Praised as a “femme fatale” of humanitarian assistance, and slagged as one of the top 10 “most dangerous people” in the Obama administration, Samantha Power seemed an unlikely candidate for the sedate corridors of high diplomacy.
Unsurprisingly, President Barack Obama’s nomination of the Irish-born human rights firebrand as Washington’s UN ambassador has drawn a firestorm of debate, especially on the Republican right.
Most of it revolves around the odds on senate confirmation for a “controversial” (read outspoken) figure who has said undiplomatic things about military intervention to protect endangered civilians, the U.S’s “double standards” in foreign policy, including a slant toward Israel, the need for self-criticism about Washington’s not-so-honorable past, and the failures of the United Nations itself,
The fact that Republicans have held up Obama’s nominations for the Environmental Protection Agency, Labor Secretary and the consumer Financial Protection Bureau – as well as blocking three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is not encouraging.
Power, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, author, academic and human rights crusader, does have some unexpected support on the right from Sen. John McCain and her former professor, fiercely pro-Israel lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who says she is “perfectly suited” to the UN job.
And he adds, “she is not a diplomat by nature, and that is precisely what the United Nations needs.”
But what about Power herself?
Not notoriously patient, she would inherit a job that requires hours of teeth-grinding debate in a forum where the placement of a comma can be argued for weeks if sensitive subjects are on the table.
Her championing of the responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians will be severely tested when going mano a mano with Russia over tougher measures against Syria. Moscow still treasures hopes of a victory – or peace deal – that would keep President Bashar al Assad in power and maintain its own foothold in the war-torn country.
Power will also have to carry the flag for Washington’s views on the missing-in-action Middle East peace process, which is unlikely to reboot while the pace of Israeli settlements in the West Bank gathers speed.
Then there’s the UN Security Council itself, which she said in a New Republic essay was “anachronistic, undemocratic and consists of countries that lack the standing to be considered good faith arbiters of how to balance stability against democracy, peace against justice and security against human rights.”
UN watchers will be rooting for her, regardless. If Power does take her seat at the UN high table it could give diplomacy a new lease on life – as a spectator sport.
Olivia Ward has covered the United Nations, as well as the former Soviet Union, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and the U. S., winning national and international awards.