Back in the day, the rhetoric of American power was thick with talk of high moral purpose. The 'international community', the label of choice for the United States' Facebook fanbase, proved compliant in the face of US-sponsored mass killing in Indonesia under Suharto, the fire-bombing of civilians in Vietnam, and the decades-long portfolio of Monroe Doctrine-inspired murderous dictatorships in Latin America. Hot on the heels of Vietnam and the secret bombing of Cambodia, Henry Kissinger won the Nobel Peace Prize. Latterly the high moral tone took a bit of a knock from the bungled crusades in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. But now, in the dying days of the Obama regime, it’s back.
The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power (presumably soon to be Trumped out of office), gave a sermon to the Security Council last week, directed at Syria, Iran and Russia at the United Nations over the horror in Aleppo:
Denying or obfuscating the facts, as you will do today – saying up is down, black is white – will not absolve you. When one day there is a full accounting of the horrors committed in this assault of Aleppo – and that day will come, sooner or later – you will not be able to say you did not know what was happening. You will not be able to say you were not involved. We all know what is happening. And we all know you are involved.
John Brennan, Obama's CIA director, said earlier this year that he and the president ‘have similar views’.
One is that you have to take a life to save even more lives. We have a similar view of just-war theory. The president requires near-certainty of no collateral damage. But if he believes it is necessary to act, he doesn’t hesitate.
According to Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, Obama ‘has not had a second thought about drones’. As just war theory says, it's OK to whack them if you intend to do something good, and drones never act for any purpose short of the unimpeachable. It's fully in line with this thinking that US propaganda sharply downplays the number of eggs broken in cooking the great moral omelette. In general, Obama's administration marks the number of civilians killed by its drones down to as near zero as it thinks it can get away with. An official report earlier this year put the figure of civilians killed by drones between 2009 and 2015 at no higher than 116. Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, calls this number ‘way, way too low’. The Bureau of Investigative Journalists estimates the number of people killed by US drones since 2004 in Pakistan alone as between 2499 and 4001, of whom 424 to 966 were civilians and 172 to 207 children. Hard data is hard to come by in theatres such as Yemen. The US has received about 10,000 refugees from the civil war in Syria it helped to bring about, roughly 1 per cent of the number taken by Germany.
In her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Power quoted Kissinger with what then sounded like disapproval. ‘Covert action should not be confused with missionary work,’ he said, referring to the US betrayal of the Kurds during its tilt to Saddam in the 1970s, which led to genocidal attacks including the poison-gassing of civilians at Halabja in 1988, while he was still a US client.
Earlier this year, Power received the American Academy of Berlin’s Henry A. Kissinger Prize, introduced by Doctor Napalm Death himself. This week she posed the key question while lecturing Vitaly Churkin and the rest:
Are you truly incapable of shame? Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin?