President Obama's choice for the next U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations, former Harvard Professor Samantha Power, stirred conservative ire in
the past with her call for an American "mea culpa" policy and armed intervention
in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but appears unlikely to face significant
obstacles in the Senate confirmation process.
Power, author of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide," would replace Susan Rice who moves to become Obama's new national security advisor. Rice's name was floated for Secretary of State but withdrawn in the face of harsh criticism over her role in the Benghazi crisis. Rice's appointment as national security advisor has drawn howls of protest from conservatives but does not require Senate approval.
Ironically, Power was among the fiercest critics of Clinton officials, including Rice, who kept the U.S. out of Rwanda, famously having to leave the Obama campaign in 2008 after refering to Hillary Clinton as a "monster." But both women worked closely with Obama on foreign policy within the White House.
She has angered conservatives in the past with a call for American apologies in 2003 -- "a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States .. a doctrine of mea culpa" -- and suggestions of a forceful intervention to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to Foreignpolicy.com, Keith Urbahn, a former chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted, "it might be helpful to have someone rep'ing America at UN who doesn't think we are the source of world's ills." But the site noted that Power gets a favorable nod from key neo-cons and Israel supporters.
Former Sen. Joe Lieberman told Foreign Policy's The Cable: "Generally speaking from her writings, Samantha is probably more personally interventionist as a matter of American foreign policy based on human rights than this administration has been," he said. "I'm very encouraged by the president's appointment."
"I think she made a mistake about Israel. She told me she regrets making that statement," pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz told The Cable. "I've known Samantha for many many years and have been to many gatherings where Israel has been discussed off the record and have never heard her express any views that could be characterized as anti-Israel."
But Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, said in appointing Power and Rice, Obama was being intentionally provocative, challenging conservatives amid the ongoing IRS, press-monitoring and Benghazi scandals.
"It's a political appointment designed to be provocative to the opposition and divert attention in the news cycle from his problems with the scandals," he said.
Hanson said Power's criticism of George W. Bush as well as Bill Clinton for not more aggressively intervening around the world to defend human rights collided with the reality that, as part of the Obama administration, she has been unsuccessful in convincing the president to take action in Syria and was part of the team that saw the death of Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, in an attack in Benghazi, Libya.
"She is one of three people (with Rice and former Secretary of State Clinton) who were instrumental in convincing the president to intervene in Libya ... and I don't think that policy has been borne out," Hanson said.
But John Pike, an expert on defense and intelligence policy, and director of GlobalSecurity.org, which he founded in 2000, said Libya was a success for the U.S. and Power can rightfully take credit for it. He agreed with Hanson that Syria remains a conundrum for the administration, but he said that reflects the difficulty of navigating world politics.
"Welcome to the real world," Pike said. "I'm frustrated we haven't done anything about Syria, but I gather she was instrumental in doing something about Libya, and that's to the good."
Predicting the performance of nominees for the U.N. post is always difficult, Pike said. "It's a bully pulpit," Pike said. "It's kind of a unique position and there's not many of them, so it's not like you can go get trained or there's a career track to get there."
Tennessee U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude toward Power.
"I don't know Samantha Power personally, but now that the president has nominated her to the U.N., I look forward to meeting her to understand her views and review her record as the Senate considers her nomination for this important foreign policy position," Corker said in Washington.
Another Republican member of the committee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, praised Power for her experience and promised his support.
"I support President Obama's nomination of Samantha Power to become the next U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations," said McCain, Obama's onetime presidential opponent. "I believe she is well-qualified for this important position and hope the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible."
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