Born in Ireland in September 1970, Samantha Power immigrated to the United States with her family in 1979. After graduating from Yale University, she worked as a journalist from 1993 to 1996, covering the Yugoslav wars for U.S. News & World Report, The Boston Globe, The Economist, and The New Republic.
Power then attended Harvard Law School, earning her Juris Doctorate in 1999. She is currently the Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where she is also affiliated with the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
Power has a long record of antipathy towards Israel. In 2001 she attended the United Nations' World Conference Against Racism (in Durban, South Africa), even after the U.S. had withdrawn most of its diplomatic participation once it became apparent that the gathering would give prominence to anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-Semitic perspectives.
Just months later, during a 2002 interview with Harry Kreisler, director of the Institute for International Studies at UC Berkeley, Power said that even if it meant “alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import” (i.e., Jewish Americans), the United States should stop investing “billions of dollars” in “servicing Israel’s military” and invest the money instead “in the new state of Palestine.” Moreover, she accused Israel of perpetrating "major human-rights abuses" and "war crimes."
Power’s 2002 book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, grew out of a paper she had written in law school and won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 2003. This book examines the origin of the word “genocide,” the major genocides of the 20th century, and the reasons why governments -- most notably the U.S. -- have so often failed to collectively identify and forestall genocides before the crisis stage.
In a 2003 New Republic article, Power suggested that U.S. officials could enhance their credibility with foreign countries by publicly apologizing for America's past failures and transgresions. “We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States” she wrote. “... A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors. When [German Chancellor Willy] Brandt went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto [in 1970], his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also ennobling and cathartic for Germany. Would such an approach be futile for the United States?” “Some anti-Americanism derives simply from our being a colossus that bestrides the earth,” added Power. “But much anti-Americanism derives from the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying such freedoms to others.” Power characterized American foreign policy as “an explicitly amoral enterprise.” She bemoaned the fact that America’s “exceptionalist impulses” had been “with us for a long time,” and that they animated George W. Bush’s “militant moralism.”
In her 2004 review of Noam Chomsky’s book Hegemony or Survival, Power agreed with many of Chomsky’s criticisms of U.S. foreign policy and expressed her own concerns about what she called the “sins of our allies in the war on terror,” lumping Israel together with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. She called Chomsky’s work “sobering and instructive.”
In the aftermath of John Kerry's failed presidential run in 2004, Power told the New Statesman: “The lesson we got was that the only thing worse than John Kerry being Swiftboated was his being slow to respond. God love him, he must have thought that having got shrapnel in his ass out there [in Vietnam] bought him some credibility. It didn’t.”
In 2005–06, Power worked as a foreign policy fellow in the office of U.S. Senator Barack Obama. In this role, she helped to spark and inform Obama’s interest in the deadly ethnic and tribal conflict of Darfur, Sudan.
In a 2007 interview, Power said that America’s relationship with Israel “has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics which ... can turn out to be counter-productive.” The United States, she explained, had brought terrorist attacks upon itself by aping Israel’s violations of human rights. More than once, in fact, Power has implied that Israel played a role in the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The author and retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters writes, “I know of no instance when Power has vigorously defended Jews or Christians murdered or driven from their homes by the Arabs she wants to 'save.'”
In the fall of 2007, Power began writing a regular column for Time magazine. That same year, she appeared in Charles Ferguson's documentary, No End in Sight, which criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War.
In January 2008, Power wrote a Time magazine column (titled “Rethinking Iran”), belittling concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, characterizing that program as a figment of George W. Bush’s imagination, and emphasizing the need to engage diplomatically with the Iranian mullahs. Wrote Powers:
"The war scare that wasn’t [a then-recent incident between Iranian speedboats and the U.S. Navy in the Straight of Hormuz] stands as a metaphor for the incoherence of our policy toward Iran: the Bush Administration attempts to gin up international outrage by making a claim of imminent danger, only to be met with international eye rolling when the claim is disproved. Sound familiar? The speedboat episode bore an uncanny resemblance to the Administration’s allegations about the advanced state of Iran’s weapons program -- allegations refuted in December by the National Intelligence Estimate."
In February 2008 Power released her second book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. This book is about the eponymous United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who was killed in a Baghdad hotel bombing on August 19, 2003.
In early 2008 Power served as a senior foreign-policy advisor to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She was forced to resign from the campaign in March, however, after it was learned that she had referred to Obama’s Democrat rival, Hillary Clinton, as “a monster” whose modus operandi was “deceit.”
Soon after leaving the campaign, Power publicly praised Barack Obama for stating that he would be willing to meet, without preconditions, with leaders of rogue nations during the first year of his administration.
On July 4, 2008, Power married law professor Cass Sunstein, whom she had met while working on the Obama campaign.
In January 2009 President Obama appointed Power to serve as Director for Multilateral Affairs in the National Security Council, a post where she would serve as one of Obama’s closest advisors on foreign policy.
In March 2011, Power was instrumental in persuading Obama to authorize military intervention in Libya, to prevent President Moammar Qaddafi's forces from killing the rebels who were rising up against his regime at that time. Power's counsel in this matter was consistent with her longstanding advocacy of the doctrine known as the "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P), which encourages the international community to intervene in a sovereign country's internal affairs -- with military force if necessary -- in order to thwart genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, or ethnic cleansing. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCRP), which is the world's leading advocate of this doctrine, is funded by George Soros's Open Society Institute. Power and GCRP advisory-board member Gareth Evans -- who is also also president emeritus of the International Crisis Group -- have been joint keynote speakers at a number of events where they have championed the R2P principle together.
In June 2013, President Obama appointed Power to replace the outgoing Susan Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.