The former American ambassador to the UN, who has made a career of writing and speaking about the responsibility of the U.S. and other countries to prevent genocide, spent several years in the service of the Obama administration even as it remained impassive to Bashar al-Assad’s mass slaughter of his own citizens, instead providing millions of dollars to support Iran, Assad’s main ally, and working diplomatically to protect Iranian “equities” in Syria. Now she has written an introduction to a new edition of Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir Night. To Sohrab Ahmari, this is evidence of a “sophisticated exercise in self-absolution.”
The word “witness” and the phrase “bearing witness” appear five times in Power’s brief piece. Wiesel spoke out, she wrote, when others—publishers, journalists, even survivors—preferred to forget or remain silent.
This is an obvious, almost banal point. Of course Wiesel bore witness! But he believed by bearing witness he could help counter other mass murderers and totalitarians. Wiesel campaigned for Jewish refuseniks trapped behind the Iron Curtain. He implored Bill Clinton to act in Bosnia. And most recently, he compared the Syrian regime and its Iranian patrons with the Nazis, asking: “How is it that Assad is still in power?” Wiesel didn’t just remember historical crimes; he decried contemporary inaction.
Samantha Power, by contrast, legitimized inaction. Having built her journalistic reputation examining America’s failure to stop mass murder in the 20th century, Power ended up lending moral cover to the Obama administration’s bystander policy on Syria. At the UN, Power denounced Assad and his backers in Moscow and Tehran. But she refused to do the one honorable thing that might have jolted the Obama administration out of its moral torpor: resign. . . .
In the months and years ahead, we can expect more such efforts at altering the moral record on Syria, including by making use of the Holocaust and Jewish memory. Those who were alive between 2011 and 2016 shouldn’t let Obama-administration alumni get away with it. We should bear witness.