Obama’s UN Ambassador and Pulitzer Prize winner believes that “even if Biden wins, European allies will fear a resurgence of Trump’s vision.”
This interview is part of a series of talks with leading intellectuals, editors, activists, economists, and politicians who help describe the state of affairs before the elections. You can read the other deliveries here.
Samantha Power was a well-known war reporter, awarded a Pulitzer for a superb book on the American response to genocide (A problem from hell, 2002), when a young Barack Obama hired her as a foreign policy adviser for his campaign in 2008. Power had already returned from Bosnia, Rwanda or Sudan and other adventures, had graduated from Harvard Law School and was working in Harvard Kennedy School. After the victory, Obama nominated her as ambassador to the United Nations, a position she held throughout the Administration (2009-2017), until the arrival of Donald Trump to power. Born in Ireland 50 years ago and brought to the United States as a child of nine, Power became one of the 100 most influential people in the world. TIME Magazine dixit. In his recent memoir, The education of an idealist, openly reviews the journey of all those years, from his reflections on the role of the United States in the world to his great serious mistake with Hillary Clinton, which forced him to resign from the Obama campaign shortly before the elections. The already elected president got it back. He also addresses the thorn in Syria, a conflict for which he wanted another kind of response.
Question. Right after Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, you gave a short speech to your team at the United Nations and told them: “Our institutions are strong, it doesn’t matter who governs because the main strength of this country is its citizens, we will succeed …” . Do you think the system has passed the Trump test?
Answer. Well, our institutions have buckled to an almost unrecognizable point, but they haven’t been broken. For example, we have courts full of judges appointed by Trump, many of them not prepared enough. And the Supreme Court, of course, is going to be very different [los republicanos están a punto de confirmar a una nueva jueza conservadora]. But he has not bowed to Trump’s interests on the issue of taxes or discrimination against the LGBT community. Trump has attacked the media a lot, but even so, there has been incredible journalistic work these years, even uncovering his taxes. Four years later, my basic answer is that yes, our future is in the hands of people other than Trump. We are neither a monarchy nor a dictatorship. But now we are in the final exam, and that final exam is the development of this choice. What happens to the day itself, if Trump recognizes the result, if he continues to accuse fraud, if we end up in court.
P. From a foreign policy point of view, how do you assess the way in which Donald Trump has managed the pandemic?
R. Well, I think it has been a reflection of the key aspects of Trump’s leadership in other areas: the rejection of science, the experts, the habit of pitting one America against another, or hostility towards international organizations. We have always had a part of the electorate hostile to international cooperation, an extremist, xenophobic and nationalist part, but they had never ruled the country before. I think that the great damage that Trump has caused is the lack of trust in America, in the old America, which was not perfect, but was a different America than today. I think a big problem we face is a lack of faith that America will return.
P. Do you think it will be easy to reverse everything if Joe Biden wins the election?
R. Biden has a completely different way of being in the world than we have experienced these four years. He believes in science, experts and international cooperation, compared to Trump’s zero-sum concept, that is, the conception that if one country is favored in something it is a direct and mathematical detriment to another. However, even if Biden wins, European countries and our close allies will fear that Trump’s vision of the world will resurface, because there is a whole electorate that thinks so. Even if he loses, people around the world will fear that ideology will have an influence when Biden decides to strengthen the US role in NATO, or decides how many refugees can come to the United States, among other things.
P. The electoral result, whatever it is, will also be a very strong message for populist leaders in Europe and the rest of the world, many people will take note of what happens here.
R. Yes, it would even go further than that. That a man named Donald Trump is defeated in America will send a signal. But another more important signal will be sent if Trumpism is also repudiated, that is, that set of dogmas that they have in common with people like Orbán in Hungary or Duterte in the Philippines. For Trumpism to be defeated in addition to Trump, Biden’s victory must be comprehensive. In other words, if the result is adjusted, the message will not be understood as a repudiation and this repudiation is very important for what you ask about the message that this election will send to the rest of the world. And, aside from that, [si hay un cambio de Gobierno] the leaders who abuse rights in the world may feel that the United States is watching them and thus end impunity.
P. Regarding this impunity, those who argue that the United States should regain a more active role are faced with the reply that it is not necessary to act as the world’s police.
R. Those of us who believe that the United States has a leadership role to play in the international human rights system, or against genocide. We would never think of America as a policeman of the world. That’s a Trump cartoon. I know from first-hand experience as an ambassador to the United Nations, that very few things happen without a first move that catalyzes the rest. That country is needed to catalyze in matters of climate change or refugees. The United States should not be the policeman of the world, it is not tremendously good at it, but should it, for example, call a meeting of the Security Council [de la ONU] to coordinate a global action in the face of a pandemic? Should I welcome if Angela Merkel decides to take the lead in vaccine distribution? Of course. If democracies don’t step up and organize coalitions on world problems, you are going to find a country like China taking that position. It has resources. They have just surpassed the US in number of embassies and consulates. In some aspects [ese protagonismo de China] It may be good, but they are not going to influence the defense of human rights.