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Samantha Power: The Woman of System

Summary:
We need to restore a constituency and a faith that we can have a productive foreign policy, and I think that part of what that will entail is putting diplomacy and burden sharing at the front of our messaging and of our packaging and of our actions. Right now, humanitarian intervention, if it happens — and it’s happening in different places around the world — but is much more likely to be done by regional organizations like the African Union than it is to be orchestrated by great powers. And given the lagging public opinion, until some successful actions are prosecuted — depending, again, on the circumstances — that may be a wise thing. But that doesn’t mean that the United States doesn’t have a role, for example, in training and equipping the troops that are

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We need to restore a constituency and a faith that we can have a productive foreign policy, and I think that part of what that will entail is putting diplomacy and burden sharing at the front of our messaging and of our packaging and of our actions. Right now, humanitarian intervention, if it happens — and it’s happening in different places around the world — but is much more likely to be done by regional organizations like the African Union than it is to be orchestrated by great powers.

And given the lagging public opinion, until some successful actions are prosecuted — depending, again, on the circumstances — that may be a wise thing. But that doesn’t mean that the United States doesn’t have a role, for example, in training and equipping the troops that are going into a Central African Republic or into a Mali or into places where lives can be saved.

This is from “Samantha Power on Learning How to Make a Difference,” Conversations with Tyler, Mercatus Center, September 11.

The quote reminded me of the great quote from Adam Smith about “The man of system.” In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith wrote:

The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

Samantha Power is the, actually one of many, “women of system.”

In that whole long interview, Tyler Cowen asks her not a single question about her strong advocacy, when she was a high-level employee of President Obama’s National Security Council, of intervening in Libya. That was the major foreign policy disaster of the Obama administration, one that she, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, had a role in pushing for.

I don’t recommend the interview; it’s too much of a puff piece. I do recommend Matt Welch’s much more hard hitting review of Samantha Power’s book The Education of an Idealist. His review is aptly titled “The Corruptions of Power.”

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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