Samantha Power‘s road to Senate confirmation may be strewn with landmines, but President Barack Obama‘s pick for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is also getting support from a key Republican constituency: neoconservatives.
The source of controversy over Power stems largely from her extended paper trail: a decades-long career as a journalist and Harvard scholar dedicated to human rights abuses and genocide — a calling that in many cases resulted in sharp criticisms of the United States for sitting on the sidelines in Rwanda or failing to order air strikes against Serbs.
But Power’s staunch advocacy of U.S. intervention on moral grounds has long appealed to neoconservatives who share her view that the principle of sovereign national borders is not absolute.
"Power is a good pick because she is a very capable and principled advocate of humanitarian intervention," Max Boot, a prominent neoconservative author and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told The Cable. Boot said he has been "dismayed" by the Obama administration’s reluctance to intervene more forcefully in Syria, but said it could do worse than appoint Power as U.N. ambassador. "I think it’s obvious that Samantha has had a meteoric rise due to her great work as a journalist and advocate of humanitarian intervention."
Perhaps most importantly, Power’s appointment received praise from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a staunch neoconservative on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will get the first crack at her confirmation vote. "I support President Obama’s nomination of Samantha Power to become the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations," said McCain. He called her "well-qualified for this important position," and said the Senate should "move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."
Former Connecticut Senator and dyed in the wool neoconservative Joe Lieberman offered strong praise for Power in a phone call with The Cable. "Generally speaking from her writings, Samantha is probably more personally interventionist as a matter of American foreign policy based on human rights than this administration has been," he said. "I’m very encouraged by the president’s appointment."
Alan Dershowitz, a staunch supporter of Israel and advocate of tough anti-terror policies, also sang Power’s praises in an interview with The Cable. "She’s a perfect choice. A perfect choice," he said. "She has real credibility to expose the U.N.’s double standard on human rights. She also understands the principle of ‘the worst first’ — you go after the worst human rights abusers first."
Dershowitz, a fervent watchdog of anti-Israel commentary, said he was not disturbed by Power’s previous criticisms of Israel, including a remark in 2002 in which she said "external intervention" may be necessary to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which may mean "alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import" (i.e. Jewish Americans).
"I think she made a mistake about Israel. She told me she regrets making that statement," Dershowitz said. "I’ve known Samantha for many many years and have been to many gatherings where Israel has been discussed off the record and have never heard her express any views that could be characterized as anti-Israel."
The Cable also ran into prominent neoconservative and Weely Standard editor Bill Kristol in an elevator this afternoon. When asked about Power he said, "it’s a mixed bag," before making a swift exit.
To some U.N. watchers, the boost from neoconservatives is natural.
"It doesn’t surprise me," said Peter Yeo, executive director at the Better World Campaign, a group that advocates for stronger U.S.-UN ties. "At the end of the day, neoconservative intellectuals have always been interested in the subject of civilian protection, and that’s an important contribution that Samantha Power has made."
Dershowitz agrees. "She is partially responsible for the ‘duty to intervene’ doctrine," he said. "I gave President Clinton her book A Problem from Hell when it first came out. I gave it to him and said, ‘You really have to read this because it sets out the arguments in favor of intervention.’"
"She is a leader on the argument that national borders and notions of sovereignty can’t stand in the way of humanitarian intervention," he continued. "She’s the kind of person you wish was around in World War II or the 1930s when intervention was needed."
The larger question political observers are asking is whether the simultaneous promotions of Power and Susan Rice, another liberal interventionist, portends a more aggressive White House policy in Syria, where at least 80,000 have been killed in that country’s brutal civil war.
Boot is skeptical. "I hope that in her new position she will make the case for greater American involvement to stop the slaughter in Syria, which is unconscionable and surely meets her test of humanitarian intervention," he said. "But I would be skeptical of that because Obama seems determined to do as little as possible."