The Corner

Samantha Power for U.N. Ambassador Should Elicit Flurry of Questions

President Obama is set to nominate Samantha Power as U.S. pPermanent rRepresentative to the United Nations. The position requires Senate confirmation, which should lead to an interesting examination of her policy positions and the administration’s record in Turtle Bay. 

Power is an outspoken advocate for human rights and humanitarian intervention to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity. In numerous opinion pieces and several books — including the Pulitzer Prize–winning A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide — she recommends an aggressive defense of human rights that employs diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and military force. She also strongly advocates the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), a doctrine that holds the international community is obligated to intervene to prevent genocide and other atrocities. 

Without doubt, Power strongly believes in these ideals. But with her as U.N. ambassador, will the administration start calling for humanitarian interventions in places such as Syria? It would be a marked change in policy. And it probably won’t happen for several reasons:

‐The administration’s policy positions are well established. And Power had a hand in shaping them as a special assistant to the president and senior director of the National Security Council’s Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. For better or worse, the Obama administration has remained indecisive on Syria, determinedly opposed to confrontation with Iran, and willing to yield to the U.N. on low-priority crises such as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — regardless of the ineffectiveness of that approach in the past.

‐The high-water mark for R2P was the Libya intervention. Although it was authorized by the Security Council, many countries accused the U.S. and NATO of misusing Security Council resolutions to justify regime change. They believe that the Obama administration was not forthright in Council discussions. This distrust has colored subsequent proposed Security Council action in places such as Syria. Ham-handed diplomacy surrounding Libya and the disappointing results — a Libyan government of dubious capability and proliferation of weapons to terrorist and insurgent groups in the region — have made future R2P efforts far less likely. 

‐On human rights, the administration is rhetorically already where Power wants it to be. Having joined the feckless Human Rights Council, the U.S. has focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and cut deals that arguably undermine freedom of religion and freedom of expression. In terms of confronting countries for their human-rights abuses, the administration has concentrated on low-hanging fruit such as Burma and Sudan, while remaining non-confrontational on human-rights issues in China and Cuba that are more difficult to address in organizations like the U.N. 

Considering her role in shaping these and other issues at the NSC, the Senate can and should question Power closely on the appropriateness and effectiveness of these policies. Among other issues, senators should challenge her on:

‐The failure of the administration’s U.N.-centric strategy for dissuading Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons;

‐Why the administration has supported U.N. peace enforcement in Mali and the DRC despite a history of inadequacy and disaster in previous peace-enforcement operations;

‐Why the administration continues to support other peacekeeping missions that have been around for decades without discernible progress;

‐What she intends to do to reverse recent increases in the U.S. peacekeeping assessment that cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars;

‐How she will prevent increases in the U.N. regular budget;

‐What reforms are priorities for the administration; and

‐What is the administration’s strategy to block the Palestinians from gaining membership in U.N. specialized agencies, as they did with UNESCO in 2011, and why changing the law to allow U.S. funding for UNESCO would not simply encourage other U.N. organizations to also grant the Palestinians membership.   

Moreover, Power has never faced Senate confirmation, so her past has not been vetted. Her prolific commentary will prove fertile ground for questions. For instance:

‐In a 2002 interview, Power accused Israeli leaders of “destroying the lives of their own people” and implied that she supported cutting military assistance to Israel while providing billions in new aid to the Palestinians.

‐Power reportedly spoke disparagingly of U.N. secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, with whom she will have to deal if confirmed to her new position.

‐In a 2003 article, she stated that “much anti- Americanism derives from the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying [civil and political] freedoms to others. . . . We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States.”

‐She also asserted that America “must cease its reliance on gratuitous unilateralism. We make rules and create international institutions precisely in order to bind states when their short-term interests would otherwise lead them toward defection . . . giving up a pinch of sovereignty will not deprive the United States of the tremendous military and economic leverage it has at its disposal as a last resort.”

These statements lead to many obvious questions. How would these policy shifts bolster America’s ally Israel? What exactly is a “pinch” of sovereignty? Which “crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States” need “reckoning”?

No doubt Senators will ask for her thoughts on these issues and others. And that’s only fair.  When discussing Ambassador John Bolton’s 2005 nomination for U.N. ambassador, Power listed a series of concerns over his past statements and observed, “The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have a lot to contemplate when the ever-quotable Bolton arrives for confirmation.”

Power has a colorful history of quotations herself. Bolton failed to be confirmed and went to Turtle Bay as a recess appointment. It will be interesting to see if Power’s history elicits similar complications.

— Brett D. Schaefer is the Heritage Foundation’s Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs.

Brett D. SchaeferBrett D. Schaefer is The Heritage Foundation’s Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs.

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