Samantha Power, the the Obama administration’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations — widely known for her outspoken and blunt demeanor — seemed somewhat toned-down in many of her responses at her confirmation hearing on July 17, leaving us with the question: Which Samantha Power will be going to the UN?
When pressed to comment on controversial statements she made over a decade ago regarding the administration’s failure to intervene in the face of atrocities, she disavowed them. Instead, Power stated that she “will not apologize for America” and went further, calling it “the greatest country on earth,” and “a leader in human dignity.”
Though at times inconsistent with past remarks, Power stood firmly behind her disapproval of the lack of action taken on the escalating crisis in Syria, one that has killed over 90,000 people and left 1.8 million displaced. She labeled the United Nations Security Council’s failure to respond to these atrocities as “a disgrace that history will judge harshly,” stating that the Assad regime has “labeled a new playbook for brutality.”
With this attitude, Power has potential to make great strides in changing the United States’ approach to handling atrocities worldwide. A long time advocate for human rights and genocide prevention, she has been blunt in her criticism of the Administration’s passivity in response to genocide in the past—her novel “A Problem from Hell” documents many of these instances, and she has expressed a need for human rights issues to become a more fundamental concern in United States’ foreign policy going forward.
During her confirmation hearing, Power reiterated this belief and emphasized the importance of intervention, stating that the United States has a moral responsibility to respond to and work to prevent humanitarian crises. She repeatedly referred to the many “tools in the toolbox” as the different ways the U.S. might assist conflict areas in conjunction with the UN. These “tools” could include deploying peacekeepers, providing humanitarian aid and instating economic sanctions as examples.
Because her infamous candor was subdued in the formal hearing room, it is uncertain whether Power will remain as outspoken and unyielding as she has in the past when addressing human rights issues. Still, there is reason to feel optimistic based on her credentials and experience as a powerful voice in the movement.
Above all, Power knows that the United States cannot stand idly by as catastrophic and violent situations unfold. We can take comfort in her criticism of decisions that the U.S. government has made—or failed to make—when dealing with humanitarian crises in the past, and hope that her beliefs will stand strong as she helps to shape foreign policy going forward.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was one Senator who openly backed Power in the hearing, praising her work in “speaking up for human rights.” He urged her to continue to uphold her “fundamental beliefs” in the United States’ responsibility to advocate for these rights, and expressed confidence that she will not fail do to so.
If confirmed as ambassador, there is hope that protection and prevention against genocide can move to the forefront of our national agenda. Power will be in a unique position to set a new tone in the international community, making the fight against genocide a collective responsibility, and ensuring nefarious regimes responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity are always held accountable.
With Power sailing through approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, her approval by the full Senate should come shortly. Then we will have the opportunity to see which Samantha Power will go to the UN.