Every President needs a hard headed idealist inside the National Security Council who can get things done in tight situations. The idealism allows this kind of individual to ignore the day to day complexities of the West Wing in order to pursue a wider goal. The hard headedness helps to clear the way when the sharp elbows of the bureaucracy start flying.
In a liberal Administration like that of Obama, the task has fallen to a new kind of figure, the “human rights hawk” Samantha Power. Power, a journalist who also got a law degree and began teaching at Harvard, struck up a friendship with Obama while he was in the Senate and then secured an appointment to the NSC in the new Administration, despite a campaign gaffe when she attacked Hillary Clinton. The New York Times and Fox both report Power has played a key role in the internal debate leading to the US-led attack on Libya this weekend.
Power initially rose to fame after publishing an emotional account of the failure of the international community to respond to the Rwandan genocide. A key role in that genocide was played by France which backed the genocidal regime, including providing them military advice, yet that has not stopped Power from helping the Obama regime work closely with France now to intervene to take control of the unfolding democratic revolution in the middle east and north Africa (“MENA”). Has France changed its opportunistic approach to African politics? Of course not. And neither has the United States.
Power’s lesson though from the Rwandan catastrophe was that the place to help the peoples of the developing world was in the inner halls of power in the one regime whose global neo-liberal agenda has done so much to harm Africa and many other countries in the world in the wake of the end of the Cold War.
Once again, the argument is couched in terms of human rights. With Qaddafi, Power has found a devil everyone can agree to hate. Thus, the US has found its entry point to the MENA revolutionary situation and it can now attempt to take the momentum out of the hands of the people of the region themselves. Power then is at the top of the heap of a generation of so-called “human rights” activists who have chosen to cozy up to power, no pun intended, in the naive view that the human rights agenda can be promoted through the barrel of a (US) gun, or, in the case of Libya, on the nose of a Tomahawk missile shot from a submarine in Mediterranean Sea.
Another road was possible, first, because it was not clear that the Libyan revolutionary movement itself could not have survived the Qaddafi assault. There were reports that inside Tripoli itself widespread dissent is still expressed and it may have been the case that Qaddafi was about to over extend himself. No doubt there would be casualties but there is as much chance now that the regime will turn its attention to solidifying its hold on Tripoli through harsh repression in order to survive this attack by the Big Powers.
Second, there were reports of Egyptian military assistance to the rebels. Had this been broadened it might have helped turn the tide. There are a million or more Egyptians inside Libya and there are more than a million Egyptians under arms, well equipped by the West by the way over many years, who could have come to the aid of their Libyan brethren. This offered the hope of extending and strengthening the MENA revolution and leading to genuine independence for the region from the “global community” that has only brought torture, repression and neo-liberal structural adjustment to the region for the last twenty years.
In fact, it might have been the case that the US’s fear of a regional democratic solution that would finally and definitively exclude the Big Powers from influencing the MENA revolution was precisely what sparked the turn inside the Obama regime to an attack. No wonder John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been thumping for intervention. Power and the other “human rights hawks” should ask themselves who is really calling the tune in this situation.