I headed down to Kilkenny for an evening last week. That's Samantha Power giving the inaugural Hubert Butler lecture as Fintan O'Toole looks on. The talk was moved to St. Canice's Cathedral due to its popularity.
She 's currently advising Barack Obama, and having read his 'Audacity of Hope' on holidays I was looking for some insight into the state of the world, from an American perspective.
She spoke about the erosion of US influence against the backdrop of the rise of US power. She also mentioned the basic incompetence of the US in certain areas such as Hurricane Katrina, and the war in Iraq. Her scariest statistic related to the virtual absence of Arabic speakers amongst US army staff based in Iraq. She also addressed the stagnation within the UN Security Council, and the rise of the petro-authoritarian powers such as Iran, Russia and Venezuala in recent years. She discussed the American obsession with democracy as epitomised in the blue-stained fingers of those who have voted, and suggested that the 'four freedoms' of FDR were of under-estimated importance: freedom from want; freedom of worship; freedom from fear; and freedom of expression.
Barack seems to have got into trouble on the far side of the pond for suggesting that he would talk to the bad guys. Apparently this is seen a sign of weakness over there. On this island talking to the bad guys was the first step towards having a Peace Process. Mind you, I wouldn't be enamoured of Barack's apparent interest reported in the Economist this week in sending American troops in against al-Qaeda in Pakistan. It's not easy to be a presidential candidate in the US and show weakness. She ended with a discussion of Paul Cuddihy, the former Mayor of Kilkenny's apology for the City's treatment of Hubert Butler after his criticism of the Catholic Church's hierarchy for their role in the Balkans during the second World War. Cuddihy stated "I'm saying we were wrong because we were wrong." It may be some time before either Barack or others closer to home will be able to say the same about the disastrous war in Iraq. Meanwhile I'm busy reading up on where Mick Fealty feels the Green Party's foreign policy should be headed.
I'm looking forward to reading Samantha's forthcoming book about Sergio Vieira de Mello, the man who succeeded Mary Robinson as UN Commissioner for Human Rights and who was killed shortly after taking on the job of Special Representative of the Secretary in Iraq. it should make for interesting reading...