Samantha Power

Obama's Dublin-born foreign policy adviser doesn't like Israel and may wreck Hillary Clinton's work

If you want to know how to get on in the Obama administration, consider the case of Samantha Power. With her husband, fellow Harvard lawyer Cass “Nudge” Sunstein, she is one half of a media don double act. Not yet 40, Dublin-born Power has built up an enviable public profile, using her experience as a reporter in the Balkans to become an academic expert on genocide, while impressing interviewers with her Amazonian looks and athletic prowess.

Most astutely, Power was among the first to hitch her wagon to the rising star of another Harvard lawyer, Barack Obama. Lunching in 2005 with the then unknown Illinois senator had changed her life, she later swooned. With Obama leading Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Power boasted of how Barack would text her.

Then disaster struck. In mid-campaign, Power took time off from her job to go on an ill-starred European book tour. “We f****d up in Ohio,” she told a Scotsman reporter. “[Hillary] is a monster, too – that is off the record – she is stooping to anything.” Quite apart from the dubious ethics of a Pulitzer Prize-winner seeking to withdraw a remark made on the record, her attempt to smear Clinton instantly rebounded. Power was fired. A year ago, her political career appeared to be over before it had really begun.

Obama’s victory, however, allowed Power to make an improbable comeback. Monstering Hillary seems an unlikely qualification for a career as a White House foreign policy adviser. But no sooner had the new president appointed Clinton as his Secretary of State, than her bête noire re-emerged in a senior role at the National Security Council (NSC).

Power may well prove to be the most controversial figure in the Obama administration. That a woman of her views should have the ear of the president is alarming, reminiscent as they are of the notorious conspiracy theories of yet another Harvard academic, Stephen Walt, and his co-author John Mearsheimer. Like them, she accuses the “Israel lobby” of manipulating US foreign policy for the benefit of the Jewish state. In a 2002 interview, she advocated “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import” [ie American Jews] by ceasing to “service Israel’s military” in order instead to “invest in the new state of Palestine”.

In a New Statesman interview during the presidential campaign, Power said: “So much of it is about: ‘Is he going to be good for the Jews?'” So Power’s priority within the NSC is to undermine US support for Israel. Bizarrely, she once advocated landing a “mammoth protection force” of US troops in Israel to save the Palestinians from “genocide”. “You have to go in as if you’re serious,” she declared in 2002. She was deadly serious then. What about now?

The implications go far beyond the Middle East for, despite her claim to be a “humanitarian hawk”, Power’s rejection of “the so-called War on Terror” is not merely pragmatic, but principled. She believes that the Bush administration has cost America much more than its military reputation. “As my colleague Steve Walt has put it,” she said, “we also no longer look like the country that put the man on the moon.”

Power believes that America needs to be multilateralist and “European”. Her latest book, a biography of the UN envoy to Iraq who was killed by Islamist terrorists, is subtitled Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.

For the Anna Lindh Professor of Global Leadership at Harvard, it is the task of the UN, not the US, to save the world. Like many liberal academics, she exhibits “Stockholm syndrome” – identifying with the attitudes of America’s enemies rather than those of most ordinary Americans.

There are two camps within the Obama administration on foreign policy. One emphasises continuity, the other change. The former is led by Hillary Clinton, the latter by the president. Robert Gates at the Pentagon and Admiral James Jones at the NSC are, like Clinton, unlikely to abandon the essentials of the Bush Doctrine: the military strategy of pre-emption (such as against Iran, which Hillary threatened to “totally obliterate” if it attacked Israel with nuclear weapons) and the political strategy of spreading democracy as an antidote to totalitarian ideologies, including Islamism.

But the president is not ready to hand over foreign policy entirely to the continuity camp. Indeed, it is widely believed in Washington that Obama has installed Power at the NSC partly to keep Hillary in check. In her capacity as senior director for multilateral affairs, Power is expected to travel frequently with the Secretary of State. Obama has effectively appointed Power to be Hillary Clinton’s minder – her stooge of state.

What would one not give to be a fly on the wall when these two women meet? Hillary did not have long to savour her re-emergence as Secretary of State before realising that her every step would be dogged by a person who clearly despises her.

Moreover, Power brings her visceral hostility to Israel into the Obama White House. Walt and Mearsheimer may soon be as welcome there as Bernard Lewis was under Bush. Will Obama’s Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, take this lying down? The overrating of Samantha Power threatens the unity of the Obama administration.

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