Following Wednesday's announcement that President Obama will tap U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice as National Security Adviser, much political analysis will focus on how the move is an effective end-run around Republican opposition to Rice's ascension to a more influential foreign policy decision-making role that the president originally sought when he nominated her to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Much less attention will be paid to Obama's decision to install Samantha Power as Rice's successor as the United States' voice at the United Nations.
Power's appointment should be considered a signal that Obama wants his foreign policy legacy to include more than just a footnoted commentary about his desire to advance human rights on a global scale. Long recognized within academic circles as a leading human rights scholar, Power's ascension within the Obama administration is closely tied to her indictment of U.S. foreign policy under previous administrations in A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Considered essential reading for all modern students of international relations and U.S. foreign policy, the 600-plus-page work scrutinizes prior administrations' decisions to not engage in conflicts where the country's hard security interests -- read: uninterrupted access to oil or impending foreign incursions on U.S. soil - were not readily apparent. Published in 2002, "A Problem from Hell" was released less than a decade after the Rwandan genocide. It raised uncomfortable questions about the United States' professed commitment to advancing the principles of freedom, democracy and human rights as core tenets of the country's foreign policy more than half a century after Eleanor Roosevelt helped pen the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that promised to prevent a repeat of the atrocities of the Holocaust.
From the time she joined Obama's campaign in 2008, Power's capacity to interject humanitarian considerations into discussions about U.S. engagement around the world has been apparent. When the U.S. joined the international community in executing the NATO-led intervention in Libya that expedited Gaddafi's downfall, it was Samantha Power's "humanitarian hawk" fingerprints that were identified as influential in the decision. Pushed by the trifecta of Hillary Clinton, Rice, and Power, the intervention was a win for the international community, which for the first time carried out a joint action based on the evolving doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). Contrary to historic interpretations of international law that limited military intervention in another country's affairs to the foreign-policy equivalent of self-defense (thus the reliance on lack of hard security threats to justify inaction in Rwanda and delayed action in Yugoslavia), R2P establishes a framework recognized by international legal scholars as legitimizing the use of force for humanitarian reasons.
Another foreign policy decision made by Obama that is consistent with Power's advocacy for humanitarian-based intervention was the move in 2011 to send U.S. troops to Africa in pursuit of Lord's Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. Kony gained popular recognition in the U.S. when the video "Kony 2012" went viral, raising public awareness about the warlord's use of child soldiers, child rape, and other atrocities for nearly three decades in Uganda.
Given Power's established capacity to elevate humanitarian concerns into U.S. foreign policy deliberations about intervention in other countries' affairs, Obama's selection of Power to represent the country at the United Nations should be read as the president's desire to restore credibility to U.S. claims of moral authority on global human rights issues.