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Samantha Power

  • When an idealistic Obama adviser bumped against real-world politics

    September 23, 2019

    A clashing array of cultural forces virtually assures a rough landing for Samantha Power’s memoir, “The Education of an Idealist.” Power, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her brilliant and controversial 2002 book “‘A Problem from Hell’: America and the Age of Genocide,” managed a career move that has been causing problems for its practitioners since at least the days of Machiavelli: She moved from the theoretical worlds of academia and literature to the real-consequences world of diplomacy. “The Education of an Idealist” is both the story of that transformation and the next step in the process.

  • Samantha Power’s portrait of American diplomacy

    September 19, 2019

    In august 2013 a devastating chemical-weapons attack on the Damascus suburbs killed some 1,400 people. Faced with a clear breach of the red line he drew a year earlier, President Barack Obama had to decide what to do. He blinked. Rather than ordering reprisals against the regime of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, he opted to ask for Congress’s permission first. And Congress, it turned out, was not keen. Samantha Power, Mr Obama’s new ambassador to the United Nations, faced a choice, too. She had spent her professional life arguing for a more assertive American response to atrocities. She believed her boss should punish this horrendous crime, and indeed earlier ones, with air strikes. Now her idealism confronted the complexities of government. Should she resign, as some critics urged her to do?

  • Former UN ambassador Samantha Power on why she has ‘nothing but respect’ for Joe Biden

    September 16, 2019

    In her new memoir, “Education of an Idealist,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning academic and diplomat Samantha Power describes the “immense warmth” of Joe Biden, whom she worked with during the Obama administration. Power, who served as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, didn’t agree with Biden on every issue but had a good relationship with the then-vice president. “He was blunt and demonstrative. He could go on too long. But he seemed to see the value of each person he met, irrespective of their status,” she wrote. In a new interview, Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer asked Power whether she’s supporting Biden’s presidential bid. Widely considered the front-runner in the race for the Democratic nomination, Biden had the highest favorability rating among Democrats, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll. “I'm not in the endorsement business. But I have great affection for Vice President Biden,” said Power, who’s currently a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

  • Notes On Modern Idealism

    September 13, 2019

    How should American leaders use their power on the global stage? Former United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power spent her career in journalism and diplomacy contemplating this question. Her new memoir is called “The Education of an Idealist.” We hear from her, and we also speak with Raj Kumar. Kumar has worked on “researching and writing about aid interventions in the developing world,” throughout his life, according to Vox., and is the president of Devex, a media platform for people and organizations working in global development. How much foreign interference is too much? How can more economically powerful countries best assist those that are still developing? And should they? We talk about those questions and more. Guests: Samantha Power, Professor of Practice in Human Rights, Harvard Law School; former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; author of “The Education of an Idealist”; @SamanthaJPower. Raj Kumar, Founding president and editor-in-chief of Devex; author of “The Business of Changing the World”;

  • Samantha Power with a journalist and a friend interviewing a group of Bosnian military officers.

    Like a fish out of a war zone

    September 10, 2019

    In an excerpt from her just-released memoir, Samantha Power recalls her experience going from Balkans war correspondent to Law School student — and her stumbles along the way.

  • Like a fish out of a war zone

    September 10, 2019

    An article by Samantha Power:  From the moment I arrived at Harvard Law School in late August of 1995, I feared I wouldn’t last. During the nearly two years I had just spent as a war correspondent in the Balkans, I found myself imagining how gratifying it would be to learn the law and pursue the arrest of Balkan war criminals as a prosecutor at The Hague. But as I struggled to adjust to my new life back in the United States, all I could think about was the place I had left behind. The day before law school began, I had loaded up a Ryder truck in Brooklyn with two suitcases, a bicycle, and my laptop, and driven toward Boston. Just as I reached the city, NPR cut into its radio program with a breaking news bulletin: “NATO air action around Sarajevo is under way.” By my second week at HLS, U.S. air strikes had broken the siege of Sarajevo and brought the Bosnian war to an end.

  • Samantha Power: ‘To fall flat in such a public way and to have no job … I was a wandering person’

    September 8, 2019

    Harvard Square in high summer is crisscrossed with tourists, but inside the university all is serene. Those academics who stay behind to work can enjoy the empty seminar rooms, loose deadlines and short queues at the cafeteria.  Samantha Power used to dread such periods of calm. The former US ambassador to the United Nations, and foreign policy and human rights adviser to Barack Obama, was afflicted for most of her adult life with intense anxiety attacks that left her unable to catch her breath, as well as inexplicable but excruciating back pain. ... The panic attacks persisted in the rare lulls during the hectic years of her stellar career that followed. At 48, Power has now written a memoir, The Education of an Idealist, that charts not only her steep upward trajectory, but also her excavation of her Irish immigrant roots, where the clues to her bouts of breathlessness and pain lay hidden. She doesn’t believe in neat ideas of “closure” – “There’s no moment where you just tie a bow around that stuff” – but she has noticed that since burrowing into her childhood, the demons have remained largely at bay.

  • Samantha Power: “It’s going to be very hard to recover” from Trump era

    September 8, 2019

    Former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power says President Donald Trump has threatened America's leadership in the world, and that it will be very hard for our nation to recover from his presidency. ... "We've had a president who's walked away from our alliances; cozied up to regimes that  don't respect human rights, for reasons that makes very little sense; and unfortunately attacked institutions that make us very strong at home, and not taken pride in our diversity and indeed kind of shunned it," Power told "CBS This Morning" on Friday. "It's going to be very hard to recover from this period in American history. But there's a hunger out in the world, and there's a need on behalf of the American people, to do so."

  • Can an uncompromising activist keep her integrity while working in the White House?

    September 6, 2019

    Samantha Power has always had a self-righteous streak. She freely admits the “certitude” and “sanctimony” of her younger self. After a few years as a correspondent covering the Bosnian war, she found that her new Harvard Law School classmates didn’t know or care about the genocide unfolding there, so she stuffed a New York Times report on the Srebrenica massacre into every first-year’s mailbox. Her scholarship and activism on that topic culminated in “A Problem From Hell,” her incredible 2002 history of American apathy during the 20th century’s worst ethnic conflicts. The Pulitzer Prize-winning tome held that officials justified noninterference when even minimal efforts, from public shaming to sanctions, could have saved countless lives. “Decent men and women chose to look away,” she wrote. Power was, in this antediluvian period, a voice of piercing moral clarity. Then she went to work for Barack Obama. During her stints with him in the Senate, on the presidential campaign and inside the White House, pundits and critics wondered how the human rights advocate would reconcile her belief that America must act to protect vulnerable people with the dirty business of policymaking, where concessions taint every action. She finally answers in “The Education of an Idealist,” her new memoir.

  • ‘Pretend You Are Fox News’: The former UN ambassador recalls the moment President Obama asked her to serve

    September 5, 2019

    An article by Samantha Power:  Flying back to the United States from Asia on Air Force One in late November 2012, President Barack Obama was in high spirits. He had recently been reelected, and had just concluded a widely celebrated visit to Myanmar (also known as Burma)—the first ever  by a sitting U.S. president. The trip had almost fallen apart at the last minute, when it became clear that the military government was balking at reforms that were supposed to have been in place by the time Obama arrived. A few days before he departed Washington for Asia, the president dispatched me to Myanmar with instructions to lock down our desired terms before he landed, and over three bruising days of negotiations, I did so. The final agreement included a large release of political prisoners, a commitment to allow access for humanitarian workers to war-torn ethnic areas, and permission for critics of the Burmese dictatorship to return from exile or, if living in Myanmar, to travel outside the country. During the 20-hour journey back to Washington, Obama summoned me to his personal cabin on Air Force One and asked me what job I hoped for in his second term. My husband, Cass Sunstein, had just left the White House after three and a half years as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. He was now commuting between our home in Washington and a small rental apartment near Harvard Law School, where he had resumed teaching. I did not want to leave government, but after serving as Obama’s multilateral-affairs and human-rights adviser on the National Security Council since January 2009, I was ready to try something new.

  • The Fog of Intervention

    September 4, 2019

    Let’s say it’s January 2021, and President Bernie Sanders has just assumed office. On his second day as commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in world history, Bernie and his foreign policy team are ushered into the White House Situation Room. After being seated at a long wooden table, a group of diplomats and military officers informs Bernie that armed militants in the Central African Republic have placed artillery around a town and are threatening to bombard its 10,000 inhabitants. The townspeople have requested that the United States destroy the weapons and save their lives. What should Bernie do? For Samantha Power, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during Barack Obama’s second term, this really is no question at all: You eliminate the weapons. Power has dedicated her life to promoting humanitarian intervention—the idea that the United States, as the world’s “indispensable nation,” has the moral duty to use its awesome military capabilities to prevent or halt atrocities.

  • Samantha Power headshot

    Ambassador Samantha Power appointed the William D. Zabel ’61 Professor of Practice in Human Rights at Harvard Law School

    July 3, 2019

    Diplomat, academic, and human rights advocate Ambassador Samantha Power ’99 has been appointed William D. Zabel ’61 Professor of Practice in Human Rights at Harvard Law School. She has served as Professor of Practice at HLS since 2017.

  • Places we love

    May 22, 2019

    People from the Harvard community share their favorite spots on campus. ... Samantha Power, Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Professor of Practice, Harvard Law School: There is no more peaceful place for me around campus than sitting at the bar at Charlie’s, drinking a pint and eating grilled cheese as I watch the Red Sox game. ... Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Dean, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study; Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law; faculty director, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice; co-director of Harvard Law School’s Program in Law and History; and professor of history, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University: I love the sunken garden in Radcliffe Yard. It’s so beautiful and peaceful and brings to mind happy times.

  • Photo of Radhika Kapoor

    Radhika Kapoor: ‘I want to be able to help develop transitional justice norms’

    May 21, 2019

    Radhika Kapoor LL.M. ’19 came to HLS to take advantage of Harvard’s institutional expertise in international law, humanitarian law and post-conflict stability—and to foster her love of reading.

  • Samantha Power headshot

    Samantha Power on Rwanda after 25 years: What was learned, what was forgotten

    April 5, 2019

    In a recent Q&A, Professor of Practice Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and author of the Pulitzer-prize winning 'A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,' reflects on the tragedy in Rwanda and the lessons learned—and not learned—since.

  • health app illustration

    Faculty Books in Brief: Winter 2019

    January 29, 2019

    With the increased use of a massive volume and variety of data in our lives, our health care will inevitably be affected, note the editors of a new collection, one of the recent faculty books captured in this section.

  • Samantha Power headshot

    Samantha Power to receive 2019 Moynihan Prize in Social Science and Public Policy

    January 24, 2019

    The American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS) has announced that Ambassador Samantha Power '99, diplomat, academic, and human rights advocate, will receive the 2019 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize in Social Science and Public Policy.

  • A Spymaster Steps Out of the Shadows

    July 2, 2018

    ...“It was important that someone with John [Brennan]’s counterterrorism credentials threw his weight behind Obama,” says Samantha Power, who later served as Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations. “Obama was seen by some as a community organizer who had been on the Hill for all of five minutes. John was a validator with real street cred in the national-security community.”

  • Cass Sunstein at a podium

    Honoring ‘a Towering Intellect’ and ‘a Good Man’

    June 26, 2018

    Cass Sunstein ’78, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University and renowned legal scholar and behavioral economist, received the prestigious Holberg Prize at the University of Bergen, Norway, on June 6.

  • A State of Danger?

    A State of Danger?

    June 25, 2018

    "It Can't Happen Here," the novel by Sinclair Lewis written in the 1930s as fascism was rising in Europe, imagines an America overtaken by an authoritarian regime. The new book edited by Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein ’78, "Can It Happen Here?: Authoritarianism in America" (Dey Street Books), does not predict the same fate. Yet the contributors—several also affiliated with Harvard Law—take seriously the possibility that it could happen here, despite the safeguards built into the American system of government.

  • In Norway, a Nod to Nudging

    ‘One of the great intellectuals of our time’: Sunstein honored with Holberg Prize

    June 6, 2018

    Cass Sunstein ’78, the Robert Walmsley University Professor at Harvard University and renowned legal scholar and behavioral economist, received the prestigious Holberg Prize at the University of Bergen, Norway, on June 6.