Obama’s UN Envoy Nominee Power Pledges to Defend Israel

Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, disavowed her decade-old critiques of American foreign policy and promised to root out anti-Israel “bias” at the international body.

Power said she will “work tirelessly to defend” Israel in an organization where many countries don’t recognize it, and to lobby for the Jewish state to have a rotating seat on the Security Council for the first time.

“The UN must be fair,” Power told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at her confirmation hearing yesterday. She criticized the organization’s human rights council for making Israel a recurring item on its agenda, rather than nations such as North Korea, Iran or Sudan.

“Israel’s legitimacy should be beyond dispute, and its security must be beyond doubt,” Power said. She blamed anti-Israel attitudes at the UN on the fact that fewer than half of its members are democratic nations.

For those states, “it helps to have a diversion,” she said. “It helps to scapegoat other countries.”

During almost two hours of questioning, she sought to allay concerns about certain comments she’d made as a journalist and academic, and told critics of the UN that she would put U.S. national interests first. She also said she’d work to rein in corruption and waste and reduce spending at the world body.

‘Positive Force’

Senators from both parties said they expect Power to be confirmed. Saying he is “thankful that you’re going to be in this position very soon,” Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the committee’s top Republican, predicted she will be “a significant and positive force at the United Nations.”

Power, 42, a human-rights advocate and former journalist, took a leave from Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to work as a foreign policy adviser in Obama’s Senate office. She joined his 2008 presidential campaign and served on his National Security Council until earlier this year.

She was among the advisers who persuaded the president to support a no-fly zone and UN military intervention to stop the slaughter of rebels by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

Power hewed to the administration’s policy line on the war in Syria, the nuclear dispute with Iran and the upheaval in Egypt. Asked whether the U.S. should take unilateral military action if the UN won’t act against slaughter overseas, she referred to “many tools in the toolbox,” including sanctions, embargoes, peacekeepers and other responses.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” she said, telling lawmakers that U.S. national interests must be the preeminent consideration in any decision to use force.

History’s Judgment

Power called the Security Council’s failure to act decisively to halt the Syrian civil war a “disgrace that history will judge harshly.” She acknowledged that it’s unlikely the U.S. will be able to persuade Russia to change its position on Syria anytime soon.

Power won a Pulitzer Prize for “A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” a 2002 book about U.S. policy in the face of the slaughter of people in Bosnia and Rwanda.

A native of Ireland who immigrated to the U.S. as a child with her parents, Power was introduced to the committee by the two Republican senators who represent her home state of Georgia, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.

Disavows Statements

Under questioning by Republican Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Power recanted a 2002 interview in which, when asked how her brand of liberal intervention might be applied to the Arab-Israeli conflict, she advocated a “mammoth” protection force that might alienate “a domestic constituency of tremendous” import. Power said she gave a “rambling and very remarkably incoherent response to a hypothetical question that I never should have answered.”

Power also disavowed the gist of a 2003 article in which she called for the federal government to acknowledge past “crimes committed, sponsored or permitted by the United States.” Asked several times to specify crimes for which she wanted the U.S. to atone, Power responded by saying she “would never apologize for America,” which she called “the greatest country on Earth.”

Asked by Johnson if her views had changed, Power said she would defend U.S. sovereignty as a paramount interest. “Serving in the executive branch is very different than sounding off from an academic perch,” Power said.

McCain’s Praise

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who last year was among the lawmakers who blocked then-UN envoy Susan Rice from being nominated as secretary of state, praised Power’s statements on Syria and her view that the U.S. should act to stop humanitarian crises and genocide.

There was no indication that Republicans would seek to derail Power’s confirmation.

Among Power’s invited guests in the hearing room was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a writer and radio host who two years ago criticized Power’s views on Israel. Power -- whose husband, Harvard University legal scholar and Bloomberg View columnist Cass Sunstein, is Jewish -- invited Boteach to the White House to explain her views and won him over. Boteach has spoken on her behalf to members of the Jewish community.

After the hearing, Boteach accompanied Power, her Irish-born parents and a small group of family, friends and administration officials to celebrate at The Dubliner, an Irish pub on Capitol Hill.

To contact the reporter on this story: Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Washington at ilakshmanan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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