When Samantha Power demanded to know at a meeting of the Security Council yesterday whether Russia, Iran and the Syrian government were “incapable of shame,” America’s United Nations ambassador crystallized the horror of the world about the siege of Aleppo, in which the Assad regime and its foreign allies are committing unspeakable atrocities against civilians. But her question could be just as easily posed to her boss, President Obama. If those carrying out the slaughter in Syria are unimpressed by her eloquence, it is because they know they would not be in a position to wipe out Aleppo were it not for Obama’s acquiescence to their actions.

Power’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, outlined the “responsibility to protect” doctrine, or R2P, in which she put forward the idea that the world had an obligation to step in to prevent the kind of mass murder that was committed in the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda. The fame that followed its publication led eventually to a post on Barack Obama’s Senate staff, then to his National Security Council and finally to the UN.

The ascension of Power to high office was, in theory, an opportunity to put into practice the R2P principle that she had championed. But yesterday’s speech was a requiem for R2P. Obama and Power have not merely flopped on the world stage; the catastrophe of Libya and the subsequent refusal to act on Syria as the worst human rights disaster of the 21st century unfolded has completely discredited a doctrine that was never even implemented.

We need not rehearse the chaos that followed the decision of the West to intervene in Libya to prevent the Qaddafi regime from committing mass murder. Suffice it to say that the lack of planning for the aftermath of the dictator’s overthrow (the mistake liberals chided the George W. Bush administration for making in Iraq) and President Obama’s “lead from behind” strategy resulted in a disaster still spiraling downward today.

Obama’s indecision following the outbreak of civil unrest in Syria—coupled with feckless calls for Bashar Assad to leave that went unheeded—led to a situation where good options were not available. Yet when Obama spoke of a “red line” in which the West would be forced to act if Assad used chemical weapons on his people, he had an opportunity to reestablish R2P and salvage something from the Syrian mess. Obama then retreated, embarrassingly, from that stand. Even worse, it led to him punting the problem to the Russians. Obama claimed Moscow had solved the problem in cooperation with Assad but the Syrians continue to use chemical weapons and Vladimir Putin used this opening to justify become an active player in the civil war. Though the Russians claim to be cooperating with the U.S. in fighting ISIS, their only goal was, in cooperation with Iran and their Hezbollah auxiliaries, to ensure Assad’s survival and, to re-establish the old Soviet empire.

To that end, the pro-Assad coalition has, with tacit U.S. acquiescence, launched a campaign that has led mass atrocities in Aleppo going on in full view of the world. Hundreds of thousands have died and millions have been made refugees in a war that has effectively depopulated Syria.

Power came into government to help ensure that the U.S. would never again be silent in the face of mass slaughter. The administration she served has not only failed to act, it has actively assisted in the worsening of an already terrible situation in Syria and paved the way for a successor who does not even pay lip service to “responsibility to protect.” Samantha Power and the president she served have made future genocides more likely.

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link