Samantha Power’s journey from foreign policy critic to UN ambassador


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Samantha Power reported from the killing fields of Bosnia. She watched a genocide that could’ve been stopped years earlier grind on amidst international indifference. What she saw there led to A Problem From Hell, her Pulitzer-prize winning exploration of why the world permits genocide to happen. She emerged as a fierce critic of America’s morally lax foreign policy, a position that led to a friendship with Barack Obama, and then a series of top jobs in his administration, culminating in ambassador to the UN. Power’s new book, The Education of an Idealist, is a memoir of this journey.

It is rare that an outspoken critic of the foreign policy establishment becomes so powerful within it. But that’s what makes Power’s career, and the lessons she learned, so interesting. In this conversation we discuss:

- What causes ordinary people to participate in genocide

- Why policymakers so often fail to respond to genocide before it is too late

- Whether foreign policy decisions are too restrained by the overreaches and mistakes of the previous generation

- Power’s reflections on Libya, Syria, South Sudan, and more

- How the US’s inconsistent moral stances undermine its strategic interests

- The blurry line between morality and strategy in foreign policy

- How the next administration should handle US relationships with China and Russia.

- The case for being “unreasonable,” even as a policymaker

And much more. This conversation is weedsy at times, but in a way that I think is telling: It’s a window into the agonizing complexity and impossible choices that define foreign policymaking.

Book recommendations:

Switch by the Heath Brothers

The Abandonment of the Jews by David S. Wyman

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

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355 episodes