Samantha Power, High Priestess of Insidious Authoritarianism

by | Apr 26, 2023

Samantha Power, High Priestess of Insidious Authoritarianism

by | Apr 26, 2023

samantha power

Most people who remember Samantha Power know her either as a pro-war propagandist masquerading as a journalist in Bosnia or as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s loyal servant in helping to orchestrate the Obama administration’s disastrous military interventions in Libya and Syria. However, she now has an important policy perch in Joe Biden’s administration from which to promote and implement a new round of destructive policies. As the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, she has a multi-billion-dollar slush fund with which to bribe foreign governments and subsidize foreign political surrogates.

Under her leadership, USAID’s stated goal is to place greater emphasis on specific measures to counter the various methods that authoritarian regimes use to undermine free societies. As usual, the actual substance of the policy is to prevent any efforts by foreign critics to undermine U.S. global military and economic primacy. Power underlies the “new” strategy in her article in the March-April 2023 issue of Foreign Affairs, titled “How Democracy Can Win: The Right Way to Counter Autocracy.”

Much of the article simply regurgitates bromides that establishment internationalists have pushed for decades. Thus, we learn that Washington must provide more financial aid to alleviate global poverty and promote greater income equality. And, of course, Washington must hold recipient governments accountable for greater efforts to clean up both financial and political corruption. Anyone who has studied the track record of U.S. foreign aid programs since the early Cold War era understands that such pledges are mere diplomatic formalities and will not be taken seriously either by Washington or its clients. Prospects are not much better for a more recent U.S. policy cliché that Power invokes—pushing countries receiving aid monies to embrace rigorous standards to combat climate change.

One portion of her manifesto should raise large red flags, however. Power insists that the Biden administration is intent on combatting “digital authoritarianism” around the world. She charges that autocratic regimes exploit the communications revolution that has taken place in recent decades to adopt policies “aimed at repressing free expression and expanding government control.” That point undoubtedly is true. For example, under President Xi Jinping, China’s government has adopted a variety of measures to squelch dissent on the internet. “The internet is not a lawless place,” stated a police notice regarding one recent anti-regime episode. “Blasphemies of heroes and martyrs will not be tolerated.”

Not surprisingly, though, Power conveniently ignores mounting evidence that the U.S. government also takes steps to marginalize or silence dissent. One key difference is that while China’s regime can adopt such measures directly, U.S. authorities more often work in collusion with the establishment press or with increasingly powerful social media platforms. That approach enables Washington—especially the national security apparatus—to skirt the provisions of the First Amendment and engage in censorship by proxy. Revelations contained in the so-called Twitter Files merely provide the latest example of such techniques in a long, sordid record.

Washington’s approach to information control is usually (although not always) more subtle than the methods that Beijing and other authoritarian regimes use. The effect, however, is similar: effective public debate on important policy issues is impeded or snuffed out entirely.

Power seeks to intensify the U.S. government’s insidious suppression of dissent, both here and abroad. She asserts that “perhaps the biggest threat to democracy from the digital realm is disinformation and other forms of information manipulation.” Specifically, Power charges that Russia and China “have spent vast sums manipulating the information environment  to fit their narratives by disseminating false stories, flooding search engines to drown out unfavorable results, and attacking and doxing their critics.” Her hypocrisy is breathtaking, given that the U.S. government has committed every one of those offenses.

The carrot of U.S. bribery that Power offers is not subtle. “In recognition of the challenges that all traditional media outlets face, even in the United States, we [the Biden administration] have also organized a new effort to help media organizations that are struggling financially develop business plans, lower costs, find audiences, and tap into new sources of revenue so that they do not go bankrupt when independent journalism is needed most.” One of those “new sources of revenue” would be direct or indirect subsidies from USAID. Only the most naïve would assume that media outlets opposing U.S. foreign policies would receive such largesse.

Another key element of Power’s strategy to counter “foreign influence campaigns and disinformation” is to “help our partners” [U.S. aid recipients] promote “media and digital literacy, communicate credibly with their publics, and engage in ‘pre-bunking’—that is, seeking to inoculate their societies against disinformation before it can spread.” What makes that approach so dangerous is that for Power and her ideological compatriots, “disinformation” is a vacuous smear term used to discredit any views that dispute the U.S. government’s narrative on nearly any issue—especially on foreign policy. It was the rationale used, for example, to smother arguments that the COVID pandemic likely originated with a leak from the Wuhan virology lab. U.S. government agencies pressured the establishment press and the social media companies to implement that blackout.

If USAID can use its considerable resources to further “encourage” countries receiving U.S. financial assistance to adopt a similar approach, the disease of politically correct authoritarianism already afflicting both the United States and its allies will become even more entrenched. In her Foreign Affairs article, Samantha Power has highlighted the blueprint for achieving that result. Anyone who values freedom of expression, either here or abroad, needs to take her scheme seriously and oppose it.

About Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter is a senior fellow at the Libertarian Institute and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. Dr. Carpenter also served in various policy positions during a 37-year career at the Cato Institute. He is the author of thirteen books and more than 1,200 articles on international affairs and the threat that the U.S. national security state poses to peace and civil liberties at home and around the world. Dr. Carpenter’s latest book is "Unreliable Watchdog: The News Media and U.S. Foreign Policy" (2022)

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