The book is readable and nicely personal, with much to say on the challenges of balancing an intense professional life with parenthood. There are omissions, not least the complete failure even to mention Israel and Palestine, and passing in silence over one of Obama’s first actions, namely the failure to ensure accountability for the previous administration’s embrace of the international crime of torture. I regret, too, that she does not address the bigger picture, the shifting of the ‘tectonic plates’ of which we talked at Hay. She and I grew up when the value system of the post-second world war international order was still very much intact. Today it is under challenge, as the US — with the UK in pitiful tow — turns away from the very order it created.
Her conclusions – that the Obama administration helped secure the future of the Paris climate deal, that it upheld America’s place in the world – now seem incredibly hollow, with Donald Trump systematically, and effectively, unpicking all that work. “If the United States steps back from leading the world – because of exhaustion, disillusionment or internal division,” writes Power, “American individuals, American prosperity, and American security will suffer.”
“If” that happens? Has she been living under a rock for the past two years? Even Obama, she admits, called her sanctimonious. In this, at least, he is not wrong.
Power was, as the title suggests, an idealist in politics. She was the quintessential Obama groupie, working in both his administrations, latterly as the US representative at the UN, a thankless task at the best of times. Before serving she established a reputation as a scholar of foreign affairs, winning a Pulitzer Prize for her excellent book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. She also wrote a biography of the UN ambassador to post-invasion Iraq, the elegant Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was murdered in an al-Qaeda attack in 2003. The theme of her memoir, therefore, is of the theorist and activist confronting the realities of bureaucracy and power politics. The results of this confrontation, Power tells us, were not pretty. But this is just as much, and often too much, an account of negotiating the demands of bringing up two very young kids while holding down two very taxing jobs. She married and had children while working in the Obama administration. Son Declan and daughter Rian appear in this memoir as much as anyone, even Obama, who emerges as a sort of wise uncle. Power provides a very honest self-portrait of a working mum juggling jobs and children.
Power’s book gives a riveting fly-on-the wall insight into the Obama administration’s foreign-policy decisionmaking and the inner workings of the United Nations. From the mundanities of the federal-bureaucracy machine to the sometimes unpalatable compromises and choices that grease the UN machine, Power’s book chronicles an important moment in world affairs... Power’s book is an honest, probing account of the challenges facing policymakers and a timely reflection on the limits and responsibilities of the United States’ role in the world. Ultimately, Power’s youthful idealism survives despite the challenges and frustrations of political power.