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Samantha Power’s Power
On the ideology of an Obama adviser


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Stanley Kurtz

Power explains that Vieira de Mello never really surrendered his Sixties ideals, even as he transformed himself from a passionate ideologue into a “ruthless pragmatist.” The young America-hating Vieira de Mello grew into a mature diplomat who could charm Pres. George W. Bush, even while lecturing the commander-in-chief on the follies of Guantanamo Bay. In other words, Vieira de Mello learned to manage his public persona, appealing to American leaders with arguments (allegedly) based on American national interest.

This is clearly Power’s ideal for herself. In fact, she tells us in her acknowledgments that the point of the book is also “the point of my career.” Power even cites the uncanny resemblance between Vieira de Mello and Obama. Of course, Obama’s Alinskyite training stressed the need for community organizers to advance their quietly held leftist ideological goals through “pragmatic” appeals to the public’s “self-interest.” (For more on that, see my study of Obama.)

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Samantha Power has a lot to teach us about Barack Obama. She herself draws analogies between the need to redistribute wealth via health-care coverage and the need to divide military and diplomatic power (and, implicitly, wealth) more evenly through the international system. Power regularly invokes arguments for international law derived from America’s Founders and the West’s great liberal thinkers, as if her goal were the founding of a government of the world. In truth, that is what Power is up to, even if she sees her project as a long-term collective effort necessarily extending beyond her own lifetime.

The novel doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” which Power means the Libyan action to enshrine in international law, could someday be used to justify military intervention to impose a “two-state solution” on Israel (apparently this is one of Power’s longstanding goals, although she now disavows it). The International Criminal Court, which Power has long defended, may someday enable the leftist Europeans who run it to place American soldiers and politicians on trial for supposed war crimes. The Obama administration’s troubling acquiescence in the development of sweeping international prohibitions on “aggression” may one day make virtually any use of force not pre-approved by the United Nations subject to international sanctions. These are the long-term goals of Power’s policies, although they are seldom confessed or discussed.

On rare occasions, Power comes straight out and admits that the sorts of interventions she favors constitute an almost pure cost to American national interest, traditionally defined. More often, she retreats into the language of “pragmatism” and “self-interest” to justify what she knows Americans will not support on its own terms. That is Samantha Power’s way and, not coincidentally, Barack Obama’s way as well.

At some point, after we’ve all done our best to fit the president’s puzzling Libyan adventure into our accustomed conceptual frameworks, we just might wake up and discover what has been going on behind the curtain. When we do, the answer will be found in the writings of Samantha Power.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the author of Radical-in-Chief.



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