Longtime Obama adviser Samantha Power is a well-respected humanitarian. She is an accomplished journalist and author married to a would-be Supreme Court pick. She was one of the driving forces behind the United States intervention in Libya. And now she's the president's pick to become the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Oh, yeah, and she once called Hillary Clinton a "monster." When it comes to liberal scholar superstars, the 42-year-old Irish American is like Sheryl Sandberg with a Pulitzer — and she might end up coming under similar scrutiny, if only because of her stacked resumé and soon-to-be high-powered position. At the White House this afternoon, Obama will announce his nomination of Power to replace Susan Rice, whose new job as national security adviser dominated the morning headlines and the GOP's Benghazi hangover. But unlike Rice, Power's post requires Senate confirmation, and her already robust profile will only grow as this savvy, unexpected choice settles in. Here's a re-introduction.
Why Power Is a Popular Pick
Power became well-known for her writing on human rights, including at The Atlantic. She won the Pulitzer Prize (Update: "I think she won... at the age of 15 or 16," Obama joked at his announcement) for her 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, the title of which sort of says it all: This woman is an advocate for people who need protecting, and she can express her thoughts with intelligence and eloquence that merits prestige. Some of those traits are what people would like to see in a U.N. ambassador. And that's in a sharp contrast to one of Rice's predecessors, just look at President Bush's controversial second-to-lack pick for the post: John Bolton actually wrote the foreword for anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller's book, as pointed out by — and we told you she was a liberal superstar — Eric Hananoki of Media Matters:
So, yes, the merit of U.N. ambassadors cannot be judged solely on their literary accolades or alliances. But the other reason the Power pick is already being lauded centers on her work with Obama, which stretches back to her time as a foreign policy advisor on the campaign trail. Power took a leave of her duties in February, but her role as an adviser in the administration and then as the Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights on the National Security Council, was credited as one of the driving forces that helped force Qaddafi from power and more. "That decision was allegedly guided by the ideas of Samantha Power, the controversial presidential aide whose 'Responsibility to Protect' doctrine emerged from a young but fruitful career of writing about how to prevent genocide," wrote Breitbart's Joel B. Pollak. (No, it's not just the liberals.) Pollak, like a lot of conservatives, lauded that decision to intervene in Libya in order to criticize the president on his policy in Syria. But, yes, in a roundabout way, even the right thinks the U.S.'s role in arming rebels to overthrow the Qaddafi regime was a great thing. And Power's humanitarian work is pretty hard to knock down, even for the most hawkish on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (Update: Noted hawk John McCain approves), even if Sean Hannity calls her one of the most "dangerous" people in the administration. Glenn Beck does, too.
Why Power Is a Controversial Pick
Indeed, the bashing from conservatives has already begun, which is protocol when Obama announces appointments these days. Get ready to hear these three words: Power hates Israel. And they're probably going to come in reference to this video, from a 2002 interview with Harry Kreisler:
The "anti-Israel" stance centers on Power saying that she would consider a "meaningful military presence" in the area. But you have to also consider that question Power was answering was framed as a hypothetical, if either Palestine or Israel begins "looking like they might be moving toward genocide." Power has distanced herself from the interview on several occasions, and in a 2008 interview with Israeli columnist Shmuel Rosner, she described her displeasure with her own words: "Even I don't understand it ... This makes no sense to me." Rosner goes on to write:
Anyway, what she she said five years ago is less important that what she wants to say now: She absolutely does not believe in "imposing a settlement." Israelis and Arabs "will negotiate their own peace."
Update: In his remarks at the Rose Garden, Obama seemed to try and fend off some of the criticism, noting among Power's career highlights that she had been "fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism and combatting human trafficking."
Why Power Might Soon Be the Subject of a 'Women Can or Can't Have It All' Trend Piece
Power left her post with the NSC in February to "spend more time with her family," The Washington Post reported at the time. "After four years at the White House, Samantha will be leaving the NSC later this month and will spend some well-deserved time with Cass and her two small children, Declan (3) and Rian (eight months)," the White House said at the time.
Power is married to star legal scholar Cass Sunstein (left), who is also no stranger to conservative hate — or occasional speculation about an appointment to the Supreme Court. The couple have two children, Declan and Rian. And that "spending time with the family" line doesn't sound unlike the dilemma that Anne-Marie Slaughter highlighted for The Atlantic — the idea that women in power positions can't be the mothers without compromise.
So let's keep an eye on that, and get ready for the "think" pieces.
But while spending time with family was certainly one of the reasons departure of Power's departure, Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray proposed that the real reason Power left was due to frustration with being blocked out by the Obama administration. "People who know her say that she grew frustrated in an administration that she saw as more political and less substantively engaged in foreign policy than she'd expected, and that she never fully penetrated the culture of Obama’s tight inner circle," Gray wrote.
What's even more curious is that Power had wanted this U.N. job for a while, and may have left because of Rice's failure at securing Hillary Clinton's post as Secretary of State. "I think she had hoped that Susan Rice would be secretary of state and she would be ambassador to the U.N.," Peter Galbraith, a former senior American diplomat and friend of Power told Gray. Galbraith added:
She doesn’t have the sharp elbows, she doesn’t have the bureaucratic mind-set of the Washington types — the people who have spent their life on Capitol Hill and in the White House, like Donilon or McDonough.
Does Power need elbows if she is appointed ambassador? Should she sharpen them? Has she broken through into Obama's inner circle? We'll find out in the coming weeks.
And Yes, Power Called Hillary a 'Monster'
And, yes, Power actually lost her job because of it. Clinton and Obama were vying for the Democratic nomination in 2008, and neither one had very nice things to say about each other at the time. That said, Power was upset after being asked about Ohio, as The Hill's Ian Swanson recapped:
"We F***** up in Ohio," she said. "In Ohio, they are obsessed and Hillary is going to town on it, because she knows Ohio’s the only place they can win." "She is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything," Power said.
Power resigned shortly thereafter, stating:
Of course I regret them, I can't even believe they came out of my mouth. The campaign was getting very tense, and I -- in every public appearance I've ever made talking about Senator Clinton, I have sung her praises as the leader she's been, the intellect. She's also incredibly warm, funny.
Looks like she's back in (almost) everyone's good graces — and certainly back in the spotlight.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.