It is rare that a conservative hawk is able to praise any of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy nominees. But Samantha Power’s solid performance at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday was impressive. She will likely win overwhelming bipartisan support as UN Ambassador, despite lingering concern about her views, and those of her boss in the White House.
The outcome of her nomination was never in doubt–not after the Republican Party capitulated earlier in the week to the Democrats on nominees, and not after the GOP had lined up to approve the likes of Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. But Power strove to reassure her critics in a way that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had not, demonstrating familiarity with the issues and voicing a commitment to shared principles.
“I will never apologize for America,” she said, repudiating views that she had articulated a decade ago about how the United States, like Germany, should apologize to the world for its past “crimes.” Pressed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and others to explain those views, she suggested meekly that experience working in the executive branch meant she had revised opinions that had been easier to hold from an “academic perch.”
Rubio asked Power about a specific statement she made in a 2002 interview about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–namely, that outside troops should be used to impose and enforce a peace deal, even if that meant alienating American Jews (whom she referred to as “a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import”). Power said she had “disassociated herself” from the views expressed in that interview.
That interview was not the only time Power had expressed such views on Israel. Nor is she the only Obama nominee who has faced questions about her views on Israel. Hagel had a long record of anti-Israel statements to explain, including speeches that he was reluctant to share with the Senate and that were left to conservative bloggers to ferret out. He struggled to convince Senators that he really had changed his mind.
Yet Power’s shift went further than mere “confirmation conversion.” She stressed that she saw the U.S. not only as the most powerful nation in the world, but as one whose values and interests she was committed to promoting. One of her best answers was in response to a question about the UN arms treaty, which seeks to create a gun registry: Power said that the Second Amendment and American sovereignty were “paramount.”
For all of that revision, Power’s views on foreign policy remain decidedly left. She is convinced, for example, that the U.S. should not withdraw from problematic bodies such as the UN Human Rights Council. Only by remaining in there, she said, can the U.S. speak out for its interests and allies. The fact that U.S. involvement in those forums has only legitimized them, without improving them, is one she seems to discount.
Power’s position on Syria also remains unclear. She is an advocate of greater U.S. involvement there, but did little to voice that position in her role as chair of the Atrocities Prevention Board, while 100,000 died. The current, unvoiced U.S. position seems to be to enable the rebels to fight to a stalemate, hoping that will force the Assad regime to negotiate. But unless victory is a real prospect, there is no reason to expect Assad to talk. And the Obama administration is not prepared to commit to that–nor is the American public.
Yet even skeptics of Power’s views on Syria and other subjects seemed impressed. Ranking Member Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)–admittedly, not one of the reliably conservative members of the caucus–said she would be a “significant and positive” ambassador, and that he was “exceptionally excited” for her confirmation.
Power may present that rare example of a nominee who actually earns support through the confirmation process, not by assuring the Senate that she will follow the president’s policies–whatever they may be–but that she has personally taken the wiser elements of those policies to heart. If she is as articulate in defense of America’s case as she was in defense of her own, then the U.S. will have a capable advocate at Turtle Bay.