Obama nominee: U.N. lack of action on Syria 'a disgrace'

2:55 PM, Jul 17, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON– President Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said during her confirmation hearing on Wednesday that the lack of action by the U.N. Security Council to stem the bloodshed in a long-running conflict in Syria was "a disgrace."

Samantha Power, a former foreign policy adviser to Obama who was among those who persuaded the president to back NATO-led intervention in 2011, has until this point stayed publicly quiet about her views on the conflict in Syria.

But in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Power-- who during a long career as a journalist, human rights advocate and administration official has advocated acting aggressively to defend human rights – blasted the international body for failing to act more forcefully to try to stem the two-year-old civil war that has left more than 90,000 dead.

Power pointed specifically to the U.N. Security Council's failure to pass any condemnatory resolutions against the Assad regime – something that member nations China and Russia have opposed.

"We see the failure of the U.N. Security Council to respond to the slaughter in Syria ... a disgrace that history will judge harshly," said Power, who made a name for herself in foreign policy circles and won a Pulitzer Prize for her 2002 book A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.

Power also cautioned that the United States has to be "clear-eyed" about the potential of persuading China and Russia to change their stance and support Security Council action against the Assad regime, which she charged has written "a new playbook for brutality."

She added that there are worrying trends on the ground in Syria: the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime and growth of extremist groups among the Syrian rebels.

"Nobody is satisfied with where we are today," Power said.

She also attempted to clear up questions about controversial statements she's made in the past about U.S. foreign policy, particularly American policy on Israel.

Her critics, including some from pro-Israeli groups, have pointed to comments that she made in a 2002 interview about how she would suggest the U.S. respond to a hypothetical genocide situation in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

"What we need is a willingness to actually put something on the line in the service of helping the situation," Power said in a long interview with University of California-Berkeley professor Harry Kreisler. "And putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import."

Power said that she regretted the "long, rambling and remarkably incoherent response" she gave to a hypothetical situation. She said that she'll work to eliminate what she calls the United Nations' "unacceptable bias and attacks" on Israel.

Power also faced questions from Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., about a 2003 article for the left-leaning magazine The New Republic in which she wrote the U.S. needs to make "a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States."

"There are things that I have written that I would have written very differently today," Power said.

Overall, the tone of questioning during Power's hearing stood in stark contrast with the tough questioning that some of Obama's other picks for his second-term national security team faced. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel faced difficult questioning from Republican lawmakers about critical statements he made about pro-Israel groups that he had referred to as the "Jewish lobby."

Susan Rice, whom Power would replace at the U.N. if confirmed, was under consideration to become the next secretary of State, but she withdrew her name from consideration after coming under vociferous opposition from Republicans, including Sen. John McCain, for erroneous comments about last year's attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya, days after the incident. Obama last month announced that he was elevating Rice to become his national security adviser, a position that doesn't require confirmation.

But McCain, R-Ariz., was one of three GOP members of the Foreign Relations committee that announced his support for Power even before Wednesday's hearing.

A fourth Republican who is not on the committee, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, said Wednesday that he would vote in favor of her confirmation, and two Republican senators from Power's home state of Georgia – Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isaakson – formally introduced Power to the committee at the start of Wednesday's hearing.

On Tuesday, more than two dozen foreign policy and pro-Israel luminaries sent a letter to Sen. Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, and Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the committee, urging her confirmation.

Among the signatories of the letter were several high profile conservatives who served in the George W. Bush administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, a former deputy Defense secretary; Michael Chertoff, a former Homeland Security secretary and chairman of the Committee on Conscience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council; and Elliot Abrams, a former assistant secretary of State for international organization affairs.

(Copyright © 2013 USA TODAY)

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