Turtle Bay

Samantha Power’s tough road to confirmation gets a bit easier

Some Republicans looked like they were set up for a new fight against President Barack Obama‘s nominee for to replace Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former journalist and Harvard scholar, who has written critically of what she viewed as America’s moral failure in the face of modern genocides in ...

Some Republicans looked like they were set up for a new fight against President Barack Obama‘s nominee for to replace Susan Rice as U.N. ambassador, Samantha Power, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, former journalist and Harvard scholar, who has written critically of what she viewed as America’s moral failure in the face of modern genocides in Africa and the Balkans.

"Jeanne Kirkpatrick is turning in her grave right now," Keith Urbahn, a former chief of staff to former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted this morning. "I don’t know about you, but it might be helpful to have someone rep’ing America at UN who doesn’t think we are the source of world’s ills."

But by the time President Barack Obama announced Power’s and Rice’s nominations at a White House ceremony things were beginning to look up. As the Cable reported, Republican conservatives were voicing report for the Power. And Senator John McCain, who had vigorously opposed Rice’s nomination to become U.S. Secretary of State, issued a statement backing Power. "I support President Obama’s nomination of Samantha Power to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nation," McCain said. "I believe she is well qualified for this important position and hope the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."

Yet Urbahn cited a lengthy article by Power in the March 2003 issue of the New Republic, the same month the United States entered Iraq, a conflict which epitomized for her the Bush administration’s "overreliance on power in the name of principle."

In that piece, Power faulted the United States for applying double standards — what she termed "a la cartism" — in the conduct of its foreign policy, griping about the "shortage of democracy in Palestine, but not in Pakistan," or bombing Serbs in defense of ethnic Albanians but saying nothing about Russian excesses in Chechnya.

Power argued that America’s international standing and credibility required that Washington also confront the darker chapters of its foreign policy past — CIA-backed coups in Guatemala, Chile, and Congo, and the doubling of U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein the year he gassed the Kurds.

"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," she wrote. "Would such an approach be futile for the United States?"

The New Republic piece, as well as many other published writings, including her book, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, will provide fertile ground for Republicans to pick through for signs of her political suitability.

Power has long had a deep interest in the United Nations, which she covered as a freelance reporter in the Balkans in the 1990s. She wrote a biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil, the U.N. trouble-shooter who was killed in the Aug. 2003 terrorist attack against the U.N. compound in Baghdad.

But if Power survives the confirmation hearing, she may have some explaining to do here in New York. Before joining the Obama administration, where she served as the National Security Staff’s expert on international organizations and U.N. peacekeeping, Power had provided a withering assessment of the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Here’s my account of her remarks:

During then Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, a top foreign-policy advisor, Samantha Power, spoke disparagingly of Ban, characterizing his handling of the Darfur crisis as "extremely disappointing," in a Frontline interview. Ban ‘looks to be adopting the persona of many of his predecessors in that job, which is to be more of a secretary than a general. Darfur needs a general. Not a military general, it needs a diplomatic general, a political general, a moral general. It doesn’t need a secretary."

"Is that all there is?" she told the New Statesman, a British magazine, before Obama was elected. "Can we afford to do without a global figure, a global leader?" U.S. officials have insisted that Power’s comments do not reflect the views of the current administration, in which Power serves as a White House advisor on multilateral issues.

Obama administration officials have previously noted that the remarks were not made while she was in government and that said that she has since patched up her relationship with Ban.

But Power has also directed sharp criticism of the human rights conduct of other key U.N. powers, including China and Russia. The U.N. Security Council, she noted in her New Republic piece, is "anachronistic, undemocratic, and consists of countries that lack the standing to be considered good faith arbiters of how to balance stability against democracy peace against justice and security against human rights."

Hmm, this is going to be interesting…

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Ed.: This post has been updated to reflect Sen. John McCain’s statements in support of Power’s nomination.

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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