Former U.S. ambassador Samantha Power recounts her path from war-torn Bosnia to the White House Situation Room

Samantha Power, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, in conversation with Alison King, a reporter for NBC10 and New England Cable News, during an installment of Northeastern’s series, The Civic Experience. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, would tell you that one of the most pivotal moments of her career as a war reporter, diplomat, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author occurred during a baseball game between the Atlanta Braves and the San Francisco Giants. 

It was the summer of 1989, and Power had just wrapped up her first year at Yale and was working in the video booth at a CBS station in Atlanta. While taking notes on the game, she suddenly found herself engrossed in another screen depicting tanks rolling into Tiananmen Square. 

Up until that point, Power told an audience of  more than 700 at Northeastern’s Boston campus Tuesday night, she had little interest in politics, and was considering a career in sports journalism. The Tiananmen Square protests changed all of that.    

“My epiphany was not ‘I’m going to one day be U.N. ambassador and be a human rights lawyer;’ it was nothing so grandiose,” Power said during an installment of Northeastern’s series, The Civic Experience. “It was simply maybe there’s more to life than sports.”

During a wide-ranging conversation with Alison King, a reporter for NBC10 Boston and New England Cable News, Power shared anecdotes from her childhood in her native Ireland and her memoir, The Education of an Idealist. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for her book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, and is also the author of Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.

The former U.S. ambassador is the author of The Education of an Idealist, named one of the best books of 2019 by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, NPR, and TIME. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Power also discussed the trajectory of a career that started as a correspondent covering the wars in the former Yugoslavia, and culminated in her securing a coveted position as a senior adviser in President Barack Obama’s cabinet from 2013 to 2017.

“Was that a dream job?” asked King.

“Dream job,” Power said, without a pause. “It was an abnormal period, but it was such a blessing.” 

Power also decried the U.S. missile strike last week that killed top Iranian intelligence commander Qassem Soleimani as an “escalatory move” for which the U.S. is not prepared.

She made the comments against the backdrop of an announcement by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps that it had fired missiles at al-Asad Base in Iraq, where U.S. troops are stationed.

“This is symptomatic of something this president does an awful lot, which is [that] a lot of his foreign policy is expressive,” Power said.

President Donald Trump has defended the drone strike as an act of self-defense. The president and his administration have described Soleimani as a terrorist who, as the head of Iran’s Quds Force, orchestrated the country’s foreign operations across the Middle East. 

Power said that the president appeared to be delivering a message about the nuclear deal from which he withdrew the U.S. last year, and the provisions of which Iran declared it will no longer abide in response to Soleimani’s killing. 

“He’s showing …the Iranian regime how tough we are,” Power said. “He was showing his base and the people that he had promised he was going to blow up that deal, and he was going to tell them he was going to get a better deal. Now we’re in this very difficult and escalatory period where we don’t know where this is going to go.”

Power, who currently teaches at the John F. Kennedy School of Government  at Harvard University and the Harvard Law School, said that she’d welcome another chance at public service, though she side-stepped questions about running for Senate or putting her hat in the ring for an appointment as secretary of state.

“When one thinks about the general election, everyone I know, their sole focus is not on themselves, but on the country and trying to get us back on course,” she said. 

The program marked the sixth installment of “The Civic Experience,” which profiles the generation of cutting-edge leaders who are shaping media, politics, and policy.

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