Take the Power Back: Samantha Power Has No Place at HLS

This past April, Samantha Power ’99, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the latter part of President Obama’s tenure, was named to a joint appointment at both the Law School and the Kennedy School. The article from Harvard announcing her appointment cites her work in human rights, diplomacy, and international justice as qualifications for the appointment[1], but a critical examination of her record as ambassador reveals a much more sordid history of promoting American imperialism and enabling the very human rights abuses she sought out to prevent.

From Libya to Gaza to Yemen, Samantha Power has had an active role in either promoting western intervention within the Administration or defending the violence of the U.S. and its allies. Libya made headlines recently with reports of an active slave trade occurring in the country.[2] This combined with the continued civil war and pervasive presence of the Islamic State has reminded the world of the massive chaos and instability western intervention caused in Libya,[3] and it is impossible not to put at least some blame for the current state of affairs on Samantha Power. According to mainstream media outlets, she is considered one of the key figures that pushed to launch the ultimately disastrous intervention.[4] Throughout her career, Samantha Power has been a proponent of the “responsibility to protect” or “R2P” doctrine, which has broad based principles espousing prevention of genocide and a responsibility to protect human rights, but was used by Power in the case of Libya to promote a bombing campaign and a regime change that left as many as 30,000 dead[5] and a country left to be a battleground for jihadists and local powers.

Power, however, seems not to have applied any of this “responsibility to protect” to the various parties being oppressed and murdered by the U.S.’s geopolitical allies. While she now lambasts the Saudi government on Twitter for their devastating assault on Houthi rebels in Yemen, which has become a humanitarian crisis and killed scores of civilians,[6] while she was an ambassador, she was either silent on the matter or even actively defending the KSA’s crimes as the U.S. sold billions of dollars of weapons to the Saudis.[7] It is no surprise that her former top spokesperson now works for the UAE to discredit evidence of human rights violations in Yemen.[8]

So too in Israel and Palestine did Power ignore her own responsibility to protect the vulnerable and oppressed. During the 2014 conflict in Gaza, Power failed to condemn any of the Israeli actions that left thousands of the occupied population dead, instead shifting all blame to Hamas[9]. If the U.S. didn’t have the responsibility to protect the 500 children killed in Gaza, then what value can Samantha Power’s doctrine have?

To complete the cruel irony of Samantha Power’s career arc from purported defender of human rights to interventionist ambassador, she received the Henry A. Kissinger Prize from the man himself in 2016[10]. Some of the noted war criminal and fellow Harvard alumnus’ foreign policy strategies may not be too far removed from Power’s, as she stated in a 2014 New Yorker profile that she finds herself “gravitating more and more to the G.S.D. [Get-Shit-Done] people. We’re racing against the clock here to get as much done as we can. So when you run across people who know how to be bureaucratic samurais, or are especially persuasive in their diplomacy internationally, spend more time on those relationships, and on brainstorming with those individuals, to achieve a common purpose. Principles and positions only take you so far.”[11]

Harvard Law School prides itself on the quality and backgrounds of its faculty. Perhaps more care should be taken to examine whether new faculty members adhere to the same principles it expects from its students.

[1] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/samantha-power-returns-to-harvard/

[2] http://www.cnn.com/specials/africa/libya-slave-auctions

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/16/libya-gaddafi-arab-spring-civil-war-islamic-state

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/world/30power.html

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/26/libya-war-saving-lives-catastrophic-failure

[6] https://twitter.com/samanthajpower/status/865955708893843456?lang=en

[7] https://www.alternet.org/grayzone-project/samantha-power-poses-human-rights-defender-while-covering-saudi-atrocities

[8] https://theintercept.com/2017/11/22/uae-yemen-war-hagar-chemali-united-nations-samantha-power/

[9] https://www.alternet.org/world/samantha-power-obamas-atrocity-enabler

[10] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/samantha-power-us-ambassador-to-the-united-nations-to-receive-2016-henry-a-kissinger-prize-300270727.html

[11] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/22/land-possible

John Froggatt is a 3L.