‘Controversial’ U.N. Pick Not Controversial, After All

‘Controversial’ U.N. Pick Not Controversial, After All

In a 16-2 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee overwhelmingly approved the nomination of Samantha Power to be the next U.S. ambassador the United Nations.

The vote clears the way for a final vote in the Senate, and signals a much easier confirmation process than many predicted, given Power’s lengthy paper trail as a journalist and human rights advocate. After winning the president’s nomination in June, critics dredged up a range of comments from Power’s career, including her criticisms of U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein when he gassed the Kurds; CIA-backed coups in Guatemala, Chile and Congo; and U.S. policy toward Palestine.

But few of those hot-button comments inflicted damage on Power during confirmation hearings on the panel. Not even a 2002 remark in which she said "external intervention" may be necessary to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians came back to burn her — even though she went on to say that such a move could mean "alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import" (i.e. Jewish Americans.)

Though at the time she was assailed for "malign[ing] the American pro-Israel lobby," she since made her peace with the U.S. Jewish community in a lengthy courtship that included the influential rabbi-to-the-stars Schmuley Boteach, as expertly chronicled by colleague Colum Lynch. Her fortunes have also been unexpectedly buttressed by a range of neoconservatives including Max Boot, former Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John McCain who share her view that the principle of sovereign national borders is not absolute.

The notable snags during her hearings were few and far between. Most notably, there was an off-hand mention of Venezuela as a "repressive" OPEC nation, which triggered loud but ultimately effete protestations by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The only issue that seemed to stick was her reference to U.S. "crimes" in a 2003 article for the New Republic. "We need a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, permitted by the United States," she wrote. "Willie Brandt [the former German Chancellor] went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto, his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also cathartic for Germany … Would such an approach be futile for the United States?"

That lost her the vote of Florida Senator Marco Rubio who last week demanded that she name the crimes she was referring to. She responded with a transparent dodge: "The United States is the greatest country on earth … [I] would never apologize for America."

Rubio responded: "So your answer to whether we committed or sponsored crimes is that the United States is the greatest country on earth?"

Earlier today, Rubio tweeted: "Voted No on nomination of Samantha Power due to her lack of support for UN reform & comments about US ‘crimes.’"

Still, the exchange did not damper the groundswell of bipartisan support for her that seemed unlikely just weeks ago. Advocates for a stronger U.S. commitment to the United Nations see today as a victory day. "Samantha Power will be a tough, passionate advocate for our nation, with a fierce moral compass," Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of United Nations Foundation, said in a statement to The Cable. "she was a key influencer in the decision for the U.S. to rejoin the Human Rights Council so that we could better stand up for our allies and direct the world’s focus to the most critical human rights challenges. Moreover, she has put a needed spotlight on civilian protection, including recently in Libya, and been outspoken when the world has been too slow to respond to atrocities."