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They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Liberal Interventionists?

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Jacob Heilbrunn has 'penned' a fascinating, no punches pulled essay on Samantha Power's resignation and her place in the foreign policy establishment. I don't agree with all of it and am myself a Samantha Power fan who thinks that, more than most, she has the ability to think somewhat strategically about ethereal global justice problems.

Heilbrunn is the author of the must-read They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons. After reading his essay which I clip below, Heilbrunn might want to begin preparing They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Liberal Interventionists.

Regarding Power and her faux pax, I suggested yesterday to Hillary Clinton that she take the magnanimous route and accept Power's apology and then offer her a job. All of us have said something we wish we hadn't -- including Hillary Clinton. I've heard about some of the "more tense" moments in Hillaryland and know that the language and crassness can hit thin-air levels.

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Clinton's team is missing the chance to show a gentle, understanding side. It reminds me of James Fallows' brilliant study of Al Gore's debate preparation techniques in the Atlantic Monthly long ago. In his closing paragraph, Fallows wrote after his research "I now respect [Gore's] capacities more and like him less." But the zinger was that he cover art on the magazine featured a smiling Gore with a savage, snarling tooth cutting over his lip. Clinton has that problem -- and she's missing the good opportunities -- like Samantha Power's resignation -- to send a different message.

From Heilbrunn's useful commentary:

In short, Power is a humanitarian interventionist. She believed, and continues to believe, that it's America's mission to help the afflicted around the globe by emphasizing human rights rather than traditional great power politics and spheres of influence. In her gripping book, "A Problem From Hell," which won a Pulitzer Prize, Power amplified her critique of U.S. foreign policy all the way back to the Turkish genocide against the Armenians during World War I.

Once again, Power's approach was simple but powerful--to condemn the West, and the United States in particular, for failing to prevent the murder of helpless innocents. She traced a pattern of indifference in U.S. administrations down to the Balkans, arguing that United States needed to take an interventionist stance, whether it's in Darfur or the Middle East. As a humanitarian interventionist, then, it's a second reflex for Power to denounce and decry those who fail to meet her standards.

What Power does admire is crusaders, which is clearly the persona that she identifies Obama with. Her new book about the assassinated U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello is subtitled the "Fight to Save the World." Power's idea of politics is as a battle to the finish for grand ideals. Power wasn't just writing about what she saw as a great U.N. diplomat, but also revealing how she sees herself--as a crusader for humanity.

Consequently, that could be why she continues to see many Democrats as squishes. Writing in 2006 in The Los Angeles Times (in a piece co-authored with Morton Abramowitz), Power declared that it was time for Democrats to "Get Loud, Get Angry!" According to Abramowitz and Power, "If the Democrats stand any chance of improving U.S. foreign policy in the near term, while also positioning themselves to conduct it in the medium term, it will not be by making nice. It will be by adding another truth to the administration's absolutist gospels: If you screw up monumentally, you -- like those harmed in your wake -- will pay a price."

Now Power has paid the price for getting loud and angry. Very undiplomatic, you might say. But Power may have burnished her own bona fides with the Democratic left by doing what Obama has rejected--come out swinging against Clinton. As Power's numerous admirers lament her banishment from the Obama camp, she may even come to resemble something she's only previously written about--a martyr.

I have a different take on Samantha Power -- though I agree with a great deal of Jacob Heilbrunn's treatment. I just think that Power is not just an activist -- nor a fuzzy-thinker about global justice problems. She is a hybrid of a serious strategist and someone committed to turning back the tide of the world's worst moral tragedies.

I wrote this yesterday about Samantha Power:

Samantha Power is one of America's major foreign policy thinkers who synthesizes moral imperatives and strategic thought. One of the weaknesses of the "global justice community," in which Power is a major player, is a preference for prioritizing platitudes while not emphasizing serious costs and benefits in responding to highly complex challenges. In other words, confronting the early signs of genocidal trends requires agenda setting and a sober calculation of priorities.

Samantha Power is a serious strategist who has a clear sense of the moral costs and benefits of American engagement in the world, and she brings much needed disciplined thinking to the global justice agenda. She should be in government and her voice is vital in any future government so as to not repeat the Bush administration's mistake of allowing any emotional impulse to challenge evil and restore justice to trump the realities of costs, benefits, and strategy.

I may be giving Power too easy a time here -- but while I agree with Heilbrunn's notion that she is representative of a new breed of crusader. She is also much more than that.

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note

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