospectively, ahead of a particular case of atrocities, for us to strengthen our capacity to do infrastructure rebuilding. The world, the international community -- and I hate the phrase--but the world needs an infrastructure corps, a military police corps, probably a judicial rule of law type of corps. It’s not just a standing army that we’re missing. As Iraq shows, we as a community, not just the United States, but we have learned lessons again and again and we are forever going begging hat in hand. But Darfur provides an opportunity as well as a challenge, because we know that the homes have been destroyed. So to go in and say, “We’re going to disarm the Janjaweed” and not say, “And this is what we’re going to do for the people in the meantime,” again is quite simply a mistake.
This illustration has tremendous leverage because it was on the verge, or it looked like it was on the verge, of lifting some of the major sanctions against Sudan. The Sudanese Government is desperate to see those sanctions lifted. My feeling was just as the Bush Administration revealed its leverage in the North-South peace process and as it revealed its leverage the day after my op-end, when Bush issued this denunciation of what was happening in Darfur, and then within a couple of days, you actually had the ceasefire declared. When there was a sense that the good guys are watching, there does tend to be more movement in terms of peace processes. That ceasefire has since crumbled as attention shifted back away from Darfur because the anniversary was over, and that was that.
We should be thinking about what we are still capable of doing bilaterally, whether it is Powell going to the Chad-Sudan border and making a statement just by showing up and taking a more prominent leadership role in the peace process, or Bush calling Bashir more than once to urge compliance in the disarmament of Janjaweed and so on. There is so much that can be done--but again, we’re not close. We’re doing all this, but just not that last thing. We have made a couple statements, and there are people working fiercely hard to get through to the people who are under siege, but without the political clout and the cutting of the red tape that has to come from above, the people will continue to be in need.
JERRY FOWLER: I just have one follow-up that I want to ask quickly, because I want to get to the cards.
SAMANTHA POWER: Yes--it’s like asking me to become a Yankee fan--to answer a question quickly.
JERRY FOWLER: It can’t be that hard. You referred to the fact that there was a little bit of pressure, and there was a ceasefire agreed to, and that kind of relieved the pressure, and then there was immediately backsliding on the ceasefire on the part of the Government of Sudan. Isn’t it always going to be the case that the perpetrators of these kinds of things are going to be much more implacable and willing to give a little inch and then take it back, on the one hand, that our attention is always going to fade, that we just can’t maintain the attention?
SAMANTHA POWER: We’ll make it work. Yes, that’s the challenge, but--
JERRY FOWLER: I was hoping you would have some--
SAMANTHA POWER: It’s difficult to sustain it. But the New York Times is there today with beautiful color photos. Finally they have a journalist in there, not just at the border--and he’ll leave. He’s got all of East Africa as his beat, but I’m sure he has ten countries, and he’ll be in and he’ll be out. The question is whether cumulatively, there can be a steady presence like Bosnia. You see the difference, and again, it took four years to get intervention in Bosnia and the atrocities stopped, but remember in Bosnia--I was a journalist over there at the time and always had a place to write because people were interested--you opened up the New York Times --it wasn’t always on the cover--but you’d have two full pages of coverage on Bosnia every day plus a little box that said here is the country, and here is the ethnic breakdown, for the people who were coming late. Would that a country in Africa could command that kind of column inches. That is part of the challenge -- and getting television in, the Sudanese Government has been very smart about keeping the cameras out.
JERRY FOWLER: One thing I should just add about sticking with these things is we have done programs on Darfur here, and we are going to continue to do them. The way that you can keep up with what we do is on our website, which is www.committeeonconscience.org. You can sign up for the newsletter that we have. At least from our perspective in terms of keeping focusing on this issue, it is only the beginning.
This is from the audience: “You have been called a liberalist idealist or a liberal hawk. Do you agree with this label, and how is it different from a conservative idealist?”
SAMANTHA POWER: I like to think of myself as an “idealistic realist” or a “realistic idealist,” so “liberal idealist” is sort of a bad combination that seems to sort of equate to Utopian. But how does it differ--how would I differ, let’s say, from Richard Pearl, who also favors intervention in Bosnia? How do I differ from Richard Pearl?
JERRY FOWLER: Well, he is not one of Time’s 100 Most Influential.
SAMANTHA POWER: Right. I think he has revealed his influence in more ways than one. One of the things that we might have in common would be a kind of belief in certain universals. But my list of universals would be smaller and wouldn’t have in it anything to do with the free market necessarily or the required economic model to be imposed within days of liberation.
It would be a short list. It would be about, basically, a right and a need to be free of torture and a right to be free of genocide and atrocity and systematic targeting. It would involve a commitment to the broader purpose of civil and political rights, freedom of association and speech and so on. But it wouldn’t believe that anything but the most basic kind of core rights and entitlements could be achieved by military groups. It would have a basic aversion to military power except under the most unusual circumstances, of which I think genocide is one of those very, very rare circumstances so that triggers for--it’s a very broad camp--but the triggers would be much more numerous than mine, which would be very careful.
But also, I think crucially--I use Richard Pearl as an example because you have conservative isolationists and conservative interventionists, and I’m taking the interventionist model and the one that speaks to universal values as the kind of straw man--but if you care about the principles at stake, namely, stopping genocide, it doesn’t actually matter to you that much, apart from the pragmatic considerations, who the intervenor is. And there would be circumstances, for instance, even if we’re not talking about genocide, if we’re talking about human rights intervention, diplomatic intervention, where the United States is the least ideal lead actor. By “intervention,” I mean small ones, so intervening to try to ensure that the government releases a political prisoner or whatever--if you are for those things, it doesn’t mean that the United States is the best actor. I think that’s where suppose a liberal idealist or a realistic idealist or an idealistic realist would think about working through international institutions and strengthening them while also not believing that they are in their current form equipped to do a lot of the hard work that is needed.
I think it’s a great question, and one of the things that was troubling about the timing of my book is that it was used because it documents Saddam’s horrors against the Kurds, to justify a unilateral war that I didn’t think had much to do, at least initially, with Saddam’s genocide. And now, of course, it has to be about that because there’s nothing left among the arguments to go to war. But it was troubling to put it out there and then it’s going to get used as it gets used. This is a war that for me, interestingly, did make Iraq eventually a more humane place, but I just thought it would make the world so much more dangerous that ultimately, in the cost-benefit analysis that is required before we even contemplate using force, I had sort of cut against it. So that would be another grounds of divergence.
JERRY FOWLER: I didn’t promise you softballs.
SAMANTHA POWER: Go on.
JERRY FOWLER: We play hardball down here. This follows up what you’re saying about using international mechanisms, and there are three questions that I’ll need to ball into one. One starts out by saying--I think this is going toward what you were saying about the International Criminal Court, which the United States has been very hostile toward--the question is: “In recent months in the U.S., we have seen a politicization of the international organizations, including the UN and the ICJ. Is it not legitimate to be concerned about the politicization and misuse of the International Criminal Court?” And I think this person felt bad about asking a hard question because he says, “P.S., I like the award idea.”
The ICC is one thing and the politicization, and then, these other two questions were recognizing the fact that today --I think it actually happened yesterday-- it was reported that the government of Sudan was allowed to take a seat in the UN Human Rights Commission for next year. They were actually selected by the African group, so--
SAMANTHA POWER: Yes, and Iraq ran the Disarmament Commission last year, just for the record.
JERRY FOWLER: Right. The question is: ?What message does this send to the perpetrators in Khartoum?? And then, kind of the third of this trifecta: ?In the case of Darfur, what has been the response of the Arab League??
SAMANTHA POWER: Yes, it is a colossal concern. It is the misfortune of international institutions and the reason for the legitimacy of international institutions in the eyes of many around the world that they are representative of the countries that exist and that trouble us in the world. So some of this is structural. When you have institutions that literally unfortunately have to reach “I” in the alphabet in terms of rotating seats, you are going to get, with the exception of Iceland, a pretty grim stint of countries that are going to be either despised or themselves despising of a lot of these principles.
It is difficult. When you are rotating seats, as happens, that is difficult. A lot of what has happened lately is you have positions where you are elected, and here is where the point I made about legitimacy comes in. The only way that this politicization--I can’t say it will ever be cured, but maybe ameliorated--is when there is a greater sense of equality and partnership, which doesn’t mean equality of power, but equality of voice and less of a sense of bullying or always being the recipient of foreign policy that you have no control over.
From the standpoint of these countries, this is the only place they get to be equal anywhere, on any plane, economic, cultural, or military. This isn’t to excuse them. God knows, many of the people you’re talking about are grave human rights abusers. So the question is which part of anti-Americanism is curable, and which part is structural and simply the product of disproportionate power in these kinds of spheres.
The Bush Administration will tell you that most of that is the product, as Bush has said, of what we have. He says they hate us for who we are, they hate that we have, literally, he said, freedom, music, laughter--children, he even said. They are somehow getting older without going through the children phase. But this is truly a belief that we are hated because of who we are and not because of what we do. I believe that there is, not in the quote, but structurally, something to that, that some of this anti-Americanism is because of disproportionate power--but a lot of it is because of concrete decisions that have been made in terms of global impact.
In these institutions, if we have any chance of really making these forces kind of subsidize and marginalizing them, it will happen by working within institutions, not thumbing our nose at them and then showing up and wanting a resolution. This is what we did. Especially we should be working through the ICC. There are enough prophylactics and checks built into the process which enable the court martial procedure to take hold first and thereby preempting ICC [inaudible] of investing in that Court, so that if we do the work in Sudan and other places with U.S. forces, we certainly don’t want to be [inaudible] the atrocities in the first place, but that those checks are sufficient to warrant at least not gratuitous [inaudible], but to warrant at least kind of wishing the Court well even with reasons of a domestic constituency that doesn’t yet want outright [inaudible].
JERRY FOWLER: Okay, we’re coming to the end of the time that we have, and Samantha was very gracious to come down here in the middle of her teaching semester. I want to end up with what I think is a softball, but it’s a very important question and one that people ask me and that I think is relevant to all of us. In the face of all the research, and in the fact of what you have witnessed first-hand, and in the face of what is happening in Darfur, how do you hang on to hope?
SAMANTHA POWER: Well, I spend time with people who are just not ever stopping working. So in this town, I spend time with people like Holly Burkhalter or my old boss, Morton Abramowitz. I feel like we’re so lucky because the people I meet who read my book who really want to help, probably like many of you, feel so voiceless and want to do something and feel like, having heard what’s going on in Darfur, am I really just going to call my Congressman?
For me, if it’s a personal question, if it’s not a general question, I feel like I am so lucky because I at least get to delude myself every day into believing I’m doing something, which took a while to get into that position. There’s nothing worse than being up close to these atrocities and not being able to get your phone calls returned and not being able to get your piece to run in the paper and so on.
Especially now, I just feel like I can--it’s almost like busy work to just keep pushing forward. But it is amazing, even within the structures that rightly--I’m just looking through the questions that we won’t get to but that come under criticism, understandably--but the number of people who want to find the way and who may, because of institutional insecurity or personal insecurity or fear or weakness, perhaps, but who get impeded, but who are there and kind of--I just feel like always on the verge. Edmund Burke talked about “necessary fictions” that one needs to get through life--perhaps my “necessary fiction” is that we’re always just this close to turning it around. But you do meet people who make you believe that for every militant unilateralist in the current administration, you’ll find cringing people who actually thought that there was something in the UN Charter worth trying to reform. For every person who will tell you that a Rwandan life isn’t worth 75,000 Americans--which was the calculation done on the back of a napkin somewhere in the Pentagon during the planning--you’ll meet or hear about an Mbaye Diagne, somebody who gives his life for the cause of rescue. I think it’s just that you try to find your allies in the people that you aspire to be like, and that’s where hope comes from.
JERRY FOWLER: The only thing I would add to that is that when you walk outside this Museum, you can look across the Tidal Basin and see the Jefferson Memorial, and on the walls there is written: “All men are created equal.” And it took us 100 years to get rid of slavery and another 100 years to get rid of Jim Crow and legalized discrimination. Making these principles reality takes time, but we can, and we have historical proof that we can.
Samantha, thank you very much for coming.