Exclusive - Samantha Power Extended Interview

January 18, 2017 - Samantha Power 01/18/2017 Views: 35,341

United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power talks about holding Russia accountable for escalating Syria's civil war and examines America's role on the world stage. (15:00)

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Please welcome Samantha Power.

-♪ -(cheering, applause)

Thank you.

Welcome to the show, Ambassador.

That's the reception I getat the United Nations every day,

-(laughter)-so thanks for that.

Uh, I understandthis is your final interview

as ambassador to the U.N.

-So it seems.-Yeah. So, uh,

are you just gonna tell useverything, just, like,

you know, like,for real for real?

-(laughter)-'Cause what can happen?

-You're leaving anyway.-True.

Just spill the beans on the U.N.Let's-let's get into it.

It-it is a... it is a....

a trying time for Americaand, you know,

for administrationschanging over.

But let's take a step back

and just talk aboutwhat your role at the U.N. is.

I mean,it seems self-explanatory,

but what are you doingas an ambassador to the U.N.?

Well, in representingthe United States,

um, I'm sitting behind a placard

that says the "United StatesStates of America,"

and we're the biggestfinancial contributor,

we are the leader--if we don't lead, uh,

-bad guys benefit,-Mm-hmm.

other big countriesthat do bad things

step into the void.

So we use itto mobilize coalitions,

to burden-share.

The rest of the worldpays 78% of the budget,

you know,even as we pay a large share.

So we... look outfor U.S. interests

and the welfareof the American people,

but recognize that that'svery tied to collective security

and to the welfareof people around the world.

Now, you-you work at the U.N.,which is an organization

that I feel like, you know,when traveling the world,

is one that is laudedin many places.

Strangely enough,I find in America,

not many people thinkof the U.N. as an organization

that is still capableof doing anything.

It seems like it's all, uh,you know, a... parade,

as opposedto actually having an effect.

It's symbolic, but itdoesn't seem like it has power.

-Is that true?-No. I mean, it's flawed,

-Yes. -in the sensethat it's 193 countries,

more than half of themare not democratic.

So you're arguing on behalfof democracy and human rights

with countries thatsometimes don't practice it

-within their own borders.-Mm-hmm.

You're arguing for LGBT rights

with people who criminalizebeing gay in their countries.

It's hard. But when it comesto the kinds of threats

that we face today--terrorists who cross borders,

whose financing moves, you know,through these smuggler networks,

climate change,where no one country

can deal with the problem,but small island countries

are disappearing underwater,

and we're all experiencingextreme weather,

sanctions against Iran,when they're pursuing

a nuclear weapon, so that we canthen bring them to the table

so as to take awaytheir nuclear weapons program--

I mean, none of that can be done

if you didn't havea global organization

where you could bringall countries to the table.

So y-you could do awaywith the UN tomorrow

and you'd build itthe day after,

because you have to havea global organization.

You have to have rulesin the world

or that's gonna hurtthe American people

and people everywhere.

It must be a little bit strange,I mean, maybe I'm wrong,

but being in a positionwhere you-you are still

the ambassador to the UNand you-you have been

all through the transitionsince the election.

Donald Trump has gone againstmost of the policies

that you-you said, you know,like climate change,

working together,building coalitions.

Are people, like, looking at youtrying to ask you questions,

like, uh, what's up withthat guy, you know?

N-now and then.


I'll-I'll take that,that's fine.

I-I understand,you're an ambassador.

I'll take that.

-Let's talk, let's talk about...-Talk to me Friday at 12:01.

Oh, I'll do that, I'll do that,I'll do that.

We'll have, we'll havethe follow-up to this.

-We'll have the follow-up.-(cheering and applause)

The um...

Let's talk a little bit abouty-your addresses that you gave.

You know, two addressesthat have been about leaving.

And I think they both had

really interesting pointsthat you brought up.

One, which you gave, addressedthe fact that you felt

that the UN Councildidn't do enough

to deal with what happenedin Syria.

When you said that, though,what does that mean?

Because some people gowhat could have been done?

Well, Russia is a permanentmember of the Security Council,

a privilege afforded to onlyfive of us 71 years ago,

-after the Second World War.-Mm-hmm.

And Russia used its vetotime and again

whenever we proposed puttingpressure on the Assad regime,

which was gassing its people,barrel-bombing its people,

systematically torturingits people.

Had we been able to forge unity,uh, with Russia,

had there been more-- you know,

even if they wantedto back the regime,

but a much morecritical relationship,

where they were really pressingfrom behind the scenes

to get the regime to stopthe tactics that it used,

which only just incitesmore terrorism

and draws peopleinto the fray.

Um, then, you know,maybe we could have had

a political solution earlier.

Uh, but the system is vulnerable

when one of thepermanent members chooses

to render the Council paralyzedby using the veto.

I-I understand that Russia,you know,

has to take a lot of blame.

I mean, the world saw how Putinsupported Assad,

regardless of his actions.

But surely there's a part of,you know,

whether it's the U.S.or the ambassador's team,

that looks at the situationand goes,

in hindsight, had you actedmaybe in 2011, 2012.

I mean, for instance,Hillary Clinton, herself,

talked about how arming therebels at the time in Syria,

may have stopped Assad

from being as powerfulas he was.

Do you sometimes look backat that

and think of a different wayit may have been handled?

Well, let me say that anythingthat we did of-of, uh,

you know,a more aggressive nature

would have not beenwith the approval

of the security council,

-so you run into a whole...-Yeah.

And that, you know, when ournational interests are at stake,

and certainly if the U.S. were,uh, at direct risk--

you know, fundamen... And Russiawere blocking something, I...

You know, any president,I think, is gonna look out

for the American peoplefirst and foremost.

This was a humanitarian issue.I look back every...

if not every minute of everyday, certainly every day

and ask myself "what morecould have been done?"

And you can'tlook at a situation

-where 400,000 peopleare being killed, -Yeah.

half the population displaced,

ISIL, who we're, you know,now, uh, beating back

and has lost a lotof its territory,

but nonetheless establisheda foothold. I mean,

we all have to ask ourselvesthat question.

But in doing so we can'tlose sight of the fact

of who it was that was killingcivilians in Syria.

And sometimes,in the recriminations,

it's, you know, the-the...there's... one can lose sight

of-of who the perpetrators were.And we can't do that now,

as the Obama administration,and we can't do it after Friday.

It's-it's interesting thatyou bring up the one nation

that is blocking the othernations from doing something.

Um... I mean,this is a-a touchy subject

that many people don't evenwant to broach, but, you know,

that is what, for a long time,was happening with the U.S.

with regards to Israeland the settlements.

And then, you know,shortly after the election,

the U.S. didn't, uh, you know,veto as they-as they had.

And this was seenaround the world

as America bringing its policyin line with its vote.

But, I mean, that's-that's

a very difficultdecision to make--

where does the U.S.now stand

and how does that changethe dynamic in the U.N.?

Well, I think that, uh,doing things on anything

related to Israelor Middle East peace is complex,

because the U.N.,

really from the founding of thestate of Israel to the present,

has, uh, paid disproportionateattention to Israel.

To give you one example,in the general assembly

there are 18 resolutionsevery year on Israel

and one on North Korea,which has gulags.

One on Syria, thatgasses its people and so forth.

So it's always a fraughtdecision and a complex decision,

but the resolution that came up

had in it an enshrinement,uh, of our policy,

which is that settlements areunhelpful to the peace process.

Incitement and violence,uh, need to be opposed.

And I think the presidentmade the judgment that--

in good conscience--to veto that, you know,

might implicitly send a signalof a green light.

And so this was an effort,uh, to-to say to all the parties

that the violence has to stop,the incitement has to stop,

the settlements need to stop

and we need to reenergizea diplomatic process,

'cause there's onlya political solution.

Uh, now, some-some peoplemay argue--

and, I mean, as you said,it's so complicated--

some people would argue youstill have a few days left.

Would there be any meritto going back into the U.N.

and, as the U.S., publicly,uh, condemning Palestinians

who are funneling moneyinto, you know,

as they call them, you know,barricade, you know,

drivers that smash into...Or-or terrorism as a whole.

Is there any merit to thator is this now a decision

that is now for the nextadministration to handle?

No, we, I mean,we condemn routinely,

uh, acts of terrorismand-and indeed,

uh, have, as a security council,

and at the U.N. generally,

managed to do much moreof that, I think,

under this administration,in part because President Obama

earned a lot of diplomaticcapital with some of the work

he did in other areas like Iran,Cuba, uh, and so forth.

So I-I thinkyou absolutely must do that.

Um, at the same time,we are looking

at-at all the impedimentsto a two-state solution

and-and, you know,trying to raise a flare

that all of thosewill have to be dealt with

if the two peoplesare to live side by side

in dignity and in security.

Talking about, uh, raisinga flair, you did exactly that

with regards to Russia,which-- I'm not gonna lie--

must be one of the most awkwardwork situations,

because Russia's there,on the security council.

You have friends who work...

I mean, you have to workwith the Russians,

and yet you are deliveringa speech saying,

"We need to watch outfor Russia. You guys."

Uh... Like, isn't thata strange environment to be in,

where you're-you're speakingto everyone about the Russians

and warning the world?But, like, if Russia is there,

essentially, what do you thinkthe world needs to be wary of

when it comes to the Russians?

Well, this was not what Iever intended to go out saying.

I mean, when I got into my jobin 2013,

we had problems on Syria,but we hadn't yet seen

Russia go into Ukraineand lop off part of a neighbor,

which is a violation ofthe core principle in the U.N.

-which is you don't do that.Um... -(laughter)

Uh... Exactly.

And then, in Syria,they not only were vetoing

on behalf of Assadbut then got involved themselves

and started usingthese horrific weapons,

you know, that hit schoolsand hospitals and so forth.

And, again, there need to berules in terms of how, uh,

conflict, uh, is wagedwhen it is waged.

And-and there have been.

But when a-a big powerlike Russia violates those rules

alongside Syria, you know,those rules become less binding

for-for other would-be,uh, bad guys.

So then, on top of all of that,we start to see them

pumping money into electionsin Europe

on behalf of illiberal parties,

wanting to kind of exportthe Putin model.

And, lo and behold,in our own election,

we saw a very significanteffort, uh, to interfere

and to indeed change the outcomeof the election.

To seek to changethe outcome of the election.

So I felt, in leaving, as a newadministration is taking over,

uh, that it was really importantto pull the pieces together

and say,"Look, this is a government now

"that we, as a people,have to unite,

"uh, seeing clear-eyedwhat they are doing,

"maintaining sanctions for-forwhat they have done in the past,

-until the behavior changes,open to diplomacy..." -Yeah.

The-the only waythis is going to get resolved--

I agree with everyone who says--

uh, is-is throughthe political track.

But that doesn't meanyou practice historical amnesia

and that, when you take office,you forget recent history,

because that lawbreaking,that rule-breaking,

that assaulton the international order

is something thatis really gonna hurt America

and it's gonna hurt peopleall around the world.

And how we respond is somethingthe North Koreas,

the Iranians,and even the non-state actors

and the terrorists are watching.


(applause and cheering)

I could... I could talk to youall night on this,

'cause I'm truly fascinated by,you know, the U.N...

-I got time, unfortunately,'cause, uh... -(laughter)

No, no, I have to let you go,and thank you for being here.

I honestly have one question,though, and I do not mean this

with any disrespect,but playing devil's advocate,

if, you know,you were at the U.N.

and I was from another country,

I feel likeit would be easy for me to say,

as oneof the other member countries,

how can the U.S. condemn,you know, let's say Russia,

for bombing a school,or for bombing a civilian,

you know, institution, when theU.S. has a history of that?

You know, is it not justa different calculation

of what a casualty of warshould be?

Is it not just a differentmetric of what life is worth?

And then you go,and further into that,

how does the U.S. then say thatwhen the U.S. is known

for being the election meddlersof the world?

You know, I mean, speaking fromjust even from South Africa

with Nelson Mandelaand the history with the CIA,

we grew up in a worldwhere we're like,

"Oh, that's what America does."

There's a chance,if your election is happening,

they will interfere.

How do you then respond to that

when trying to be the beaconthat leads the world

in what we all consider isthe right direction?

Well, the first thingI'll say is,

people look to the United Statesfor leadership

on human rights and democracy.

Second-- what we doas the Obama administration is,

we've invested in the U.N.,in international law,

banned torture, paid our dues.

Every time we are choosingtargets in warfare,

they're, you know,three lawyers

at the elbow of the target eartrying to figure out

how to do it in a way that wouldminimize collateral damage.

-Uh-huh.-And it is just night and day

in terms of howwe practice warfare

and the men and womenwho take our uniforms

and go outand sacrifice themselves.

Between that and carpet-bombingof Aleppo,

which we saw in order to...for them to conquer that city--

I mean, there's justno comparison.

And what is interesting is,I think we acknowledge the past.

We talk about our imperfectionsin a way

that we haven't doneas a country

in our foreign policyall that much before.

I think President Obama'sreally set the tone.

And people say, "Well, at least

-they're meeting uswhere we are." -Yeah.

They're acknowledgingthat the Iraq War happened.

Or they're acknowledging

-some stuff happenedin Latin America... -yeah.

...you know,that changes the way

we might hear the message today.

So you acknowledge it,but you're really proud

of how America leadsin the world

and how our troopsconduct ourselves.

And when a mistake happens,and they do happen--

and our troops are engagedin so many parts of the world--

we raise our hand up and say,"This happened.

We got to look into it."

You know, we look to seeif we pay condolence payments

to familieswho've been affected.

Contrast that with Russiathat bombs and bombs and bombs.

Never once has acknowledgedharming a civilian

in the life of theirGrozny-style approach to Syria.

I, um... I just want to say,thank you for your time.

You've had, honestly, one of thetoughest jobs in the world,

in the world,

and, uh, we appreciateeverything you've done.

-Good luck on your futureventures. -Thank you.

-I've been very blessed. -Andenjoy the end of the world.

-Thank you. Thank you.-Thank you so much.

Ambassador Samantha Power,everybody.