Samantha Power Speaks Out on the Challenges Biden Could Face
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because she served under an Obama administration that tackled some of the world's most pressing challenges … and could play a key role under a President Biden too.
By Nick Fouriezos
Samantha Power served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017, a key part of an Obama administration that tackled foreign policy issues such as the Libyan civil wars, Syria, the Ukraine crisis, the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord. And if Joe Biden wins the presidency, Power very well could see herself in another major role. The Irish-American national security expert sat down with OZY co-founder and CEO Carlos Watson and the BBC World Service’s Katty Kay for their podcast, “When Katty Met Carlos.” The comments below have been edited for length and clarity.
The biggest challenge a President Biden faces abroad
Samantha Power: For everyone around the world, the No. 1 priority is going to be the pandemic and the economic fallout. … How do you get the balance right between the necessary confrontation [with China] and, of course, the competition that will exist between the two superpowers? The collaboration that President Trump hasn’t been terribly interested in lately will be indispensable if the United States is to become a constructive force. And if the world is going to move more aggressively on climate change, all of that requires restoring the alliances that have been left so frayed by President Trump.
And they’ll be immensely challenging. I mean, Katty was talking about the conversation she’s had with her European counterparts. I mean, they’ll tell you just the steep hill that a President Biden would have to climb in terms of convincing our allies who never really doubted America’s word [before]. Let’s say in an agreement like the Iran nuclear deal or on the Paris agreement or America’s membership in a global health organization, they didn’t doubt that those things were going to be sustained even if America went between a Republican and Democratic president.
Now, any set of agreements that Vice President Biden would seek to negotiate, we will be greeted with the question: Well, how do we know that some other guys aren’t going to come along and undo your word the way that Trump undid Obama’s? And that’s going to be a major challenge.
How does the world perceive the United States under Trump?
SP: First, I think anybody who looks at America’s respect around the world or a leader’s favorability ratings and views it merely as a popularity contest is making a mistake. The reason favorability ratings matter is because it can translate into influence and your ability to get countries to come to your side when you need them. And so I think the fact that President Trump’s standing with key partners is now that of around [Russian] President Putin and [Chinese] President Xi’s should tell us something about America’s summoning power. And I think it is very important to go, for example, to our NATO partners and demand that they expand their expenditures in defense and do more to enforce collective security.
But if you think that having America’s standing plummet with the German public or with publics across Europe helps you get a leader to do what you want, it’s just wrong. It actually narrows the political space that someone like Merkel has to operate within her own domestic context. Friction is fine in relationships. And certainly I think being confrontational to China is incredibly important. But President Trump basically, behind the scenes, told President Xi that he was free to set up concentration camps. … Well, before he decided to actually call China out. So I think what’s really important, unfortunately, about Trump’s legacy is that we are left with far fewer friends by our side.
Where does Donald Trump deserve credit on the foreign policy side?
SP: To make an assessment, you should make a net assessment, right? I think, absolutely, it’s really important the behind-the-scenes work that was done with Arab governments. To begin now the process of recognizing Israel and normalizing relationships. There’s no question that’s important.
But if you look at the Middle East, look at the dreadful toll of the war in Yemen. … Look at Iran’s pursuit again of enrichment that could lead them to acquiring a nuclear weapon. … Look at all the talk about bringing troops home from around the world. And yet the vast number of troops that have been sent to the Gulf because of destabilizing moves that have been made, despite a claim on the part of President Trump that he was going to do more to confront Iran and to stymie Iran’s regional ambitions.
There are things that I think go on the positive side of the ledger, but you have to look at the legacy across the board. And also the inheritance that, if President Trump loses, he’ll be leaving to his successors in terms of shattered trust, broken alliances and the pandemic alone. The record of mismanaging something that has so depleted faith around the world in America’s competence. That he’s going to make it much, much harder to bring countries to our side. Boy, that hole is bigger than any hole that has been bequeathed to a successor. At least in my lifetime.