Samantha Power is a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. She was on Charlie Rose yesterday, which was the first I'd ever heard of her. She was talking a lot of sense --- which is to say, articulating a lot of the things I feel but don't have the expertise to know for sure or argue persuasively. I've said ever since September 11, when everyone was carrying on about "why do they hate us?" but acting as if it were a rhetorical question with no answer, that they hate us for our hypocrisy: America talks wonderfully about freedom and democracy, but what the people of the third world have seen from us for more than half a century is propping up petty dictators and helping them repress popular movements. They would have cause enough to hate us if we were a baldly imperial power like the European empires of a century ago. But to the extent that they ever believed our rhetoric about freedom and democracy, our actions have hurt them doubly.
Ms Power doesn't say that in so many words, though I doubt she'd disagree with me. But one of her points is that if America wants to be believed when it claims to care about other peoples' well-being, it needs not only to stop bolstering repressive regimes just because they are convenient allies, but to come clean on past wrongs.
"... we have to work on restoring America's standing and reputation"
Charlie Rose: "How do we do that?"
"I think it's doable.... Let me give you one example of the ripeness that's out there, still, despite everything that's gone on, all the water under the bridge, and all the sense of abandonment and betrayal that I think people feel. Colin Powell went on Black Entertainment Television just before the war in Iraq and tried to make his case to ... young people, who interrogated him. One young woman stood up and said 'Secretary Powell, what right do you and the United States have to intervene in Iraq after all the human rights abuses you've committed over time, the assassination of Allende in Chile....'
"And Powell said --- and I think it was an off the cuff remark, I don't think he would have gotten clearance for that --- he said about the assassination of Allende 'That is an event of which we are not proud....' I read about this in the New York Times on like page A27 at the end of a long article about the US effort to get the Security Council vote, and I thought 'that's sort of unusual, for the United states to ... say that about something that happened in the past. I wonder what the Chileans thought about that'. I thought maybe there'd be some op-ed coverage in the Chilean press.... Go to the Chilean web site of the leading newspaper: the entire page was a single picture, the Palace on fire, from 1973. Banner headline --- no text on the page --- 'Mea Culpa at Last: U.S. Says "Not Proud"'."
People are willing to give us another chance to live up to our words. But we have to live up to them this time: they'd be fools to give us a third chance.