By Edmond Y. Azadian
Anyone who wishes to avoid being ridiculed must refrain from seeking morality among politicians and in politics. One day Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan are at each other’s throats, the next Mr. Erdogan arrives in Moscow and grovels, and thus, Russian-Turkish relations hit the reset button.
Astonishing flip-flops happened during and after the recent presidential election in the US. One of Donald Trump’s fiercest critics, former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, reached out to the president-elect to congratulate him and beg him to be considered for a position in the incoming administration. Similarly, House Speaker Paul Ryan was not far off from Romney in his vitriolic attacks on Trump, only to turn around after his win and announce that Trump had clearly heard a voice that nobody else had with his campaign.
When major statesmen make such spineless U-turns in politics, they pave the way for diplomats in lower echelons to master the art of the flip-flop.
One example of such a supple spine is Samantha Power, the outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations. She is an erudite scholar with degrees from Harvard and Yale. She caught the attention of Barack Obama and the Armenian community when she published her seminal work on the issue of genocide in the modern times, titled A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide. The Armenian Genocide was prominently featured in the book, in its proper parameters, along with the Jewish Holocaust, and the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides. She hit a peak with the work, winning a Pulitzer Prize. In 2004, Time magazine counted her among the 100 most powerful women in the world, while Forbes magazine ranked her as the 41st most influential woman in the world.
Power was the senior advisor to then-Senator Obama until March 2008 during his primary run, when she was forced to resign from his presidential campaign, after the Scotsman published her comments calling primary foe Hillary Clinton a “monster.” Later she apologized, saying that those words “do not reflect my feelings about Senator Clinton, whose leadership and public services I have long admired. … of course, I regret [the statements]. I can’t even believe they came out of my mouth.”Get the Mirror in your inbox:
That apology eventually ushered her back into the Obama camp, allowing her to become the chief architect of his administration’s foreign policy.
While she was defending Obama’s unfulfilled pledge to have all US combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months on BBC’s “Hard Talk” interview program, she was challenged by the host that her statement contradicted Obama’s campaign commitment. Not losing a beat, she backtracked to say, “You can’t make a commitment on March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January 2009.”
That caveat already indicated that the flip-flop was an article of faith with Samantha Power’s politics.
A similar incident took place when some individuals accused Power of being hostile to Israel based on a statement she had made in a 2002 interview with Harry Kreisler during his program, “Conversations with History.” She again apologized for her comments and cried publicly, defending Israeli actions in the Gaza strip, where 1,200 Palestinians were slaughtered within two weeks.
She supported Israel’s right to defend itself. That, of course, won accolades from the Israeli lobby. During her nomination as US ambassador to the UN, she received support from diplomat Dennis Ross, Anti-Defamation League Chief Abraham Foxman, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Oren, Alan Dershowitz, and President of the Rabbinical Assembly Henry Speaker.
Samantha Power’s love-hate relationship with Armenians began with the publication of her book on genocides. Seldom has a scholar/diplomat so distinctly exposed the Armenian Genocide and the denial campaign against its recognition.
But above all, she approached the Armenian-American community as the senior policy advisor to the Obama campaign and she presented the candidate as an acknowledger of history and she assured the American-Armenian community in a video released by the campaign and aimed at the community, that he “can be trusted.”
Mr. Obama’s earlier pronouncements about the issue, compounded with Samantha Power’s credibility, already generated by her book, made many in the community to cast their ballots for him. As a Senator, Obama had stated that he “firmly held the conviction that the Armenian Genocide is not an allegation, a personal opinion or a point of view, but rather a widely-documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of historical evidence. As a senator I strongly support the passage of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (HR 106 and S Resolution 106) and as president, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”
Those statements certainly garnered a considerable number of Armenian votes, to be followed by a terrible disappointment. For eight years in a row, President Obama issued statements on the Armenian Genocide, deliberately avoiding the term “genocide.” Although to be fair, we need to state that Obama bravely made a reference in his speech on the floor of the Parliament in Turkey that that nation had to face its dark history, when he had so much on his plate about US-Turkish relations.
During those eight years of denial, Power was nowhere to be found when it came to the Armenian community. Personal and media appeals got nowhere; she reemerged last year to appear with Vice President Joe Biden at the Washington National Cathedral in May, on the occasion of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
In 2012, President Obama appointed her as the chair of a newly formed body called Atrocities Prevention Board. Contradicting the mission of that board, Power, her emoting about the human condition notwithstanding, was instrumental along with National Security Advisor Susan Rice, in advocating the invasion of Libya and committing the atrocities, including the barbaric assassination of its president, which have practically decimated that country.
The recent resurfacing, or a second coming, as it were, of Power, is all the more interesting.
No one yet knows whether intentionally or inadvertently, she referred once again to the Armenian Genocide on the occasion of a memorial held at Washington’s Holocaust Museum, commemorating Holocaust survivor, writer and philosopher Eli Wiesel. In her tribute to the late Wiesel, she listed “genocide denial against Armenians” among examples of “injustice that persisted during Wiesel’s lifetime post-Holocaust.
Mind you, Power still holds an official position and whatever statement she does make may be considered as anything more than a private opinion.
Case in point is Ambassador John Evans, who was fired by the State Department once he used the word “genocide” in his official position. Power is still the UN ambassador; she may be clearing her conscience or absolving the Obama administration.
Power’s remarks were put to a test at a recent State Department briefing when Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner was asked if there is a departure in the administration from its regular policy on the Armenian Genocide. Toner replied that Power’s remarks “did not reflect any shift in the administration’s policy.”
“To answer your question,” he added, “look at this president, the administration, as have past administrations, have repeatedly … acknowledged that 1.5 million Armenians were massacred or marched to their deaths in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. And we have also called for a full and frank acknowledgement of the facts that happened around those deaths. And that remains our policy. I don’t want to get into terminology.”
Of course, only terminology counts. Only the use of the term “genocide” has significance, legal and practical consequences and not the escapist euphemisms.
Knowing the fluid nature of politics and the flexibility of politicians’ spines, we may have to be content with whatever political crumbs are thrown our way. And this, as long as we cannot mobilize the entire American-Armenian community as a robust political force.
The true reason for the second coming of Samantha Power remains to be seen.