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Review Essay

Obama’s Idealists

American Power in Theory and Practice

In This Review

Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For
Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For
By Susan Rice
Simon & Schuster, 2019, 544 pp. Purchase
The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir
The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir
By Samantha Power
Dey Street Books, 2019, 592 pp. Purchase
The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House
The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House
By Ben Rhodes
Random House, 2018, 428 pp. Purchase

The events that Susan Rice and Samantha Power describe in their new memoirs of their time in the Obama administration occurred only a few years ago. But they belong to a different age.

“That chart shook up the Principals Committee like nothing I have seen before or since,” Rice writes in Tough Love. The chart estimated the number of people the Ebola virus might kill in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Rice, then national security adviser, goes on to describe how she helped convince the Pentagon to send almost 3,000 U.S. troops to West Africa to fight the plague. To convince other nations to join the effort, she, President Barack Obama, and various cabinet officials “made scores of calls to incredulous counterparts” in foreign governments. For her part, Power, then ambassador to the United Nations, disregarded the pleas of her young son—who cried, “Mommy, I’m certain you will bring back Bola”—and flew to Liberia and Sierra Leone under strict medical supervision to help oversee the effort. Back at the White House, in an attempt to counteract mounting hysteria about the disease, Obama hosted Nina Pham, a Texas nurse who had been successfully treated for Ebola. When she arrived at the Oval Office, he greeted her with a hug.

During the Obama administration, U.S. policymakers afforded Africa a level of concern and respect that was unprecedented in American history and is unimaginable in the Trump era. This attention to Africa reflected not merely a geographic orientation but an ideological one: a belief that human security, even in the poorest and weakest of states, matters to U.S. national security.

The memoirs chronicle the decline of American power and the decline of American exceptionalism.

Rice, who began her career working on Africa policy in the Clinton administration, made eight official trips to the continent while serving as Obama’s first ambassador to the UN. When South Sudan gained independence, in 2011, she hosted “a loud, super-sweaty dance party on the

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