Samantha Power Briefly Discusses Things Other Than Obama

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The Pulitzer Prize-winning, Kennedy School of Government scholar Samantha Power graced the halls of Columbia’s Law School last night for a discussion with Columbia Journalism professor Bill Berkeley. Power demonstrated the poise and careful articulation of words for which she has typically been known (the recent “monstergate” debacle notwithstanding), and she expressed the hope that she is remembered more for her human rights work and genocide scholarship than for a short sound-byte that has been co-opted by an eager press.  

While Power’s main aim was to promote her recently published biography of former UN Human Rights Commissioner, Sérgio Vieira de Mello (cleverly named Chasing the Flame, in honor of what Power calls Vieira de Mello’s “Machiavellian idealism”) the event, hosted by the Columbia Undergraduate Human Rights Program, turned more into a candid and critical look at Power’s political career.

While Power used the occasion to apologize profusely for her comments about Senator Clinton, her apologetic tone wavered at times, and she suggested that the Clinton campaign is unfairly using those comments as a negative campaign tool driven more by Clinton’s personal ambition to be president than by any actual ideological desire to make a difference as president.  

Those comments offered Power the opportunity to defend Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy: she used her podium—in front of a crowded auditorium brimming with eager undergraduates and graduate students—to discuss her affection for her time in the Obama campaign and leave open the possibility that she may seek to rejoin Obama’s foreign policy circle if he were to be elected president in the fall.

When Power did talk about Sérgio Vieira de Mello, she focused almost exclusively on his ability to engage all sides (even known terrorists such as Muqtada al-Sadr) to seek pragmatic solutions in conflict ridden areas, solutions that would not necessarily satisfy the conditions of all sides at once, but would offer preferable and realistic policy options with considerable foresight into future violent consequences.  Power used this discussion of Vieira de Mello to connect to what she claimed is Obama’s greatest foreign policy asset: his willingness to depart from the current solipsistic nature of American diplomacy and directly engage in negotiations with some of the world’s most problematic leaders. Power seemed to suggest that an Obama administration would bear the burden of correcting many of the American policies of the past, particularly in the realm of rebuilding the legitimacy of international institutions, such as the UN, that carry considerable weight in the decision-making process

Q and A, while intended to reign the conversation back towards a discussion of Sérgio Vieira de Mello’s understanding of diplomacy, turned into a lengthy discussion of Obama policies, including the senator’s idea of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his 2007 Iraqi withdrawal strategy.

In all, Samantha Power’s appearance at Columbia offered students a first-hand and quite intricate look at what foreign policy could potentially look like in the future if a “candidate who thinks like a lawyer and not purely out of self-interest is elected,” as Power claimed.  Perhaps too, Power used this stage to prime herself for a future role in an Obama cabinet, or as a National Security Advisor.  Who knows if any of these political ambitions will actually play out in the coming months, but it sure was a treat to be along for just a brief moment of the ride.


For more coverage on Power’s talk, see this article in the Huffington Post.


  1. Proudhon

    What creampuffery on this careerist liberal interventionist hack.

    • well  

      thank god for liberal interventionist hacks. Better than conservative ones.

      If there were more of the former. we might have sent forces to Rwanda, who actually needed them, and not Iraq, where more people have died since we got involved than in the decade before.

      well this is boring. still, it beats columbia class council politics.

  2. those  

    eyebrows are going to haunt me when i sleep

  3. blegh  

    "a treat to be along for just a brief moment of the ride"

    creampuffery indeed. being close to power appears to put this writer in a euphoric fugue.

  4. Proudhon

    In terms of Rwanda, what exactly do you mean by "intervention"? I see this little convenient shorthand batted about without much concrete explication of what it would have entailed or consideration of whether it would have even made much difference, given the type of warfare on the ground. It certainly didn't in Somalia.

    • Maybe  

      If you had actually attended the event, you would know that intervention isn't Power's super-fix to these problems. She talked about an adaptive approach, with non-intervention actually being more effective in some cases.

      How come a disproportionate number of foreign policy right-wingers are on Bwog?

  5. maybe

    because everyone who doesn't agree with your particular adaptive approach becomes a right winger in your eye

    and extra points for trying to affirm the caricature of republicans of being guns a'blazing foreign policy hawks--apparently you can't stand up to Ms. Power's level of discourse either

    • My bad  

      I didn't mean foreign policy right-wingers, I meant foreign policy retards.


      • yes

        remember that powers in her book on genocide points out that because of realpolitik nature of dealing with genocide, nobody is innocent of being a callous bystander, regardless of their party/national label

        as for the retard bit, from what i can tell the poster's was response was aimed at a previous post which claimed iraq constrained our options, which suggests that there would be some american military presence there (considering that's our primary contribution to iraq---largely because our attempts to build a coalition have been poor--and yes i recongnize that the 400 billion dollars or so would be considered another significant contribution)

  6. ...  

    having corresponded with this woman through e-mail all i can say is that she's a bitch. a smart one and an important one, but still just not a nice woman.

  7. she  

    could also stand to get acquainted with some shampoo

  8. her comments  

    at columbia made it onto MSNBC last night on the dan abrahams show, where they received worse reviews than her eyebrows did here.

  9. she was in a

    good debate

    it was supposed to be a conversation w/two panelists, but it turned out a debate

  10. Avi

    Rwanda -- there could've been some sort of actual reaction other than pure quiet, and you could've bombed the radio station.

  11. Kibby

    I found it very interesting that she suggests "ethnic cleansing" as a solution in Iraq. After all, she calls herself the "genocide chick" and those two concepts don't seem to mesh well.

    The seduction of power.

  12. Laura

    Samantha Power and her ilk have a mirror to reflect themselves on: The legacy of Jimmy Carter - the worst president in recent times, who could not wait to give Iran to Islamic fundamentalists, haters of the West.

    The Left is so peculiar – always for the individual, until achieving power; then, obeying their ideology, they become quite totalitarian.

    Did Ms. Powers get a sex change? She looks so masculine that I thought maybe the surgery had affected her critical

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