Anti-war activists protest Samantha Power’s Syria speech

Underwhelming response to U.N. ambassador’s speech pushing for intervention in Syria

Code Pink protestor outside of Center for American Progress building. Photo credit: Alana Goodman
• September 6, 2013 4:10 pm


Anti-war activists descended on the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, D.C., Friday to protest U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power’s speech to the left-wing think tank advocating for military intervention in Syria.

Protesters camped out at the entrance to CAP, waving signs with slogans including "Obama thinks he’s king but he’s no MLK" and "No U.S. military intervention in Syria."

"Center for American Progress! Could you please take a look at your progressive values!" one activist shouted to protesters over a microphone.

The protest highlighted the divide between the anti-war left, which has dramatically dwindled in size in the post-Bush era, and the Democratic establishment, which now tacitly support President Barack Obama’s continuation of many counterterrorism and national security policies that the establishment criticized under President George W. Bush.

"I think it’s terrible that the Center for American Progress [is doing this]," CodePink leader and prominent anti-war activist Medea Benjamin told the Washington Free Beacon. "At least sponsor a debate, have the other side. Don’t give her a platform."

Benjamin, who is known for interrupting congressional hearings with anti-war outbursts, said CAP did not let her into Power’s address.

Inside CAP, Power argued that the United States has a moral and security imperative to intervene in Syria, in light of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons against an opposition-controlled suburb of Damascus.

"We believe that more than 1,400 people were killed in Damascus on August 21, and the Security Council could not even agree to put out a press statement expressing its disapproval," Power said.

The U.N. ambassador argued that military strikes would "reduce the regime's faith that they can kill their way to victory" and "energize the efforts by the U.N. and others to achieve and negotiate its settlement to the underlying conflict."

"If we cannot summon the courage to act when the evidence is clear and when the action being contemplated is limited, then our ability to lead in the world is compromised," Power said. "The alternative is to give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience, outrages that will eventually compel us to use force anyway down the line at far greater risk and cost to our own citizens."

Power left immediately after her short remarks and did not take questions.

Political commentators and media figures initially appeared underwhelmed by the speech.

"Power argues that strike might help bring parties to negotiating table. Why do we believe Assad will negotiate himself out of power?" asked the Saban Center for Middle East Policy’s Mike Doran on Twitter, while Commentary editor John Podhoretz expressed skepticism at Power’s argument that there is growing support among U.N. members for taking action in Syria.

Politico’s Josh Gerstein tweeted, "I suspect some of Power's speech was cut so Obama could give it on Tuesday."

However, Matt Lewis called Power’s speech "impassioned, if misguided" and said the U.N. ambassador and Secretary of State John Kerry have been more effective at making the case for intervention than Obama.