a job from hell

Samantha Power, who won a Pulitzer for A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide and has been one of my intellectual heroes for as long as I’ve had those kinds of heroes at all, is Obama’s appointee for Director of Multi-lateral Affairs in the National Security Council. Power has always been, before anything else, a thinker and activist concerned with human rights. It’s all kinds of exciting that someone with that focus is being given a powerful position in a national security office, which implies that the Obama administration views human rights as part of the US security interest, and that she is tasked with the formation of  multilateral policy, which implies that the administration is interested in cooperative, human rights-oriented ventures. Or at least, that Obama’ is willing to hear from, and invest significant power in, someone who is.

But posts like this one, by Mark Goldberg, remind me to temper my excitement. One recurring theme in Power’s work is that bureaucrats who push for decisive action in morally and politically risky situations often get silenced or ignored. If, as Power famously alleged in her “Bystanders to Genocide”, political expediency overrides the humanitarian conscience in America’s foreign policy establishment, then Obama may well have placed her in the place where her advocacy will be least effective.

I’m guardedly optimistic – is this phrase is my mantra when I talk about the Obama administration? – that Power appointment signals an NSC that will take the crises in Congo and Darfur seriously. At the very least, I can’t imagine anyone better suited to the job than Power. If anyone has the intellectual mettle and personal resolve to make the administration commit to humanitarian internationalism, it’s her. I wish her success for the sake of the victims she has spent so much of her career speaking up for.


~ by staticandme on January 31, 2009.

One Response to “a job from hell”

  1. My understanding is that she’s a part of the NSC staff, not the NSC proper; I’d also guess there was a Bush-administration equivalent to this. Though I’m with you on Congo/Darfur, it’s very unlikely any American president will take those seriously.

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