Review Essay

See No Evil: Why America Doesn't Stop Genocide

In This Review

"A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide

"A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide
By Samantha Power
Basic Books, 2002, 640 pp. $30.00 Purchase

The moral poverty of foreign policy is, along with war itself, one of the most enduring and intractable problems in international relations. In recent years, the conventional wisdom on international moral action has been that it

requires a cosmopolitan consensus, a shared understanding of the dignity and equal worth of every human being. Short of achieving a global cosmopolitan majority, the more that Western elites, and especially officials of the world's strongest power, subscribe to this world-view, the easier it should be to achieve effective international action to resolve humanitarian crises, the most important of which are mass killing and genocide.

Samantha Power's disturbing book suggests that the question is more complex. Through a series of careful historical case studies, Power, a former Balkan war correspondent, traces the development of the concept of genocide from the Turkish campaign against the Armenians in 1915 to the present -- along with the repeated failure of the world, and particularly the United States, to prevent such horrors. She argues that this pattern is due not to public or elite indifference to the idea of moral responsibility, nor to a lack of timely warning or feasible intervention options, but rather to structural features of the American political system. Under normal circumstances, she shows, American officials face stronger incentives

to avoid action against genocide than to stop it. Power's book will likely become the standard text on genocide prevention because it thoroughly debunks the usual excuses for past failures, while offering a persuasive framework that can help predict future outcomes and suggest policy responses. It is also engaging and well written; together with the awful fascination of the subject, this should be enough to guarantee that it will be widely read by both students and policymakers.


The crucial puzzle at the heart of Power's book is why the Clinton administration, which entered office more committed to humanitarian intervention and a moral foreign policy than any U.S. administration since World War II, wound up

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