Samantha Power: Why We Need Her At the United Nations

The recent appointment of Susan Rice to national security adviser has caused the media to describe the decision almost universally as some form of defiance or “a slap in the face.” After all, Rice now has a critical role in American foreign policy without having to undergo the tediousness and rhetorical outrage of Senate confirmation. Yet the nomination of Samantha Power, as the Washington Post accurately noted, may create just the confirmation battle that Susan Rice would have encountered had she been nominated for secretary of state.

Samantha Power is an incredibly qualified individual who has worked tirelessly for human rights. She has spoken eloquently and passionately as a journalist and won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on American response to genocide in the past century. She is a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she helped establish the Carr Center for Human Rights. And she has spent the past four years working as a senior director for human rights on President Obama’s National Security Council.

That commitment to human rights may be exactly what makes the confirmation process so difficult. The problem is that for the current Republican caucus, human-rights advocacy and criticism of U.S. foreign policy becomes conflated with apologizing that for America’s existence or trying to diminish America’s standing in the world.

This errant logic has already started to surface. Donald Rumsfeld’s former chief of staff started a Twitter rampage yesterday saying that she believes America is “the source of the world’s ills” and that she wants America to apologize for all of its past crimes. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has already called her nomination “deeply troubling… Ms. Power has publicly embraced the need for America to continue apologizing to the world for perceived transgressions.” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board has already identified her as a loyalist “who [shares] Mr. Obama's view that the U.S. is no longer the world's indispensable nation.” Breitbart and other right-wing outlets are starting their own assaults, which we can expect to continue throughout the confirmation process.  

Of course, there is a legitimate discussion about Power’s nomination for the position of ambassador to the United Nations. Some have hailed her as a perfect choice who could change the direction of U.S. policy. Others have pointed out that she is not exactly known for diplomatic tact. After all, she resigned from Obama’s 2008 campaign after calling Hillary Clinton “a monster,” although she did eventually (and maybe awkwardly) work with Clinton on the State Department transition staff.

And there are even more critical substantive discussions about U.S. foreign policy raised by Power’s nomination. For all of its rhetorical emphasis on human rights, the United States has a long and complex history with the subject, from CIA actions in Latin America to support for authoritarian regimes throughout the world to the fact that United States has not yet ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Power’s nomination should provide a foundation for a discussion about the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy.

And her nomination should provide an even stronger discussion about the role of the United States in world affairs. Powers is a liberal interventionist who supported operations in Libya and supports more active involvement in Syria. Interestingly enough, she has gained the support of many neoconservatives, whatever that means, as a result. Given the past decade of Iraq and Afghanistan and the Asia pivot that the Obama administration touts when not discussing counterterrorism, it is extremely crucial that government officials debate the expectations of the American role in world affairs and the way that it can delegate resources towards its policy priorities. We need to nominate Samantha Power because she is the exact person who can start that discussion.  

But if the past few years of obstructionism and Republican total war strategies in Congress have taught us anything, it is that these needed conversations will not happen. Instead, the hearings will descend into ad hominem attacks and fearmongering while the complicated nuances of international relations become reduced to sound bites for rapid media consumption.

We need to nominate Samantha Power in order to discuss these issues, but it may be too late for anyone to listen.