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Libya puts Power back in limelight

By Peter McDermott

The Dublin-born Harvard scholar who once called Hillary Clinton a "monster" has become an ally of the secretary of state in the camp arguing for U.S. intervention in the Libyan crisis.

Samantha Power apologized and resigned three years ago from then Senator Obama's campaign when comments she made about his Democratic primary opponent were published in the Scotsman newspaper. She was at the time on a tour in Ireland and Britain promoting her biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, who was murdered in a suicide attack in Baghdad in August 2003.

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The Power furor was soon forgotten, and there was little media comment when following the General Election she was appointed to the National Security Council staff as special assistant to the president. She also runs the Office of Human Rights and Multilateral Affairs at the NSC.

Now, the Irishwoman has come to prominence again as part of a trio of officials - the third being Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice - that has won out over more cautious, and ideologically more conservative, male colleagues like Robert Gates and Homeland Security Advisor John O. Brennan, who is himself the son of Irish immigrants.

The Guardian editorialized on Monday: "The hand-wringing in the White House stopped when she [Clinton] changed sides in the debate, abandoning Robert Gates, the defense secretary, and joining Samantha Power, a senior aide at the national security council, and Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Ms Rice was an African specialist and adviser to Bill Clinton when the U.S. failed to intervene to stop the genocide in Rwanda."

Power first became nationally known for her book 'The Problem from Hell': America and the Age of Genocide, which describes the Rwandan tragedy and four other instances in which the U.S. and the Western powers were unwilling to intervene to prevent the mass slaughter of civilians. (The first part of the title was from a quote by a previous Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who died on Friday.)

The author explained to the Echo in 2003 that her publishers had suggested a polemical essay on the subject, but she believed that a more substantial work would have much greater impact in policy circles. The book won the Pulitizer Prize for General Non-Fiction that year.

Just last week, a commentator in the journal Foreign Policy, Jamie M. Fly, cited the book as "one of the most eloquent rebuttals to these recurring claims for nonintervention" in cases where states attacked their own citizens.

Power, who was born in 1970, left Ireland when she was 9 following the breakup of her parents' marriage. She and her brother made regular summer trips back to stay with their father in Dublin and, when he died, with their grandfather in County Wicklow. Her mother and stepfather, who is an Irish-born medical doctor, live in Yonkers, N.Y.

The scholar married Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, who is also now an official in the Obama Administration, in a ceremony in County Kerry on July 4, 2008. Power gave birth to their first child, Declan, the following year.