Former UN Ambassador Samantha Power talks career path, new memoir at Ford School

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 7:22pm

Samantha Power, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, discusses her role in shaping foreign policy in the Obama Administration as well as her new book "The Education of an Idealist" at Weill Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Samantha Power, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, discusses her role in shaping foreign policy in the Obama Administration as well as her new book "The Education of an Idealist" at Weill Hall Wednesday afternoon. Buy this photo
Michael Bagazinski/Daily

More than 300 students, faculty, and community members attended a lecture by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power at the Ford School of Public Policy this Wednesday. As a distinguished guest of the Public Policy School’s third annual Vandenberg Lecture, Power discussed her career in diplomacy and began her talk with a reflection on her intentions behind writing her most recent memoir, “The Education of an Idealist”. 

“I have written a book in a very personal way,” Power said, “appealing to young people, and the young at heart – those who are feeling, right now, more of a pull to try to make a difference than they have ever felt in their lives.” 

Power served as the 28th U.S. representative to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, and was a member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet. Some of her most notable work included imposing sanctions on North Korea, opposing Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria, and lobbying the release of political prisoners. President Obama praised her as one of the “foremost thinkers in public policy.” 

Powers immigrated from Ireland with her mother as a child. She specifically discussed how her background informed her worldview from a young age and impacted her career in public service later in life. 

“Having come to America as an immigrant back in the day... I really felt like going into government was something similar,” she said. “You had to suspend certain parts of who you were, or at least leave them at the door when you went in in the morning, and then master this new way of being and doing in order to be effective.”

Public Policy junior Bennett Neuhoff attended both this discussion and the talk with Stephan Hadley, David Fried and Liz Schrayer, earlier this month. After the event, he discussed in an interview with The Daily how both events left him hopeful about the outlook of America’s influence abroad. 

“There is a very big sector of the United States that is not ready to necessarily surrender the United States’ influence abroad despite what some of the actions of the current administration have been,” Neuhoff said. “It’s really encouraging to see both administrations kind of unite in saying that a world with the United States at the helm is a better place.” 

Power’s memoir follows the unique path Power followed on her journey to going into diplomacy. Beginning as a war correspondent on the Yugoslav Wars for multiple publications including the Boston Globe and the Economist, she transitioned to human rights advocacy, and eventually became the youngest American to assume the role of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Powers explained her book is a fusion of her personal memoir with concrete policy analysis.

“My book is definitely unique in the political memoir domain in combining ample discussion of romance with a darker discussion of Putin – but with no connection between the two,” Power said. 

Powers went on to discuss a range of policy issues she focused on during her time in office, from relations with the Middle East to the Ebola crisis that ravaged West Africa in 2014. She touched on what she viewed as her greatest failure in office – Obama’s inability to secure congressional approval for a military strike in Syria in 2013. 

After the event, Public Policy graduate student Mohammad Akbar Zadran told The Daily that he attended the lecture in an attempt to see foreign policy in action. 

“I came to this event in order to learn about the practicality of diplomacy and foreign policy in the United States,” Zadran said. “In class we have discussions about policy as an academic arena, but here we hear about its practical implementation and implications and the effect on the United States and around the world. 

Ultimately, Power concluded by stressing to students the importance of having specific, streamlined policy goals in the field of diplomacy, and to celebrate every small win. 

“He or she who fights every battle fights none,” she said. “Figure out what your slice of change is…Sometimes we get a little grandiose about all we can achieve – and you’ll get there. But I think if each step is a growth, if you can identify the minimum growth you can achieve, then all kinds of good things can happen.”