At Columbia University
Samantha Power, President Obama And ‘Universal Values’
(registercitizen.com), Serving Torrington, CT
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Page B4, print edition
Make a mistake; grow more scar tissue;
practice some fundamentals
My contention, after this self-review, is that the universal values espoused by Obama and supporters of the Libyan opposition are in synch, as seems to be his intention. To the degree that his "success in laying out a human rights framework" emboldened the Libyan opposition, he could take some credit or blame -- or both -- for whatever is going on there. This, I believe, is the truth of the story.
TWEET: "If Obama trying to have it both ways on Libya, can we call it the 'Bisexual Doctrine.' "
A softball, "boy-girl" question was lobbed by none other than Ben Smith of Politico, according to the moderator ...
Under-reported / not reported ...
POWER TALKS ABOUT
When asked about the "abuse" of Bradley Manning, Power said, while looking down at the lectern, "In terms of Bradley Manning, I would just say again that we have full confidence in the Defense Department and in the facilities and the protections that he is being afforded."
The Politico Kid set me straight. He gave me a righteous thrashing.
Man, I was so cranked to re-enter the fray. Fever didn’t matter. Nor did time out of action.
Those who are driven understand that all obstructions become irrelevant when pursuing one’s vocation. A wise person would be more realistic. Alas, that’s not me.
So there I was at Columbia University, scribbling, typing, sweating and listening to Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s top adviser on human rights. Power spoke calmly and softly, reading from a prepared text I couldn’t get my hands on despite repeated requests.
“We asked,” said Tanya Domi, the Columbia mouthpiece. Upon reflection, I should have also asked Tommy Vietor of the White House press staff. Vietor would reach out to me later, and I would still like to get some information from him.
It was a friendly crowd of about 130, including Power’s family, fellow academics and colleagues from Human Rights Watch. Power noted she had strategically seated Human Rights Watch folks at meetings with visiting Chinese leaders at other official functions.
Power opened by stating she wouldn’t have much to say about Libya, deferring to her boss who would speak to the nation shortly afterwards that Monday night, March 28.
Here is some of what I had learned about Power, after being asked to cover her speech by The Washington Times, a paper where I labored happily in the mid-1990s.
Power’s book, “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. She currently serves as Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs at the National Security Council, advocating implementation of the UN resolution “Responsibility to Protect,” also known as RtoP. RtoP focuses on preventing genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.
At Columbia on March 28, Power would brush off -- but not specifically address -- widespread reports that she, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outmuscled the male military establishment, persuading President Obama to bomb the forces of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in what now seems clearly to be a civil war.
Rice, who served as assistant Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, has said her greatest regret was not pushing hard enough to intercede in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. She lined up the UN votes -- including those of the Arab League -- to establish the Libya no-fly zone.
Before the Columbia speech, I interviewed Dr. Johanna Mendelson Forman, a member of the Council on Foreign relations and a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mendelson Forman told me she understood the reluctance by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military leaders including National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon to take military action in Libya.
“It’s very hard to figure out where this takes you,” Mendelson Forman said. “No one has the stomach for a continued ground presence in Libya.”
Mendelson Forman, who most recently served as an adviser to the UN Mission in Haiti, also derided the notion of fierce women overwhelming lame men in the Obama Administration. “Hillary Clinton would dismiss it as ridiculous,” Mendelson Forman said.
She noted that no less a masculine figure than former UN Ambassador John Bolton signed off on RtoP for the Bush Administration in 2005, even adding human rights language to the resolution. Bolton, however, later wrote that “in the end, the principle of the responsibility to protect remains fundamentally aspirational. And aspirations do not make a foreign policy.”
The intervention in Libya has spawned numerous questions including the limits of presidential power, the decision-making process on where to engage in military action, mission creep and the role of advocates for implementing RtoP.
I had also gotten some feedback from a writer I encountered on Twitter, who was troubled by the guys versus girls angle.
“I thought we were past ‘If women ruled the world, there’d be peace,’ “ said Mai-Linh K. Hong, a Virginia lawyer who has written extensively on genocide in Rwanda. “Media reminds us we aren’t.”
Mendelson Forman, meanwhile, acknowledged there is no clear end in sight for the Libya action. “Once you’ve gone in,” she asked, “what is the commitment to stay?”
I arrived early at Columbia, spending some peaceful time in a library. There, I added to my file on Rice and Power.
As a reporter for The Atlantic Monthly, Power pressed Rice on The United States’ timid response to the murder 800,000 Tutsis by the majority Hutus.
“I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again,” Rice said, “I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”
Critics of the action in Libya include those who see the uprising against Gadhafi as more of a civil war - and not a threat to U.S. interests -- rather than mass murder by a government. In addition, other members of the Council on Foreign Relations question what the already-stretched-thin U.S. will be capable of doing against a direct threat.
For the moment, the Obama team dubbed the “Amazon Warriors” by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times appears to be as tight as The Three Musketeers - at least compared with the Rwanda and campaign days.
Three years ago, in the midst of a presidential primary battle, Power called Clinton “a monster” who “is stooping to anything.”
We (expletive deleted) up in Ohio,” Power told The Scotsman newspaper. “In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio’s the only place they can win …”
“You just look at her and think, ‘Ergh’. But if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive.”
Power was abruptly fired from the Obama campaign but she subsequently appeared on the Colbert Report and did not challenge host Stephen Colbert’s assertion that Clinton might be a “good monster,” like Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster. Clinton accepted Power’s apology and Obama promptly hired her back upon being elected.
In the subdued academic setting, I sat primed with notebook and laptop, alert to report a few good lines for a deadline story. I could not have been in a better place. Nothing else matters to a reporter on deadline. Nourishment, the bathroom, health concerns, whatever, can wait. It’s all a matter of will, or so I thought.
In the days following the speech, I visualized my friend Iceman John Scully, the former light heavyweight contender, and the time he fought dehydrated in a converted factory with virtually no ventilation as the summer heat inside exceeded 110 degrees. Hospitalized and hallucinating, the Iceman required nine bags of fluid to recover. He said he was on the street to the very end of life. Would he do it again? Maybe.
My face heated up and I wrote like crazy, taking down some quotes and some paraphrases. I was alive and in love with the action. Prepared with lots of deodorant and mouthwash, I didn’t care if I stunk like a pig or knocked someone over. All that mattered was making deadline, 6:30 p.m. or therabouts. The speech started sometime after 5:30.
I am a guy in remission on the comeback trail, an adventure with more than its share of trial and error. A couple days after the speech I was treated for pneumonia. Nearly a week later I still sweat out the poison at home, recovering and pondering lessons learned.
Bottom line: I butchered a quote by Power. Ben Smith of Politico pointed it out, quickly. I have to thank him for that.
Columbia ultimately posted an 83-minute video of Power’s speech. I spent some time transcribing the parts that were relevant to the story I filed.
My notes prior to viewing the video showed Power stating the following:
The president has spent two years laying out a human rights framework. His success has made it easier for other governments to stand with us.
1. The president has argued our interests and our values cannot be separated …
2. These are values that have operated in all countries at all times ...
3. These values have caused the people of Libya to risk their lives on the street …
Again, I made some major errors. Rookie mistakes. Unacceptable. A fireable offense. Any dishonor brought to the paper or anyone else is the result of my work alone, and I am deeply sorry for that.
Here’s what I transcribed from the video, late at night March 29 and into the morning of March 30: He has spent the last two years laying out a human rights framework and elaborating on how he and his administration see human rights and democracy in the 21st century.
His success … has actually made it easier for other governments to stand with us.
The president has argued consistently that our values and our interests can’t easily be separated.
Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, more successful and more secure.
It’s not Western values that would cause the people of Libya to risk their lives on the street.
These values are not the monopoly of one country.
These are values that have been expressed in all countries at all times.
My contention, after this self-review, is that the universal values espoused by Obama and supporters of the Libyan opposition are in synch, as seems to be his intention. To the degree that his “success in laying out a human rights framework” emboldened the Libyan opposition, he could take some credit or blame -- or both -- for whatever is going on there. This, I believe, is the truth of the story.
I thought the community organizer Sally Kohn put it nicely on Twitter: “If Obama trying to have it both ways on Libya, can we call it the ‘Bisexual Doctrine.’“
In any case, “The blogosphere’s corrective mechanisms ungentle but effective,” Politico’s Smith posted in a Retweet of a line by Robert Stacy McCain, also a former Washington Times staffer.
Today’s young reporters -- especially in the new media -- are bright, aggressive and quick. They are the new hunters. In some cases they operate the way the old, ideal reporters used to: without fear or favor.
As an aside, I am compelled to mention two points that I believe have not been reported fully.
A softball, “boy-girl” question was lobbed by none other than Ben Smith of Politico, according to the moderator:
Could you comment on the recent reports of a boys versus girls rift inside the administration?
Power: “The stories are completely inaccurate, utterly untrue, distorted, unhelpful, bad reporting, that’s it.”
Only written questions were accepted, prior to the speech. No follow-ups allowed. Before the speech, the Columbia mouthpiece said the press would not be allowed to ask any questions at all. I submitted one anyhow, asking Power whether she and colleagues advocated military intervention in Libya and whether a massacre was averted. My question was not selected by the moderator.
Then there’s the Bradley Manning issue. Manning is the Army PFC accused of being a WikiLeaks source. Manning has been held in solitary confinement in the Marine Corps Brig in Quantico, Va. Manning’s supporters claim he is being psychologically tortured, citing extended periods of time being forced to strip naked and other alleged Abu Ghraib-type tactics.
When asked about the “abuse” of Bradley Manning, Power said, while looking down at the lectern, “In terms of Bradley Manning, I would just say again that we have full confidence in the Defense Department and in the facilities and the protections that he is being afforded.”
I have to ask, is this quality reporting from a Pulitzer-Prize winner? Has Power performed the fundamental task of going to Manning’s cell? Or, was she just reading a statement like a typical bureaucratic hack?
Lessons I learned, aka stating the obvious with good cause:
* Before re-entering the lineup, take more batting practice;
* Validate -- by whatever means necessary -- any and all quotes before filing;
* Constantly review all fundamentals including accuracy, brevity, speed.
A colleague who is an editor told me some guys who haven’t filed a deadline story for years can’t even write three paragraphs that make sense. He suggested I cover some Little League games before playing again in the big leagues.
What better way to enjoy Spring?
Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice In Everyday Life, blogs at The Cool Justice report: http://cooljustice.blogspot.com/ Thibault, semi-retired, is a cancer survivor.
Washington Times, page 11, March 29, 2011
click on image
for better view
ALSO OF INTEREST