Glen Newey

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?


  • 16 December 2016 at 7:28pm
    streetsj says:
    Uncle Sam Power - nominative determinism at its finest

    • 27 December 2016 at 7:18pm
      rasmuss17 says: @ streetsj
      The beacon of 'the free world' has always had a shameful foreign policy (which should come as no surprise to anybody) overthrowing democratically elected foreign heads of states who
      could somehow interfere with US politics and interests (the 1953 coup in Iran, the 1973 coup in Chile and endless support to the worst dictators around the world. One could have hoped that Mr. Kissinger would had disappeared into a huge moth bag of oblivion.

  • 16 December 2016 at 11:27pm
    sol_adelman says:
    Powers' shamelessness is breathtaking. It almost matches that of the Labour MPs who abstained on the recent motion calling for a halt to UK sales of bombs to Saudi Arabia, which are being dropped on kids in Yemen. Many of the same individuals were on their feet this week loudly condemning Russian actions in Aleppo.

  • 17 December 2016 at 2:10am
    amaah says:
    Vitaly Churkin's response is in the same spirit:
    Churkin said he found it “very strange” that Power read out a statement “as if she was Mother Teresa”.

    “Please remember what country you are representing. Please remember your country’s track record and then you can start opining from the position of any moral supremacy,” he said.

    As for any responsibility, Churkin said: “I think God will tell us ultimately.”

    • 19 December 2016 at 3:27am
      FoolCount says: @ amaah
      In all truth, Churkin did not even have to invoke "track record" in his response. Because that is not just mere shamelessness of US one has to marvel at, but actual evil of its very current Syria policy. That is the country which started, encouraged, financed and supplied weapons for this senseless and unnecessary civil war - just for the shot at a "regime change" which they considered desirable based on some obscure global policy considerations. And they were doing that under a constant barrage of lies and distortions - from the mythical "peaceful protests" that got the ball rolling, to alleged "chemical attack" by Assad on "his own people", to "accidental" and deadly bombing of Syrian troops on behalf of ISIS. Accusing Russians of "war crimes" in helping Syrians to liberate Aleppo from murderous radicals is not just shameless and hypocritical, it is another evil lie in the long series of evil lies towards an evil end.

  • 18 December 2016 at 10:32am
    Graucho says:
    When the pot calls the kettle black, the colour of the pot doesn't lighten the blackness of the kettle one iota.

    • 29 December 2016 at 2:44am
      Konstanzhoglo says: @ Graucho
      The point is that the pot does believe about itself that he's white like a Snow White. When in reality it's black like a hell.
      Taking into consideration this fact a claim of the pot on being holier than the Pope and having the rights to accuse others with blackness is at least ridiculous.

  • 18 December 2016 at 11:23am
    piffin says:
    Anybody who seriously believes Power cares about kids in Syria must have been born yesterday. She's pure raging only because the Russians have driven the jihadis out of Aleppo, al-Quaeda terrorists the west has been supporting.

    • 18 December 2016 at 1:43pm
      Charles Turner says: @ piffin
      It is a bit more complicated than that. I found Power's words, rather than her person, quite impressive. Kolakowski says somewhere that hypocrisy is at least a sign that basic principles are alive and taken seriously. People like Putin find it easy to avoid hypocrisy because they don't have any principles in the first place. Nor, perhaps, do the so-called leftists rightly demonstrated against Bush and Blair's adventurism in Iraq but have said nothing at all about Putin's in Syria.

    • 18 December 2016 at 2:05pm
      suetonius says: @ Charles Turner
      I'm not sure what leftists say nothing at all about Putin. No leftists I know think Putin is anything but an imperialist pig, just for a less powerful imperialist country than Obama. And none think Assad is anything but a tin pot dictator. Referencing Graucho, both pot and kettle are plenty black, and pointing out that the pot is black doesn't imply the kettle is not. And while I have not a clue what Newey thinks personally, nowhere here does he imply the kettle isn't. He doesn't mention Assad or Putin anywhere.

    • 28 December 2016 at 8:35am
      BlakMark says: @ Charles Turner
      I get Kolakowski, but surely Power simply seeks a propaganda win after losing the real-world battle? As for Putin, he's a dictator in a pseudo-democracy (elections have been total shams for years). And Syria has been a client state for years. Thus I don't see Russian adventurism but, rather, murderous restoration of the status quo ante. Adventurism was trying to upset the prevailing balance of power. So Putin's posiktion is the opposite of adventurism.

  • 19 December 2016 at 11:30am
    IPFreely says:
    And Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, wasn't he? I don't really care what 'leftists' say about Putin but it's quite interesting to follow the 'Russia Today' news on the crisis. Their main story this past few days is about those hacked emails and that nobody has produced an iota of evidence linking Russian secret services or Putin himself to the leakages. Pots and kettles? The USA have been tracking email and digital messages for decades and if they have a tap on Merkel/Hollande's calls they must be enjoying the opportunity to puff out their cheeks over the email hacking during the election in the USA.
    Both leaders are running true to form but now Trump is promising great changes in foreign policy. Will it get better or will it get worse?

  • 19 December 2016 at 8:54pm
    stettiner says:
    So the acolyte of reverend Wright ain't no saint after all? I'm shocked...

    Or, you are a racist...

  • 20 December 2016 at 3:13pm
    D says:
    So, in conclusion, because the US is not driven-snow pure, all statements about the undisputed slaughter of children and civilians are null.

    I'd laugh at this sanctimonious circle-jerk of a post and its comments except for the aforementioned murder.

    • 21 December 2016 at 12:30pm
      FoolCount says: @ D
      If you want undisputed, here is one undisputed fact - people are no longer much impressed by anti-Russian propaganda lies, as results of a number of recent elections, where the Russophobe card was heavily played, clearly demonstrate. Least of all by the lies coming from the undisputed murderers themselves.

    • 21 December 2016 at 3:04pm
      Dominic Rice says: @ FoolCount
      Maybe if they double down on anti-Russia stuff it'll win one of them an election at some point. That seems to be Democratic party strategy, anyhow.

    • 29 December 2016 at 2:28am
      Konstanzhoglo says: @ D
      "the US is not driven-snow pure". Are you kidding?
      The US is a bloodiest butcher in the world. This is the point. And the US and its allies massive PR and propaganda can't hide this fact.

      So the US or Great Britain or any other the US ally doesn't have any rights to criticize Russia, Iran or Syria. All their speeches is anything but hypocritic lie covers theirs own interests in Syria.

  • 21 December 2016 at 3:31pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    As the cave-people* sit in front of a flickering fire, a brilliant and wondrously moralistic geo-political discussion takes place:

    Cave-Man 1: US bad
    Cave- Man 2: Russia bad.
    Cave-Man 3: CIA very bad.
    Cave-Man 4: FSB very worse. Ogpu-Nkvd-Mgb-Kgb-Fsssssb! (Neanderthal throat-clearing sound).
    C1: They do bad thing first.
    C2: Other ones do worse thing first.
    C3: Who worst?
    C4: All very bad.
    C1. US baddest!
    C2: Russia worstest!

    Moderator FoolCount: C1 one appears to have the upper hand here due to his fact-laden presentation and persuasive rhetoric.

    Bemused observer: Let’s put this blog on the fire and move on.

    * Cave-Women are absent from this intellectually enthralling exercise. Apparently they’ve found more useful things to do.

    • 21 December 2016 at 6:10pm
      Dominic Rice says: @ Timothy Rogers
      Clearly you haven't.

    • 21 December 2016 at 10:53pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ Dominic Rice
      But I have. At the age of 72 my days are full of interesting projects, some of them materially (physicl labor!) and others intellectually productive (according to - ahem! - the judgments of others). My LRB "blog time" might be 10 or 15 minutes a day and it's the only blog site I visit with any regularity. Leave as light an electronic footprint as you can is my motto(therefore my fake name of Timothy Rogers).

      In addition to my fondness for coruscating one-scene playlets, I have a knack for doggerel verse (things might be worse).

      A young man named Dominic Rice
      Should pause to actually think twice
      Before committing his thoughts
      To a blog that sets his words
      In perpetual ethernet stone
      Though they should have been kept alone
      In his very own mind, a jail
      Of fixed ideas quite stale
      Yet certain to eventually fade
      When reality unmakes what he's made

      I don't know if these last 10 minutes of composition at the keyboard is a "useful thing to do," but it's certainly an enjoyable way to pass the moment.

  • 27 December 2016 at 6:29pm
    Walter10065 says:
    Well the US is the Great Satan and does kill people, that probably cannot be said too much, though one wonders if the kind of narcissistic frothing featured here does anything more than express an all-too-understandable rage at their own powerlessness. It's certainly stupid to compare evils like so many do here but when it comes to human freedom obviously the US is best, or so vote the "people" you seem to care about, as they try to come here and not go to any of those be knighted states some champion. One interesting thing typically overlooked in these dim witted arguments is the differences between the State and its population; as a US citizen I have no more control over what my government does than any random tribal bystander. I do get to eat donuts and look at porn and not go to church and generally do as I please in a many ways impoverished society, so the question is, how close ARE we to 1984?

  • 27 December 2016 at 8:16pm
    redneckred says:
    Let me get this straight: Samantha Power speaks for the very country that showered Fallujah with white phosphorus? Does this mean Fallujah isn't a city, like Aleppo, or just that its civilian residents were somehow less worthy of sympathy?

    Of course "barrel bombs" are probably much nastier than white phosphorus, and dropping them on civilian targets is likely much more inhumane than dropping "blockbuster" bombs on other civilian targets, like Augsburg. I'm sure Sam Power will explain the difference(s) in due time.

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