“We have to expand the conversation: We have to bring people into the discussion of America’s role in the world. We have to counteract the impression that Trump gets to perpetuate everyday…that somehow engaging in the world rips us off.”
WorldBoston’s Chat & Chowder series concluded its year by welcoming Ambassador Samantha Power. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, Amb. Power has recently published her personal memoir blending first-person accounts, diplomatic history, and lived experience as a journalist and ambassador, among many foreign policy hats. She calls her book The Education of an Idealist, named aptly and illustrative of her core message this evening: that one person can do a lot, and in a nation brimming with resources, a lot is imperative.
In discussion, Power chronicles the tug and pull of innate idealism and lesson-learned realism. It is clear that Power buys into the idea that America is an idea. Yet the ideals the country embodies – of democracy and liberty, human rights and free enterprise – are advanced only as far as its tangible commitment to them. This is one among several difficult lessons Power has learned in a career spent advocating American and international leadership to halt human atrocity. It was the case in mid-1990s Bosnia, where she “came of age” in human rights issues, then in Libya on President Obama’s National Security Council, and today in Syria, where civil war proceeds while American support remains both wavering and insufficient.
Power’s emphasis is clear: America’s proper role is inextricable from the welfare of international neighbors. Those who favor a depressed American role in world affairs would do well to recognize that U.S. interests are integrated with human rights. And among those she refers to here is the U.S. President Donald Trump, who she regards as a major “symptom of the need to bring more people into the conversation” of American self-perception and identity.
By discussion’s end, we are forced to consider that the reality of these issues is simple. It is equal parts aphoristic and truistic: Talking the talk requires walking the walk. Wealth and resource must be employed against injustice, otherwise it permits injustice.
As we approach the New Year, and the new decade, we gather lessons from Ambassador Power’s discussion and memoir. Receding from human rights abandons the duty of wealth and resource. Likewise, we must be cautious of intervention that would bring new problems, as we know from history. In this spirit, our mandate is to understand how America should be engaged, and how it can promote human rights in the long-term. In a current world climate of backsliding democracy and illiberalism, this lesson is a valuable one.