Samantha Power Briefly Discusses Things Other Than Obama
Written by Bwog Staff
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.