Commentary Magazine


Samantha Power’s First Test

Samantha Power, the journalist and political activist whom President Obama nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has yet to have her confirmation hearing. Power—with whom I went to college and who lived in the same dorm—grew to fame for her work in Bosnia, where she worked as a stringer and then penned a book on genocide. A committed internationalist, Power has promoted an expansive interpretation of United Nations legitimacy and international law, especially humanitarian law.

Fortunately, the United Nations now provides Power with her first test, one about which senators should question her in detail. Both Syria and Iran—two of the world’s human rights violators—are running for seats on the UN Human Rights Council. The Council—like much of the United Nations—has become a mockery of its declared principles, values to which Power claims to adhere. Given her professed commitment to human rights and her respect for the United Nations, it would be useful to hear how Power reacts: Condemnation of Syria and Iran might come easy. It’s one thing to pay lip service to condemnations of Third World dictatorships, but it’s another thing to do so at the expense of an institution which she places on a pedestal. Perhaps senators might ask Power how the United States could legitimize in any way–including by participation–in an organization whose achievements have more to do with whitewashing dictatorships than advancing human rights.

When questions of morality arise, UN officials often hide behind procedure. Perhaps it is worthwhile asking Power what damage such traditions and procedures have inflicted on the United Nations, and both how and whether she will seek to reverse them. Not only UN effectiveness, but also American interests are at stake. If Power is not able to compel the UN to reform its myriad organizations, senators might ask whether Power would advocate diminishing funding for the UN by the budgets in question. If not, it might seem Power sees the UN much like her “Atrocities Prevention Board” and seeks more to posture than truly tackle human rights abuses.