I didn’t know whether to title this blog post, “Baptism by Fire” to highlight the role that Samantha Power is playing in the apparent detente unfolding between the U.S. and Iran. Or “Detente by Twitter.” We might have also called it, “The U.N. is Back.”
Power is the United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations who had been pushing for a military strike against Syria all year long. Her life makes good copy. According to cobbled together news reports, her Twitter handle is @Amassador Power. She lives at the top of the Waldorf-Astoria. She is a power Redhead, born in Ireland, who convinced Obama to strike Lybia but hasn’t been able to convince him to use military force against Assad. She tweets from baseball games at Yankee Stadium with her two toddlers in tow. Madam Ambassador is also a Modern Ambassador. And controversial, too. She was booted from the Obama campaign after referring to Hillary Clinton as a “monster.” She called the Israelis something even worse. But, at the end of the day, her nomination was overwhelming approved after she said her views on Israel had changed.
The question now is, “Is she up for the task?” This ex-reporter finds herself in the middle of negotiations that have the potential to reform the Axis of Evil or to make the United States an unwhitting ally in the Axis’ arrival to social media and its ‘smoke and mirrors’ ability to disguise a user’s true intentions. After all, according to CNN, Iran wants to continue to be able to produce enriched uranium.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani apparently tweeted his interest in the highest level talks between our two countries since before the 1979 Islamic revolution via Twitter. Which is a little hard to believe given Twitter is outlawed in Iran.
We have to ask whether the happenings at the United Nations today are a response to old fashioned carrot and stick diplomacy? Are the changes unfolding because we were about to use military force again in the Middle East? Or is it because, according to Bloomberg, their oil exports have dropped, inflation is rising and the economic sanctions are wearing on the populace. At the risk of sounding cyncial, can we take anything Iran says seriously? As Businessweek put it, “Is Iran moderating its policies or its rhetoric?”
What is real and undisputable is the fact that negotiations on this level haven’t occurred between the US and Iran since before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
From the New York Times: Samantha Power has pushed for a military strike against Syria.
UNITED NATIONS — Nearly a year before the world woke up to images of Syrians dying in a large-scale chemical weapons attack, Samantha Power was quietly pushing President Obama for a military strike to stop what she calls the “grotesque tactics” of President Bashar al-Assad. For a fleeting moment this month, it seemed she had prevailed.
Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, speaking at the Center for American Progress this month.
Now Ms. Power, a former senior aide on the National Security Council and a former war reporter who emigrated from Ireland, must negotiate for peace in a new public role as Mr. Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations. The president’s abrupt decision not to use force in Syria has thrust her into the middle of contentious talks to create a United Nations Security Council resolution mandating the elimination of Mr. Assad’s chemical arsenal by the middle of next year.
She will be on the spot on Monday, her diplomatic debut, as Mr. Obama arrives in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. A woman known for her closeness to the president and the soaring prose of her Pulitzer Prize-winning book on genocide, “A Problem From Hell,” Ms. Power is the lead American negotiator in the difficult, gritty business of arguing with the Russians, Syria’s patrons, who have already rejected the notion of using force if Mr. Assad does not comply.
Even her supporters wonder if the untested Ms. Power will be tough enough, a question with big implications. Secretary of State John Kerry will work with her on the resolution, but her role is so central that her performance — in her first weeks on the job — will help determine America’s future course in Syria.
“Most diplomats in a career of 40 years would never get this kind of opportunity to make such a difference at such a critical moment,” said Edward C. Luck, the dean of the School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego and a former senior United Nations adviser on peacekeeping issues. “The stakes could not be higher.”
At the United Nations headquarters last week, where security was tight in preparation for Monday’s meeting of world leaders, Ms. Power, who turned 43 on Saturday, looked harried as she swept through the corridors with her entourage. In brief comments to reporters, she deflected questions about how she would handle Russia’s resistance to authorizing the use of force if Mr. Assad refused to comply.
“We are determined to have an enforceable and binding resolution,” Ms. Power said, in the kind of bland, bureaucratic language she might have shunned as a writer for The New Yorker, which she once was. Beyond that, “I think I’m not going to comment.” She declined to be interviewed for this article.
Over the past two and a half years, Ms. Power — who in her role in the White House in 2011 helped orchestrate the American intervention in Libya — was unable to persuade the president to do the same in Syria, even after evidence of small-scale chemical weapons attacks emerged this year.
One person close to Ms. Power said she had been advocating military action at least since then, and as far back as December of last year. The Aug. 21 sarin gas attack, which American intelligence agencies say killed more than 1,400 Syrians, nearly a third of them children, forced the issue onto Mr. Obama’s agenda.
“I don’t think she ever expected that every issue would be decided her way,” the person said, insisting on anonymity to share private conversations. “But she did want to be working for a president who was fully engaged, wrestling with this problem of how to respond to mass atrocities.”
Ms. Power was in Ireland at a family reunion when the attack occurred. She called for an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council, knowing that she would not be back in time to attend, and missed it, drawing sharp criticism from conservative commentators. She cut her trip short and returned two days later.
She also took to Twitter, keeping up her pointed assault on the Assad government. “Reports devastating: 100s dead in streets, including kids killed by chem weapons,” one post read. “U.N. must get there fast & if true, perps must face justice.”
In Washington, Ms. Power was confirmed in her new job by the Senate on Aug. 1 in an overwhelmingly bipartisan 87-to-10 vote. Yet she is polarizing. Conservatives like Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican, are suspicious of remarks she made in 2002 about Israel, since disavowed, that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might require “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import.” The antiwar left feels betrayed by her hawkishness.
When Russia blocked a Security Council resolution on Syria this month, Ms. Power said flatly that “Russia continues to hold the council hostage.”
The next day, Sept. 6, after Mr. Obama had decided to seek authorization in Congress for a military strike, she argued in a speech at the Center for American Progress in Washington that failure to act would “give a green light to outrages that will threaten our security and haunt our conscience.”
That sentiment flows from bearing witness to human rights atrocities. On assignment for The New Yorker in 2004, Ms. Power was among the first to chronicle the bloody ethnic cleansing in Sudan, where she visited refugee camps and slipped into rebel-held areas in Darfur to see villages that had burned to the ground. As a young freelancer in Bosnia, she reported on the systematic rape of Muslim women.
“Samantha is somebody who believes deeply that American power flows from our values as much as our military might, and that in the world, when we act in accordance with our values, we strengthen our ability to lead,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former State Department official and a Princeton professor who knows Ms. Power well.
But the reporter who once risked arrest in the Balkans and harangued Clinton officials over late-night drinks now has a driver, a security detail and a household staff. She lives in the ambassador’s residence at the top of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with her husband, Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor and former regulatory chief in the Obama administration, and their children, Declan, 4, and Rian, 1.
Friends say she is unaccustomed to being called Madam Ambassador, or to having people rise when she enters a room. Her @AmbassadorPower Twitter account provides a hint of how she sees herself. “United States ambassador to the United Nations,” it reads. “Mother, human rights defender, teacher, writer and member of the @RedSox nation.”
Inside the clubby, protocol-laden confines of the United Nations, where her predecessor, Susan E. Rice, had a reputation for brusqueness, Ms. Power is viewed as “a softer personality, but with a toughness,” said one veteran United Nations diplomat, who insisted on anonymity in talking about a counterpart. She has been generally well received. It does not hurt that her second book was an admiring biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, a much-loved United Nations diplomat who was killed in Iraq.
“She is already kind of a celebrity there,” Mr. Luck said.
Ms. Power brought much of it with her. She once posed for Men’s Vogue magazine in a slinky dress and four-inch heels, with bare arms and legs and her signature mane of red hair loosely tamed. In 2009, she and Mr. Sunstein were pictured in Esquire on the squash court, wearing tennis whites, under the headline “The Fun Couple of the 21st Century.”
Her first week on the job at the United Nations offered a hint of her agenda: she visited a summer academy for international refugees in Manhattan, headlined a Google+ hangout with human rights activists around the world, then flew to Los Angeles to speak to youth advocates for Invisible Children, a group dedicated to capturing the fugitive Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, accused of enslaving children as soldiers.
Ms. Power, who aides say has been in daily negotiations on Syria, has described the United Nations process she is facing as “a rare moment of promise at the Security Council after two and a half years of deadlock and paralysis.” If she can help break that deadlock with a vote that results in Syria giving up its chemical weapons, foreign policy analysts say it could help lay the groundwork for broader talks on ending Syria’s bloody civil war.
But if she winds up with a toothless resolution, it could be an embarrassment, setting the tone for the rest of her ambassadorship. Of all people, she does not want to be the ambassador who becomes bogged down in a drawn-out diplomatic negotiation while thousands of Syrians remain at risk.
“She is facing the same dilemma that many diplomats face,” said Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “Except for most of them, their convictions and ideals are not in the public domain in the form of a Pulitzer-Prize winning book.”
An article on Monday about Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations who is now center-stage in the contentious talks over Syria, misidentified the country in which she was born. It is England, not Ireland. (She emigrated to the United States from Ireland.)