When a student asked Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Samantha Power ’92 if she thought that the United States was on a “good path” or a “bad path” towards effective and safe foreign policy, she responded immediately.
“Bad path,” she said.
Power — who lectures at Harvard and wrote the 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” — spoke to approximately 125 Yale students and faculty in Luce Hall Monday. In her speech, Power discussed the difficulties of integrating human rights into foreign policy, addressed international problems the United States faces today, and answered questions from the audience.
Former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who serves as the director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, introduced the talk.
Power said combining human rights with foreign policy is challenging for structural and cultural reasons. She said people who do not know anyone against whom an atrocity was committed are unlikely to take action against war crimes.
Another difficulty in integrating human rights into foreign policy is the ineffectiveness of international organizations like the United Nations, Power said. But this is less because of issues with the laws of the United Nations itself, and more with how nations interpret and adhere to the laws, she said.
One example is the United States, whose policies have helped undermine the notion and structure of the United Nations, she said. She said she believed recent decisions by the US administration, such as refusing to sign the Kyoto Treaty and detaining prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, discouraged the United Nations from sanctioning the invasion of Iraq.
“People are keeping score,” she said.
Power also mentioned what she referred to as the Bush administration’s efforts to “kill” the International Criminal Court. Although it was just founded in 1998, she said, and has not yet “had time to fail,” the United States has already withdrawn its signature from the Rome Statute, which created the ICC. The administration has even passed legislation authorizing the American military to invade Holland if any Americans are detained there, she said, inciting laughter.
The United States has also convinced two-thirds of signatories to the Rome Statute to agree not to turn over Americans to the court if they commit a human rights abuse, Power said. Seven countries have refused the demand, she said. The United States has cut off military aid to all of them, including two nations that currently have troops in Iraq.
Such heavy-handed policies are not what we need at the moment, Power said. In a time when the United States faces worse problems than ever before, the government should be seeking allies, not rebuffing them, she said.
“It is important actually to be feared,” she said, “but it is far more important to be respected.”
Power said current foreign policy decisions will affect Americans in numerous ways in the future, just as they have in the past.
Many students responded enthusiastically to Power’s talk.
“She has the right ideas about the necessity of confronting the facts when it comes to human rights abuses, and not fearing that people are so self-involved that they don’t care,” Charlie Carriere ’07 said. “I definitely want to read her book now.”
Chris Glazek ’07 said he was impressed as well.
“I kind of want her to be president,” he said.