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Monday 10 December 2018

'Don't allow yourself to be used by Kim Jong Un' - Former US ambassador to UN Samantha Power's advice to Independent Alliance

Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power delivering The Barat Lecture on Social Awareness at Mount Anville Secondary School.
Pic Steve Humphreys
10th November 2017
Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power delivering The Barat Lecture on Social Awareness at Mount Anville Secondary School. Pic Steve Humphreys 10th November 2017

Shona Murray

As a diplomat who served in one of the world’s highest offices, Samantha Power has some advice for the Independent Alliance on their diplomatic mission to North Korea.

“Bad idea; don’t allow yourself to be used by Kim Jong Un. It’s a bad idea.”

For four years, Ambassador Power led the charge against Russia’s escalation of the war in Syria while serving as US ambassador to the UN. In her final address last December, she laid down on record her assessment of who was responsible for what the UN has just called “a complete meltdown of humanity”. It was during Syria’s territorial conquest of strategically important parts of eastern and southern Aleppo. The month-long offensive involved the use of indiscriminate weaponry such as barrel bombs and heavy shelling.  In total, during this period alone 1,200 people were killed; over half of whom were civilians. 

“In the last 24 hours alone pro-Assad forces have killed 82 civilians including 11 women and 13 children”, she told the UN Security Council of which Russia is a permanent member. “To the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russia and Iran:  Is there literally nothing that can shame you? Is there no act of barbarism against civilians, no execution of a child that gets under your skin; that creeps you out just a little bit? Is there nothing you won’t lie about or justify?

Before she was US ambassador, Samantha Power was a senior foreign policy advisor to President Barack Obama. She was one of the most ardent supporters for American intervention against the Syrian regime. Her strongly-held position as an advocate for military intervention on humanitarian grounds was well-known and documented. It was after reading her Pulitzer-prize winning book on genocide in Darfur that Barack Obama asked her join his campaign for presidency. At the 11th hour, President Obama retreated from his plan to strike Syria in September 2013, no doubt much to Samantha Power’s dismay, although she has never openly criticised the former president for his decision. 

“I wish we had tried more than we tried” in Syria, she tells the Irish Independent. Although, she’s not sure what level of military involvement would have been required. I couldn’t “indicate we could have done “X” or “Y””, she says. “This wasn’t Rwanda” where the genocide was perpetrated using crude instruments such as “machetes” or is a “geographically small country.” Syria is “a huge country with huge cleavages that we didn’t even understand from afar”, she says.

A slightly different Samantha Power is in Dublin today. She’s speaking to the Irish Independent in the library of her old alma mater, Mount Anville School, in Dublin. She spent her early years in the junior school here and has just toured her classroom after delivering a lecture to over 600 pupils. She is “a bit overwhelmed” by the nostalgia, she says. “The smell of the chapel; the little spot I used to hide when ballet was on; it’s all the same.”

“I hated ballet more than I can describe”. “I would pretend I had to go to the bathroom at the beginning of ballet and I’d stand in the girls’ room and wait and hope nobody would catch me”. “When I did get caught it was not pleasant”.

It’s not exactly what you’d expect from one of the world’s most formidable minds. She’s clasping a photograph given to her by an old babysitter who came to see her speech. It’s a picture her and her mother when Mrs. Power was a toddler. “Look at my mother; she looks like a model.”

During her tour of the school she tells me a little girl, aged around 6 years old, raised her hand and said “how are we going to stop Trump from making things bad everywhere?”

It is the sentiment of many today.

“My worry is that things get normalised” with this president. “You stop noticing the outrage of something and the civic decline that is afoot.” He gave a speech in Korea recently and “plugged one of his resorts” and I didn’t even notice. It was “complete profiteering on the back of the American presidency.” “I didn’t notice because he does it all the time”.

“Things that were not say-able before are now say-able; things that were not done are now done; there is a legitimisation of extremism quite frankly.”

“It’s going to take something very special to recover from this.”

Donald Trump’s approval rating is low at 36 pc but his base remains relatively solid. According to realclearpolitics.com approval in so-called “Trump counties” – places where he did far better than Mitt Romney did in 2012 for example, his ratings barely slipped; from 50 pc to 48 pc. “It’s true his base are sticking and people are horrified internationally that he still has the support he does” on the other hand its “declining every day.”

“If we were to keep eroding then I think there would be a real question as to whether he’d run again.”

“He can keep his haters but fundamentally decent republicans don’t see a Republican Party in President Trump that they can identify with anymore.”

The post Second World War world order is changing fast. Donald Trump is reverting from the multi-lateral system that is developed through the UN and other forms of international cooperation. “This will be a void that China will seek to fill”, she says.

China’s rise and its world view will be very damaging; they don’t see human rights and democracy as stabilising; they see it as the enemy. “They want to shape the UN in a manner where it doesn’t play in the democracy space or the human rights space.” “That’s happening.”

“The problem then is conflict and extremism are bred by people are being mistreated.” “There’d be no Isis if former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki had treated the Sunni with a modicum of respect or given them basic rights.”

Ambassador Power agreed that Isis was given initial room to flourish as a direct result of the Iraq invasion in 2003. “For sure”, she says, but even on the heels on a “major American mistake” “Isis was able to take root because of this degree of disenfranchisement” from the Iraqi government.

These conflicts are festering and Chinese president Xi Jinping is “licking his chops” at thought of the collapse of the liberal democratic values.

Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power delivering The Barat Lecture on Social Awareness at Mount Anville Secondary School.
Pic Steve Humphreys
10th November 2017
Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power delivering The Barat Lecture on Social Awareness at Mount Anville Secondary School. Pic Steve Humphreys 10th November 2017

On Russia, Ambassador Power says the Kremlin in a “major threat”: “the combination of the assault on our democracy plus the assault on democracy in Europe” is alarming.

“If Putin decided Ireland is worth it, you could see it happening here.” “Every western audience is a worth target to sew doubts about democracy.” “They’ve extremely aggressive ambitions”, they are a nuclear power and they have a veto on the Security Council which allows them to prevent any “meaningful” UN actions.

Many of Donald Trump’s frontline team (and former) have something in common: they have Irish surnames or ancestors: Bannon, Flynn, Conway, Sean Spicer, Mike Pence; does this mean Irish America has moved to the right; away from its historical home with the Democrats?

“I had not taken adequate note of the Irish pattern there.”

“Irish people are a huge part of what makes America work, what makes America great, what makes America fight”.

“We’re everywhere so it’s unsurprising there would be visible important Irish presence in the political opposition party.”

 In the last administration, there was also John Brennan, former head of the CIA, Denis McDonough former chief of staff for President Obama, and Power.

There’s a very low morale around the world in democracies right now because of the election of Trump and the rise of authoritarianism. You‘d be amazed at how just one small bring spot in a small island country how that can be a morale boost for people in big countries who

The Taoiseach here is a very inspiring global figure and it’s again democratic values is “where a small country can punch above its weight.”

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