WASHINGTON — Fiery human rights advocate Samantha Power has famously taken presidents to task for refusing to use military force to stop genocide. But as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Power may need to bite her tongue as the Obama administration resists being drawn into Syria.
Those who know her well describe Power, 42, as vociferously passionate about confronting international atrocities, berating those who, in her mind, sit idly by. In 2008, Power called then-presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton a "monster."
And in an article she wrote in 2001 titled "Bystanders to Genocide," Power hammered those who put politics ahead of peacekeeping in Rwanda — including, she said, Susan Rice, the woman with whom she shared a podium Wednesday as she was nominated as the next U.N. ambassador. Rice was named President Barack Obama's national security adviser at the same ceremony.
"The battle to stop genocide is lost in the realm of domestic politics," Power said in a June 2002 interview with C-Span to discuss her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. "And that is where it can be won — if it's to be won."
Most governments have been careful not to label the civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 70,000 people and is now in its third year, as genocide. Qatar and Turkey, however, have accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of committing war crimes against his people. And rebel fighters who are pleading in vain with the White House for weapons and other military aid have accused the regime of launching a "massive genocide" across the country.
Within minutes of her nomination, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., predicted that Power will easily win Senate confirmation, calling her "well-qualified for this important position." McCain is one of the leading proponents of U.S. intervention in Syria.
As Power tells it, she was a 23-year-old war correspondent for a variety of publications in the Balkans when she realized that the Clinton administration was refusing to stem ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda. She described Rice at the time as a "rising star" on the National Security Council who allegedly balked at describing the atrocities in Rwanda as genocide for fear that inaction there would hurt Democrats in the 1994 congressional elections.
Rice has said she does not recall making the comment, and the two women appear to be close now.
Power began working for Obama in 2005 as a foreign policy adviser and also served on his first presidential campaign, when Power described Clinton as "a monster" for, she said, fear mongering to voters in Ohio. Power resigned from Obama's campaign and apologized to Clinton shortly after his victory.
She remained influential in the White House as a senior national security staff adviser to Obama, overseeing human rights and multilateral affairs, and stepped down only earlier this year to care for her two young children.
Power made clear Wednesday that she will remain a watchdog at heart in her new post, referencing both U.N. successes in Sudan and failures in Bosnia.
"As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time. It can do so only with American leadership," she said.