Power Addresses Genocide

Drawing from her experience as a journalist covering the Balkan war and from recently declassified documents, Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power made the case for greater U.S. intervention in situations of genocide this past Friday. Power focused her discussion on the five major conflicts of the past decade, addressing genocide in Armenia, Iraq, Bosnia, and Rwanda and under the Khmer Rouge regime. Illustrating the importance of the genocide issue and the inaction of the American government, she told of how 800 thousand people were killed in Rwanda over the course of 100 days without the U.S. President even calling a cabinet meeting. If the U.S. is committed to freeing the world from terror, Power said, the country must start by working against genocide. She noted that places where regimes are killing their own people become “magnets” for terrorist groups and illegal organizations. In particular, while the Bosnian conflict raged, Osama bin Laden was able to establish training centers inside the country, and while Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime murdered thousands of Kurdish peasants, the U.S. did not withdraw its financial support. Both leaders are now suspected of connections to terrorist organizations worldwide, and bin Laden is thought to have planned the hijackings that caused the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. “We’ve learned something over the last ten years about standing idly by,” Power said. “Crimes committed [in other countries] come back to haunt us.” “Long term security can only be enhanced when these nations are liberalized.” Power described the “toolbox” of solutions the United States and its allies can use to combat genocide, including state of the art technology and military support. She also recognized that taking action is often hard for a nation. “The level of risk and sacrifice [involved in fighting genocide] asks an enormous amount from a country and its people,” she said. Genocide is also not at the forefront of the American political agenda because issues that are closer to home like taxes and healthcare are the ones Americans pay attention to when casting their votes. Nevertheless, Power recommended a number of other ways the U.S. can combat the issue. In particular, she noted that some international institutions supported by the U.S. have had great success in dealing with other problems. After only four years, the Global Health Fund has been effective in making grants to countries fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other diseases. The U.S. must adopt a standard approach to international collaboration, Power said. Indeed, of the nearly $15 billion appropriated by President Bush to fund HIV/AIDS support, only a fraction will reach the Global Health Fund. “The ideology of unilateralism is getting in the way of the good work that multilateral institutions can do,” Power said. She shared a story about a friend who traveled to the Guantanamo Bay military prison as a consultant, and discovered that personnel there were going out of their way to see both sides of the inmate’s stories. “The essence of the American tradition is the recognition by the founders that none of us can be able to see both sides,” she said. “But we must remember that our job is to remind politicians of the essence of the American tradition.” Power also encouraged students to select a specific country or organization fighting genocide and actively join the crusade. “The silence is so deafening that the littlest blip makes a big difference,” she said. Power also spoke at a special dinner for invited students and faculty. Taking questions from the audience, she reaffirmed her belief that “the U.S. can be a force for good.”