(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s national security reshuffle announced Wednesday not only moves Susan Rice out of the Senate firing line – national security advisors do not require confirmation – but also marks the promotion of another advocate of humanitarian intervention in his team.
Like Rice, Obama’s nominee to replace her as ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has a record of speaking in favor of acting more firmly in the face of atrocities abroad.
Her nomination comes at a time when the world’s attention is fixed on the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Syria, and the administration is considering options going beyond its current provision of non-lethal support to the anti-Assad opposition.
A former war reporter in the Balkans, Power won a Pulitzer Prize with her 2002 book on the subject, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.
Founder of the Carr Centre for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, she was an advisor to Senator Obama in 2005, and later again during his presidential campaign. She was named senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights in President Obama’s first-term NSC, and appointed by him to chair a new Atrocities Prevention Board in 2012.
At the NSC, Power reportedly played a key role, with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in pushing the administration towards intervention in Libya in March 2011. The resulting U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing NATO action was a victory for Power and other advocates of the U.N.-backed concept known as “responsibility to protect” (RtoP).
Rice, who is set to replace Tom Donilon as national security advisor, was also associated with a strong pro-intervention stance long before being named as the incoming Obama’s ambassador to the U.N.
As a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Rice called for tougher action to end the humanitarian catastrophe in Sudan’s Darfur region that erupted a decade ago, and was a critic of the Bush administration’s response to the crisis.
She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2007 that if the U.S. was serious about stopping the genocide there, it should ratchet up the pressure on the Islamist regime in Khartoum through measures including sanctions targeting the oil sector
And if the regime still failed to act, Rice said, the administration should use military force, with options including the imposition of a no-fly zone and the bombing of the Sudanese regime’s aircraft, airfields and military and intelligence facilities.
The RtoP concept asserts that governments must protect their people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. If they fail to do so, the international community can take steps including the dispatch of a U.N. envoy, the imposition of U.N. Security Council sanctions and the threat of International Criminal Court prosecution. If unsuccessful, those steps can be followed as a last resort by Security Council-approved military action.
The international community in 2005 endorsed RtoP as part of a broad U.N. reform package. In U.S. policy circles it has supporters and critics across the political spectrum – and in Rice and Powers, two powerful proponents in key administration posts.
In a posting Wednesday Mark Leon Goldberg, editor of the U.N. Foundation’s blog, U.N. Dispatch, pondered Power’s potential influence on the Syria issue.
“This is the largest mass atrocity event in the world today, and it is only getting worse. At the Security Council, she will have a front row view to diplomacy at the Security Council as it is stuck in a rut, with Russia abjectly opposed to the West’s view of Syria and vice-versa,” he wrote.
“As of now, the Obama administration is not pursuing measures like a no-fly zone that legally require Security Council approval but would almost certainly face a Russian veto,” Goldberg said. “That moment may yet come. And if the administration does decide to circumvent the Security Council, Samantha Power’s support for such a policy would be very influential to liberals who would otherwise chafe at the idea of pursuing intervention outside the formal strictures of international law.”
Richard Grenell, who served as spokesman for four U.S. ambassadors to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration, called Power’s nomination a disappointment, saying that while she was outspoken in the past about atrocities she had not followed through once she joined the administration in January 2009.
“In a position of power and proximity to the president of the United States, from which she could meaningfully act against any unfolding injustice, Power was largely silent and completely ineffective,” he argued.
“Sending Power to the United Nations sends the message that President Obama doesn’t care as much about actually helping the world’s vulnerable as he does about loyalty and academic prestige.”