Letters to the Editor

(March 12, 2007)


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Samantha Power and the Humanitarian Brigades: Dimitri Oram's Whitewashing Western Intervention

To the Editor:

Dimitri Oram's "Whitewashing Western Intervention" (February 26), his review of Samantha Power's Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem from Hell (it received this award in the non-fiction category in 2003), merits special attention. I have often wondered why more people didn't peer behind the curtain of the Humanitarian Brigades that coalesced around issues such as the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. It was very satisfying to watch Oram do just this. Power "wants to make a case for further US intervention in the affairs of other countries and limit examination of the past," Oram writes. Her tract is an "attempt to obscure the real problem from hell: Western intervention, undertaken by the U.S. and its various imperial partners and rivals...." The success of enterprises such as A Problem from Hell -- along with Power's rise and the rise of others whose work is similarly attuned to the suffering caused by anybody but ourselves -- probably correlates in some not-too-subtle way with this fact. If, over the course of the post-World War II period (and for much longer, if we stick to events in the Western Hemisphere alone), the worst that could be said about US conduct around the world was that it observed too religiously the role of bystander to the atrocities perpetrated by others, then figures such as Samantha Power might be something more than the risible charlatans they are.

Of Power's roughly 620-page tract (in the Basic Books - 2002 edition), I suggest that readers take a look some time at the photos selected to accompany the text, as well as the names listed in Power's Acknowledgments section (pp. 589-592): Soros's $$$$$, State Department - and Beltway - insider Morton Abramowitz's connections, and Martin Peretz's New Republic figure prominently. As for the photos, the deaths of people either long ago and far away (Armenian schoolchildren who would not survive Turkey's onslaught 90 years ago (p. 4)), non-controversial cases (a Warsaw ghetto scene (p. 38), a Buchenwald camp survivor (p. 46)), or simply cases in which the victims are not directly attributable to US policies and arms, are featured. My favorite? Perhaps the one by Darko Bandic on page 414, along with this caption: "A Muslim refugee from Srebrenica who hanged herself in despair. The woman, who was in her early twenties, was found hanging by a ton blanket at the Tuzla air base on July 14, 1995." Combine the scene depicted in this photo with two later photos depicting, in turn, "A KLA soldier [presenting] a wallet containing photos of his relatives and one of President Clinton, Summer 1999" (p. 442), and, later still, "Graffiti tributes to Western leaders scrawled in Pristina by Kosovo Albanians after Serbia's surrender" (p. 473), and you are witness to the trajectory outlines by Power's tract.

And as for those many cases in US policies and arms are more or less responsible? Don't bother checking. In cases such as these, Power instructs (I've selected this passage because Power herself devotes just shy of one-third of her book to the former Yugoslavia):
As high as the death toll turned out [in Kosovo in 1999], it was far lower than if NATO had not acted at all. After years of avoiding confrontation, the United States and its allies likely saved hundreds of thousands of lives. In addition, although prospective and retrospective critics of U.S. intervention have long cited the negative side effects likely to result, the NATO campaign ushered in some very positive unintended consequences. Indicted by the UN war crimes tribunal for Serbia's atrocities in Operation Horseshoe and defeated in battle, Slobodan Milosevic became even more vulnerable at home.... (p. 472)
Passages such as these -- and there are many more just like it in Power's work -- are what led Swans' friend Edward Herman to lump Power among the "cruise-missile leftists." (See "Samantha Power and the Genocide Gambit," ZNet, May 17, 2004.)

Or take a look at the various programs, enterprises, and publications sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, where Power was the founding executive director (1998-2002), and still maintains ties. In the name of "human rights," we find that one of the specialties of the Center's current director, Sarah Sewall, is the care and nurturing of US "counterinsurgency" operations. (See "Modernizing U.S. Counterinsurgency Practice," Military Review, Sept./Oct., 2006.)

Even now I can recall a piece that Power wrote for the New Republic in the aftermath of the American military seizure of Iraq. The conquerors had already begun to meet stiff resistance on the ground. With no WMDs turning up, the last prize that might justify the invasion, Power averred, was the fact that it succeeded in ousting the former regime, and was able to ensure that its leaders were brought to "justice." (See "Unpunishable," December 29, 2003.) How's that for taking sides -- in this case, the invaders' side? Decrying the crimes of others has always been a ticket to respectability. Power isn't shy about flashing it.

My goodness. -- So much whitewash it's blinding.

David Peterson
Chicago, Illinois, USA - February 28, 2007


Indeed, why not Cindy and the Greens? Eli Beckerman's Open Letter To Cindy Sheehan

Dear Editor:

Eli Beckerman's "Open Letter to Cindy Sheehan" makes a novel proposition that raises several political issues at once. The first of these is to call attention to a true contemporary heroine, and to raise the question of why we settle for so little in choosing our leaders. Look back at the 2004 election, including the primaries. What candidate could match Cindy Sheehan for straight talk, honesty, realism, and human feeling? You wouldn't even think of those terms when speaking of someone like Kerry or Edwards. What we expect of a leader is seems to be simply experience in government and the ability to sound like a lawyer. It's as if we've given up on true leadership, and simply want to be suavely conned.

Secondly, why not the Green Party? It's had its ups and downs, but it's the strongest alternative out there, and it has all the values dear to the left. People may think they are wasting their vote in voting for Greens, but that is simply a way of denying the hard work required in building a national party.

As Beckerman observes, voting for Greens takes away votes from Democrats and might keep Republicans in power. But isn't it time that we did take away votes from the Democrats? What have they done for us lately? Every one of the current Democratic candidates for President has mimicked Bush's euphemism for war with Iran, insisting that, in the case of Iran, "all options are on the table." Of course they tend to say this particularly in front of Jewish audiences, but how corrupt and cowardly to thus knowingly endorse a second criminal American aggression in four years.

There is one gigantic issue before us, and that is global warming. All other issues, particularly the obsession with terrorism and the pursuit of national strategic advantage, are mere distractions from that frightening prospect. We need leaders, and political visions, that will make the issues of planetary survival and global social justice the first priority for the nation. $10 to $20 billion a year could make a significant start in moving our nation away from the carbon economy. Our current leaders, however, would rather spend $100 billion on a useless program like the Missile Defense System.

On the face of it, Cindy Sheehan would get little benefit from running as a Green, while the Greens would get a lot from her. However, charisma and synergy work in strange ways, and we shouldn't rule out the possibility of something surprising resulting from the collaboration. The American public turned to the Democrats to express their opposition to war, and now that the Democrats have shown their true colors, who knows where the people might turn next?

Robert Wrubel
Sausalito, California, USA - March 1, 2007


Ganging up Against the Liberators

To the Editor:

America's position today is unprecedented. A hundred years ago Britain was a superpower, ruling a quarter of the globe's population. But it was still only the second or third richest country in the world and one among many strong military powers. The crucial measure of military might in the early 20th century was naval powers, and Britain ruled the waves with a fleet as large as the next two navies put together. By contrast, the United States will spend as much next year on defense as the rest of the world put together (Yes, all 191 countries). And it will do so devoting 4 percent of its GNP, a low level by postwar standards.

American dominance is not just military. The US economy is as large as the next three -- Japan, Germany and Britain -- put together. With five percent of the world's population, this one country accounts for 43 percent of the world's economic production, 40% of its high-technology and 50% of its research and development. If you look at the indicators of future growth, all are favorable for America. It is more dynamitic economically, more youthful demographically, and more flexible culturally than any other part of the world. It is conceivable that America's lead, especially over an aging and sclerotic Europe, will actually increase over the next two decades.

Given the situation, perhaps what is the most surprising is that the world has not ganged up on America already. Since the beginning of the state system in the 16th century, international politics has seen one clear pattern, "The formation of balances of power against the strong." Countries with immense military and economic might arouse fear and suspicion, and soon others coalesce against them. It happened in the late 18th and early 19th century, Germany twice in the early 20th century and the Soviet Union in the latter half of the 20th century. At this point most Americans will surely protest: "But we're different!" Americans think of themselves as a nation that has never sought to occupy others, and that through the years has been a progressive and liberating force. But historians tell us that all dominant powers thought they were special. Their success confirmed for them they were blessed. But as they became more powerful, the world saw them differently.

Dan O'Leary
Maryland, USA - March 4, 2007


Antiwar and Radical Concerns about Swans, typos included: Milo Clark's PRChina


I'm getting a little concerned about some of the pieces appearing on Swans, like Milo Clark's "PRChina: Quandary Wrapped In Very Ripe Baloney"; after all this is supposed to be a radical antiwar publication.

It recites every propaganda story of the War Party and the power-elite for 50 years. Darfur -- a "genocide" by the Sudanese government. Oh yeah? that one's worth of Adolf Hitler, in fact it uses the same technigue. No mention of the fact it is a Covert or Black Op. by AmeriKKKa with supplies of arms, air conditioned SUV, and sophisticated equipment. Hence the huge psychological warfare operation around it.

Then there's Tibet, another one, an operation streching back to 1945 and the British. The dalai Lama was brought out by a CIA SOG team lead by the legendary Tony "Pop." Neither is it true they only passively intervened.

Which brings us to present day China. The foolish Mr. Hu and his followers are unable to see the Neocons regard them as a threat, in the way of their domination of Eurasia. They believe that the degree of their dominance and even the length of AmeriKKKan dominance of the world, with which they are obssessed, depends on the degree of domination of Eurasia. It's Policy. Has been since 1979. there is a horrifying set of policy documents with regard to China.

Comments like this only confuse the situation and cause divisions amongst radicals. As a result there is always confusion in the antiwar movement.

You'd better get your skates on, the attack on Iran is no longer a rumour.

Richard Roper
Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England - February 26, 2007


How to Raise Money on Swans? Err, Incorrect e-mail Address -- Should have been sent to Dick.

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Andre Gomel
Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 8, 2007


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Published March 12, 2007
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