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Yes, Samantha Power's Personal Beliefs Matter

Yes, Samantha Power's Personal Beliefs Matter

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President Barack Obama’s supporters are defending his controversial appointment of Samantha Power as UN Ambassador with the same argument they once used to support Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel: she may have mocked the idea of Iran as a threat, called for the invasion of Israel, and so on, but once she is in office she will follow the more acceptable line laid down by the president–who may share her views, but privately.

Here is my friend and mentor Alan Dershowitz, making the case for Power at the Huffington Post:

To be sure, Samantha has said some things she now regrets — about Hillary Clinton, about Israel and about other controversial matters. She says what she thinks when she thinks it. As the United States representative to the United Nations, she will articulate the policy of the Obama administration. She will have to be more diplomatic than she was while in private life. I am confident that she will make our country proud.

Power’s views are not significantly different from those of Chuck Hagel–and on Israel, just as offensive. Dershowitz opposed Hagel as Secretary of Defense because his appointment sent the wrong message on Iran. Power has many of the same views as Hagel, and her appointment likely sends many of the same messages. And eventually, he argument that the president’s policies are more moderate than those of his nominees begins to wear thin when he appoints so many of them who are of a decidedly radical political outlook.

Moreover, nominees’ personal views do matter, because the president cannot micromanage all of them, and they are often called upon to make judgment calls in the heat of the moment on issues where the president has not yet laid down an official line. 

A relevant example is the late liberal Democrat, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was UN Ambassador under President Gerald Ford before later going on to serve as a Senator from New York.

In his memoir of his service at the UN, A Dangerous Place, Moynihan describes how he had to react to the Soviet Union’s effort to organize the African and Asian nations into an anti-Israel bloc in order to strike, obliquely, at the United States. Republicans were not as pro-Israel then as they are today, and few inside the Ford administration understood what Moynihan could sense at Turtle Bay: the U.S. had to defend Israel-vigorously.

Moynihan’s aggressive defense of Israel aroused opposition around the world–and in Washington, D.C., where the State Department did everything it could to undermine his position. It is hard to believe, looking back, but a main point of controversy was that Moynihan had attacked the Organization of African States for accepting the brutal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin as its chair. Amin helped push for the “Zionism is racism” resolution.

The resolution passed, and Moynihan’s critics suggested–falsely–that it might have failed had he adopted less assertive tactics. But Moynihan understood that he had to make a principled stand. His appeals were not to the petty tyrannies represented in the UN General Assembly, but to history. And partly because of that principled stand, the offensive “Zionism is racism” resolution was eventually rescinded by the UN in 1991.

President Ford, to his credit, backed Moynihan once the going got tough. But if Moynihan had simply waited for orders–orders inevitably filtered through the State Department–he never would have been able to fight as he did. 

That is why nominees’ personal views matter. They did not enter public service to be automatons. They have passions and principles that affect their jobs and judgment. And Samantha Power’s are wrong for the job.


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