The next U.S. President, Guantanamo Bay and Obama: Samantha Power comes to Trinity

Samantha Power, a former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, spoke to Law Soc today about human rights, the next American president and her career.

Samantha Power is well known for being the United States Ambassador to the United Nations during Barack Obama’s administration and was prominent in the documentary The Final Year, filmed during Obama’s last year in office. She began working as a journalist, serving as a war correspondent during the Yugoslav Wars, before becoming a Founding Executive Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. In 2009, she joined the National Security Council and was later the United State’s representative to the United Nations. Today, she visited Trinity to receive the Trinity College Praeses Elit Award from Trinity’s Law Soc, though Power opened with “They didn’t have to give me a medal to convince me to come.”

Power emigrated to the United States from Ireland aged nine, growing up she was passionate about sport and while attending Yale, she became involved in student journalism focusing on sports. Speaking about her days as a student she referenced seeing the Tiananmen Square Protests on television, “tanks rolling- mowing people down” and the effect it had on her, making her work harder than she previously had.

Her involvement in the Obama administration and his campaign wasn’t up for debate in her mind, despite having just started a new job in Harvard she said, “it’s like love when you know, you know.” Unsurprisingly, she was complimentary of Obama describing him as a “searching person” who listens and asks. A tactic Power applied to decisions she made during her time in Obama’s administration, which could be used universally, was “If I can achieve ‘x’, will it have been worth it?” After speaking about her experience in working in human rights the prominent question of will Trump and his colleagues undo her work was raised, she responded without hesitation, “It has been undone.”

She addressed Trump’s “obsession” with Obama’s administration. Her disdain for his administration was evident and unsurprising as she spoke of the Paris Climate Agreement “our climate will never get those four years back” and pointedly looked at the audience when she said, “This a period your kids, your grandkids will ask you, what was that?”.

Acknowledging her position of power and being a woman, Power was quick to say in her role in the UN it was less prominent that she was a woman and more that she was American. An analysis she gave on the “imposter syndrome” women may suffer when in powerful positions is that one positive effect of Trump was it has motivated so many women to run for office. Power highlighted the struggle many women have and will face, drawing from her personal experience, of missing time with her children so she could work and “the reward” being questioned on her looks and appearance.

An interesting topic raised was that of the impact of the technological age we live in, she spoke of the issue of social media leading us to surround ourselves with information from “communities we already inhabit”. It’s easier to ignore those who voted for Trump, she claimed, and why some who voted for Obama then voted for Trump. She appeared hopeful about the next presidential race. Possible candidates mentioned were former Vice President Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren. The candidate that truly excited her was was Beto O’Rourke, saying he “feels like the antidote”.

To finish the event, questions were opened up to the floor. When asked whether it was worth Ireland’s time joining the UN security council she felt it was considering Ireland’s history and “empathic national trait”. Though her advice for Ireland was to pick a few issues and know them well and make a difference that way. Responding to a query over U.S. involvement in Yemen, a country suffering from one of the worst recorded famines, she acknowledged that “we should, the Obama administration, should have walked away” but gave the reason for going in as it was a country which had a democratic election which was overthrown by military involvement. She further stated that the Saudis are losing and the only winners in Yemen are terrorists.

Recently, the US decided to leave the Human Rights Council which she exclaimed was “so arrogant”. She affirmed that the council is biased against Israel- though she also acknowledged Israel’s occupancy of Palestine, but said that there is too much attention on it when compared to North Korea and Syria. Considering her advocation of human rights, it was inevitable Guantanamo bay would come up considering Obama’s administration’s failure to fulfil their promise of closing it. She cited Congress as an issue that “Congress, basically, tied the president’s hands” and “the irony is people are more radicalised in prisons.”

Currently a Professor at Harvard, it seems unlikely that this is the final stop in an already extraordinary career. Power’s passion for human rights and politics was infectious, as well as her bright disposition on what is a foggy time in American politics. A few of her final words seemed to not only be ones of encouragement but ones that encapsulated her “to be in government and be an activist at heart, is an amazing thing.”

Georgina Francis

Georgina Francis is a former Managing Editor, Life Editor and Assistant Life Editor of Trinity News.