Samantha Power rules the world

Samantha Power is, as her latest in the NY Times informs us, “professor of the practice of global leadership” at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In other words, you might say, Power is a professor of power. Global power, to be exact. One would expect her thinking to be characteristic of the Powers-That-Be, which we at UR so fondly call the Polygon.

And the piece linked above does not disappoint. A Times Book Review front-pager in the grand old style, it delivers the true Universalist goods on how to win the “War on Terror.” Without, of course, calling it that.

If your views on global affairs are anything like mine, you may need a good colonic cleansing after reading Power’s article. I suggest Edward Luttwak’s Counterinsurgency Warfare As Military Malpractice—in Harper’s, of all places.

It should go without saying that Luttwak is a realist and Power is a priest. Or priestess, I guess. I will simply take Luttwak’s point of view for granted—I don’t think the debate is even worth discussing. But I still think it’s worth reading Power’s sermon, because it demonstrates so many of the pathologies that fascinate us here at UR.

First of all, it’s important to note the common denominator of all her policy proposals. Note that every solution Power proposes involves increasing the importance of the State Department, and/or decreasing the importance of the Defense Department. Presumably funding is to shift accordingly.

Of course, this reflects the fact that State is a Universalist (BDH) bastion deep in the Polygon, and the Revelationist (OV) enclave of DoD is its ancient hereditary enemy. With DoD’s defeats in Iraq, State smells blood and entertains a vague hope of capturing this pesky varmint alive, the same fate it meted out to CIA in the ’70s. (Unless you’ve been in a cave for the last five years, you may have chortled a little at how the scourge of Chile, Iran and Guatemala is now joined-at-the-hip with State and the Times. Same Agency—different people.)

But Power, of course, hardly sees herself as a foot soldier in this tawdry bureaucratic melee. (Any such thought is itself heretical.) She has a philosophy to peddle here, and it’s as much a philosophy of power as Machiavelli’s. Let’s look a little more closely at this case study in applied Universalism.

The thing is: “global leadership” is exactly what it says it is. It’s about ruling the world.

Does Samantha Power rule the world? Perhaps the best way to explain it is that she and her ilk pretend to rule the world. In both the common and monarchical meanings of the word.

Power does not have any real influence over Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Hezbollah, etc. Neither she nor anyone else in Cambridge, New York or Washington can call Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and tell him what to do. The Polygon can’t even influence his behavior, except perhaps by feeding him. And feeding certainly does not tame a creature of this sort.

But the Universalist view is that, since Universalism is universal, everyone in the world can and will become a Universalist. Likewise, if they are not antagonized and constantly beaten and threatened, all these rogue states, liberation movements, etc., will eventually settle down and become part of the new world order. All humans everywhere will be subject to the Polygon. There are no aliens, only citizens we haven’t naturalized yet.

A key aspect of the Polygon’s power is its ability to maintain the opinion of its literal constituents—American voting taxpayers—that things are, in fact, moving in this direction. Any policy that denies this violates the vision and is a direct attack on the Polygon.

For example, any Iran policy that says Iran is Iran, that it is and presumably will always be an Islamic republic, that Islam and Universalism are two different things, and that the way for the US to deal with Iran is to make the terms of the relationship clear and provide effective disincentives for Iranian transgressions, is a serious violation. Because this says that Iran is not subject to the “global leadership” of Harvard, that all is not becoming one, that the best interests of the American and Iranian governments and populations may in fact conflict. It says that Samantha Power does not rule the world.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that no mainstream party or politician in the United States has any such policy on its menu. Power is always hard to let go of, even when it’s imaginary.

The essential assumption of “global leadership” is that Power and her ilk have no actual enemies. The Polygon is so powerful that no reasonable person can oppose it. Thus, anyone who attacks it is either (a) insane, (b) criminal, or (c) enraged by injustice.

Counterinsurgency theory tells us that all members of groups (a), (b), and (c) are easy to reconcile to Power’s world order. To deal with (a) and (b), either hospitalize, rehabilitate (as the ex-Foreign Service blogger New Nationalist puts it, “we got a note!”), or for the very worst cases, prosecute and imprison them. To deal with (c), redress any grievances they may have, and make very, very sure you—or, of course, your evil twins over at DoD—don’t create any new ones. Obviously (c) is the hard part, but if you can do it, it’s problemo solvato.

It’s very difficult for me to avoid the conclusion that when historians 100 years hence look at this kind of thinking, assuming of course that there are any historians 100 years hence, their overwhelming impression will be of solipsism and hubris. Or possibly hubris and solipsism. It’s sometimes hard to tell them apart.

Note, for example, that in this hefty article on terrorism, there is no discussion of actual terrorists. Power seems completely uninterested in the actual motivation and organization of these friends we haven’t gotten to know yet.

She is similarly uninterested in the actual motivation and organization of unruly teenager-states such as Iran. Presumably borrowing a phrase from one of her reviewees—it’s a little difficult to imagine her actually thinking the e-word—she says “the United States must learn to get inside the minds of its enemies.” Does she follow this with an actual discussion of “the minds of its enemies?” Of course not.

What this diplomatic chestnut turns out to mean is that our quote-unquote enemies actually see the world in just the same way that we do. Quelle coincidence! “A Bush administration that had stepped into Iran’s shoes might have toned down its inflammatory rhetoric…” Indeed. I mean, if there’s one thing you never hear from Iran, it’s inflammatory rhetoric.

The way Power sees the world is about the way a kindergarten teacher sees her charges. For kindergarteners, one policy fits all. The way to deal with their tantrums is to let them simmer down, and never actually get angry at them. After all, they can’t actually harm you. Remember that you’re in control, and you will stay that way.

Of course, this assumes that there is no group (d)—consisting of reasonable people who are perfectly happy to fight a war to gain the usual booty of war, that is, power, or at least money. Since no one besides Power, and her fellow practitioners of “global leadership,” has or can have any real power, group (d) cannot possibly exist.

If they did exist, however, one would expect them to adopt the strategy of pretending to be members of group (c), that is, people enraged by the injustices they have suffered. Redressing these injustices (which are presumably real by at least someone’s definition of “injustice”) involves giving group (d) power, or at least money. Of course this dissuades them from trying the same trick again. And it certainly persuades others that strategy (d) is no good and not worth messing around with.

I wonder if strategy (d) has ever been tried in the past? Hm, I can’t imagine.

People throw around the word “appeasement” a lot. In my opinion, it’s a mistake to use this word, because it now has absurdly negative connotations, and the word was once used seriously by those who promoted it. At the very least, before talking about “appeasement,” we should understand who the “appeasers” were and why they thought it was a good idea.

The idea of appeasement was very simple. The goal was not to bribe or buy off Hitler, but to defeat him. The logic worked like this.

First, Herr Hitler’s speeches are full of ranting about the injustices that were supposedly done to the German people at Versailles. (True.)

Second, injustices were in fact done to the German people at Versailles. (True.)

Third, Herr Hitler is a politician, and he derives his power from popular support. (True.)

Fourth, redressing the grievances of the German people will leave Herr Hitler with nothing to whine about, so he will fall and a reasonable government will replace him. (Not true.)

Statistically, therefore, the logic of appeasement is 75% true. While this is not true enough to be actually true, it tends to be true enough to be convincing. Especially to its supporters.

And this is the thing about how Samantha Power rules the world. The interesting thing, the dog that didn’t bark in the night, is that her approach doesn’t work at all. To borrow Luttwak’s medical metaphor, it is about as effective as bloodletting. The only historical examples I can think of in which it’s led to peace are those in which the equation has just reduced to surrender. And in many others—notably Palestine—the result has been permanent war.

But—the grain of truth behind the kindergarten-teacher mentality is that the US does, indeed, have overwhelming military power. Absent some serious changes in US immigration law, the jihadis are not about to conquer North America. And so the bloodletting is just that: bloodletting. It can continue indefinitely. At present it looks set to do just that.

Therefore, Power’s proposals are not counterproductive at all. They are, in fact, adaptive. They strengthen the Polygon and weaken its real enemies—which are not foreign, but domestic. Call me crazy, but I think the whole thing makes perfect sense.