Samantha Power: An Exemplary Pick

by Charles C. W. Cooke
Forget U.N. ambassador, she sounds like secretary-general material.

Back in 2008, during what would become a disastrous international book tour, Samantha Power claimed that she didn’t have any “conventional political ambition.” This, one might have imagined, was rather a blessing, because Power doesn’t have any conventional political skill, either. For a woman who holds a professorship at the prestigious Kennedy School of Government at Harvard — and who has written an extremely well-received book on international diplomacy — she seems to have gleaned surprisingly little about how the world works.

Nevertheless, if the reports are to be believed, she will soon have a conventional political job. President Obama, who just can’t quit her, is poised to nominate Power to replace Susan Rice as the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations.

For this role, Power is an exemplary pick. Not only has she long lamented “the U.S. historic predisposition to go it alone,” but she has also perfected the body’s famous brand of pompous inertia. For a year or so she headed up the president’s worthless Atrocities Prevention Board and, per the Seattle Times, understood to a T what was required of her:

Wanting to ascertain whether the board was actually doing anything to help prevent crimes against humanity, some 60 scholars of genocide studies and human-rights activists from across the globe sent a letter to Samantha Power, then-chair of the board, in December. Power never responded. They sent her a second letter in January, and again received no response.

Forget ambassador, she sounds like secretary-general material.

Power is not so much a multilateralist as she is just deeply morally confused. In an alarming 2003 article in The New Republic, she contended openly that “U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought. It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States.” Bravo! Messieurs-dames, je vous présente votre ambassadrice!

Reading these words, those who have long charged that President Obama effectively embarked on an “apology tour” upon taking office presumably opened their mouths to bawl, “I told you so!” But this was small change compared with what came next. As if Power were concerned that she had left some wiggle room into which context and ambiguity might intrude, she proceeded to make her views explicit:

Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors. When [German Chancellor Willy] Brandt went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto [in 1970], his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also ennobling and cathartic for Germany. Would such an approach be futile for the United States?

Rarely does one see craven phrases such as “doctrine of the mea culpa” and tasteless comparisons of the United States to Nazi Germany in one neat paragraph — but there it is. Any deconstructionist journalist who can convincingly read the execrable meaning out of her essay deserves a Pulitzer.

“For the United States, of all countries, to be talking about human rights,” Power wrote in the Boston Phoenix in 2003, “just rings very, very hollow in light of all the objections to our policy in Israel.” If that sounds like a harsh assessment, try for size her views on Israel itself. America would be well served, Power has argued, if Americans would just have the guts to “alienat[e] a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import” — that’s “the Jews,” in plainspeak — which would “crucially mean sacrificing . . . billions of dollars, not in servicing Israel’s military, but actually investing in the state of Palestine.”

As we have learned over the last five years, the president enjoys using the word “investment” as a tricky little proxy term for the less popular “spending.” Here, Powers one-ups him, deploying it as a surrogate for “invasion.” In order to prevent conflict, Power has argued, the United States should occupy Israeli and Palestinian territory with a “mammoth protection force.” “Unfortunately,” she mused, “imposition of a solution on unwilling parties is dreadful. I mean, it’s a terrible thing to do, it’s fundamentally undemocratic.”

Well, there is that, yes. But perhaps Israel deserves it? After all, Power frequently implies that the country dictates American foreign policy. As Commentary’s Noah Pollack has observed, she is fond of implying that “Israel had something to do with the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 — an appalling slander, and a telling one.”

Power’s artlessness is legendary. Discussing Hillary Clinton while serving as Barack Obama’s senior adviser during the 2008 presidential campaign, Power informed a writer from The Scotsman that Clinton “is a monster, too — that is off the record — she is stooping to anything. . . . You just look at her and think, ‘Ergh.’” The writer from The Scotsman then informed everybody else that she had said this, which was as unethical as it was predictable. For this transgression, candidate Obama fired Power and exiled her to the wilderness until he had won the White House and the coast was clear. It wasn’t her week. Days earlier, Power had undiplomatically told the London Telegraph that she didn’t rate the prime minister but liked his subordinate and potential challenger: “David Miliband seems impressive to me. I am confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown. I thought he was impressive.”

David Harsanyi of Human Events wrote yesterday morning that Samantha Power reminded him of Woody Allen’s observation in Annie Hall that the “one thing about intellectuals” is that “they’ve proved that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what’s going on.” Perhaps, but it’s good enough for government work — and she’ll fit right in at Turtle Bay.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

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