Harvard Prof. Power Tapped for NSC

Harvard Kennedy School Professor Samantha Power has been tapped for a senior foreign policy position on the National Security Council.

Power—who won a Pulitzer Prize for her book on human rights—will join a slew of Harvard professors moving to Washington to join the Obama administration, including many of her colleagues at the Kennedy School and her husband, Cass R. Sunstein ’75, a professor at Harvard Law School.

While the details about Power’s role remain unclear at this point, she will be required to work closely with Secretary of State Clinton as the senior director for multilateral affairs at the NSC, according to the Associated Press.

In March 2008, Power gained notoriety during the presidential campaign for calling Hillary Clinton a “monster.” She resigned as an adviser to the Obama campaign soon after.

Her gesture to apologize to Clinton was reportedly well-received, and Power was brought back into the fold to review both the State Department and the U.S. mission to the United Nations for the presidential transition.

Power’s colleagues at HKS lauded her appointment, citing her foreign policy and academic credentials as key reasons she will be able to make a lasting contribution in the administration.

Former Dean of the Kennedy School Joseph S. Nye—who has been offered the position of U.S. ambassador to Japan—recalled that Power played an instrumental role in building the school’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, which she founded in 1999.

“She was energetic, intelligent, and a great success,” Nye wrote in an e-mailed statement. “She is a remarkably talented person, and I am sure she will make a major contribution on the NSC.”

Kennedy School Professor Graham T. Allison Jr.—who met Power when she was a third-year student at Harvard Law School and later co-edited a book on human rights with her—said that Power’s academic work may provide the best clues for how she will shape foreign policy in her new role on the NSC.

“A Problem from Hell,” her Pulitzer Prize winning book in 2003, explores the nation’s response to genocides in Cambodia, Iraq, and Rwanda among others, throughout the twentieth century.

Kennedy School Professor Jeffrey A. Frankel points to her “passionate” efforts in bringing the issues raised by the Rwandan genocide, for example, to national attention.

“People speculate as to why Bill Clinton did not intervene to try to stop the Rwandan genocide,” said Frankel, who served on the Council of Economic Advisors under Clinton.

“They probably don’t realize that there was never even a meeting in the White House at which such an action would have been considered,” he added.

Frankel said that if another similar event were to take place, Power, in her role on the NSC, would “bring it forcefully to President Obama’s attention.”

—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at junewu@fas.harvard.edu.