The veteran journalist and diplomat recounts lessons learned over a distinguished career.
When she was a young staffer at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Power (Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight To Save the World, 2008, etc.), an Irish immigrant who grew up in Atlanta, snuck into the office of a Foreign Policy editor, made off with some letterhead, and typed up a recommendation as “Balkan Correspondent” for the journal. “I had a guilty conscience,” she writes, “but I also had what I needed to obtain my press pass.” That’s about the lightest moment of this candid and instructive book. The author made her way to Yugoslavia in time to witness the soft power of American diplomacy: The war in Bosnia ended not by military means on the part of the U.S. and NATO, but instead “by exerting unrelenting diplomatic pressure on both sides.” The education proved useful when Power served as a policy adviser in the Obama administration, where she witnessed a president at work who held strongly that “peace requires responsibility" and wasn’t shy about using the military as part of an articulated strategy that relied more on diplomacy. The author, who was later appointed the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, clearly admires her former boss, though not uncritically; on matters such as the handling of Libya in the last days of the Qaddafi regime, she finds lack of coherence. Still, she clearly understands the use of soft power, noting, for instance, the long-standing understanding of U.N. officials that conflict often has an economic basis that can be averted by delivering aid judiciously. She is not uncritical of that organization, either, pointing to procedural quirks that enabled Vladimir Putin to exercise outsized influence on events. On that note, she has no use for Obama’s successor, writing, “while I once viewed the conflict in Bosnia as a last gasp of ethnic chauvinism and demagoguery from a bygone era, it now seems a harbinger of the way today’s autocrats and opportunists exploit grievances.”
A fine handbook for anyone interested in the workings of international policy.