Samantha Power and Barack Obama at the White House on June 5, 2013. (Courtesy Reuters)
As the first red-headed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power will cut a distinctive figure in the organization’s staid meeting rooms and endless cocktail receptions. But she will also stand out in ways that go well beyond appearance. By virtue of her youth, professional background, philosophical commitments, and direct personal style, Power has the potential to be a uniquely effective U.S. envoy. By raising the UN’s visibility and cache, and by doubling down on its role as a force for human rights and the mediation of violent conflict, Power could be just what the United Nations needs to help galvanize it for the twenty-first century.
Power’s foreign policy career was born in a war zone, and the horrors she witnessed have left a permanent mark. She covered the 1990s Bosnia war as a freelancer, working alongside a group of journalists, many of them women, and several who would forge distinguished careers working to protect human rights. From there, she went to Harvard Law School (where we met) and melded her interests in human rights law and writing into the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Problem From Hell, her book tracing the history of U.S. responses to genocide. It was that book, and Power’s impassioned call for the United States to prevent and stop future atrocities, that led her to a meeting with Senator Barack Obama in 2005. With that discussion, she won a prominent role advising him in the Senate and on his presidential campaign.
When an intemperate comment about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton relegated Power to a less public role in the Obama White House than many expected, she buckled down as the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights (where I worked with her while serving as a Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Organizations at the State Department). It quickly became clear that Power favored action over indefinite deliberation,