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The Fifth Estate

Samantha Power on Influence and Idealism  /  Defence, military & war

How does a person navigate the change from activist outsider to influential insider? How do you balance idealism and pragmatism under pressure?

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Samantha Power has had to navigate these questions first-hand. From a troubled childhood in Dublin to a career as a war correspondent then academic, she landed at the heart of American politics in 2005 – when her critiques of US foreign policy drew the attention of Barack Obama. She joined his team, eventually becoming a senior human rights adviser. 

After an early misstep (she branded Hillary Clinton ‘a monster’, and lost her job over the incident), Power served in the White House’s National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. In 2013, she was appointed to the coveted position of US Ambassador to the United Nations. 

As she reveals in her newest book, The Education of an Idealist, the intensity of her work was matched by personal struggle – trying to start a family, then raising young children; dealing with anxiety attacks and her own painful childhood. Power has been celebrated for her skill and influence, and has proudly worn the title of activist. She has also drawn sharp criticism from some quarters, particularly in her advocacy for ‘humanitarian intervention’, and her arguments for US action or inaction in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

In conversation with Sally Warhaft, Samantha Power discusses the complexity of decision-making, the tensions between activism and power, and the reconciliation of past and future.

Sally Warhaft and Samantha Power

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