Samantha Power with John Koenig: The Education of an Idealist

Transcript by Haley Freedlund

Jini Palmer: Welcome to Town Hall Seattle’s Civics Series. On Monday, September 16th, diplomat, academic, and Pulitzer Prize winning author Samantha Power came to our Great Hall stage to talk about her experiences raising two children while on the front lines of geopolitics when she worked closely with President Obama throughout his campaign trail and presidency. Power sat down with former US Ambassador to Cyprus, John Koenig, and together they discussed their political experiences, what they learned along the way, and Samantha’s new book, The Education of an Idealist.

Samantha Power: Thank you. It is so great to be here, Seattle, in this amazing newly-renovated space, and to be part of a “Homecoming,” I guess they’re calling it. It’s no secret that the cause of internationalism of US leadership in the world has been a bit bruised and dented. But gatherings like this are such a critically important part of ensuring that we have a constituency. An informed constituency, an engaged constituency on behalf of the right kind of US leadership. So I’m just so grateful to all of you for coming out on this Monday night. I’m still in the first week of my so-called book tour. And so I was just saying, I felt like Freddie Mercury in the back, doing my jumping jacks and everything and people looked at me like I was strange. But I’m really glad to be here.

I’m going to start and just take advantage of the fact that I’ve written this book and really tried to pour my heart out in this book. So I’m going to read a couple passages. They’re both short. The book that I’ve written, called The Education of an Idealist, could be heard as, “somehow you get educated and you get your ideals knocked out of you.” That’s not my story, at all. I certainly learned a lot. I definitely honed in on different priorities at different stages of my career. But the book, I tried to show where I got my ideals, why I believe what I believe, how I revise my views over time, and then how I tried to put those ideals to use: first as a war correspondent; then as a teacher and an activist; then in Obama’s senate office; then on his presidential campaign, from which I had to take a brief departure but then came back to; and then working at the White House as Human Rights Advisor; and then of course serving in his cabinet, as UN ambassador, which I did for his second term. So that’s the sort of CV arc of the story. But what I really tried to do is open up the very personal dimensions of a journey like that. The first passage I’m going to read you comes from when I was making the transition from Human Rights Advisor and UN Advisor behind-the-scenes, to becoming UN Ambassador. And of course, as many of you know, in order to make a transition of that nature, you have to get confirmed by the US Senate. And yeah, I don’t recommend it. It’s really not a good idea. And especially not a good idea if you’ve written more than a million words, if you have more than a million words in print, because first you have to go back and read all that you’ve written. And then if you compound that with everything you’ve said, you have to know what you’ve said in order to know what they’re going to say against you. I knew I was in for a rough fight. So this is just a passage from when I am subjecting myself to what are called “Murder Boards,” where—some of you have probably listened to Pod Save America—Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor were part of my murder board. My husband, Cass Sunstein, played Senator Rand Paul in my murder board. And this is a major aside, and we have to get to questions here quickly. But one of my pet peeves, I have many pet peeves that started when I was very young, but one of them is that people say sometimes, Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, kind of drives me crazy because I’m from Ireland originally. But then the other pet peeve I have is that people call me Powers. It’s okay. I mean that was probably like an upgrade. But in our murder boards, where you’re practicing what it’s going to be like to appear before the Senate, my husband playing Senator Rand Paul would preface every question by saying, “Ms. Powers.” And every time, cause I was so bad in the murder boards, I would say, “It’s ‘Power’, Senator,” which of course is not what you should do or would do. If you’re actually trying to get confirmed, you don’t contradict the Senator. But anyway, I gradually figured out how to appear before the Senate and I did eventually get through the Senate, and there’s a chapter called “One Shot” because Cass and I played Eminem in the morning of my hearing like two pathetic professors on a laptop in a hotel room. Um, so the chapter is called “One Shot,” and this is a short passage from that chapter.

“I knew in advance of my hearing that my answers to the Senator’s questions had to show that I was not taking the outcome of the confirmation process for granted. This meant prefacing most responses with caveats, like “If I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed, I will…” But with Ambassador Rice already in place as National Security Advisor in Washington, I couldn’t wait until the Senate had voted before planning how Cass and I would go about uprooting our family and moving to New York. Fortunately, Hillary Schrenell, who worked at the US Mission to the UN, took much of that burden off my plate. I’d first met Hillary a decade before, when she was a 22 year old intern at the Kennedy school. I found her so dedicated and sharp that I hired her as my full-time research assistant. In five years of working together, she became a close friend. After she graduated from Harvard Law School in 2010, I introduced her to Susan Rice, who hired her as a policy advisor. Now, if I could get confirmed, I would have the chance to work with Hillary again, but in the meantime I asked her to come to Washington DC to join my confirmation team. I felt it was important to have someone in my inner circle who knew both me and the practical and substantive steps I’d need to take once in the job. Because Hillary was close to my family, she also volunteered to help me think through how I could get everybody moved to New York. I was a bit embarrassed to rely on Hillary for help on household issues, given that she would soon be my senior policy advisor if I was fortunate enough to be confirmed, but she insisted on using her vacation time to help me. As she put it, “The whole system is geared for the old days when a male ambassador swoops into his new job and the faithful wife trails behind organizing the movers and finding schools for the kids.” Hillary and I both knew that Cass was not going to embrace the role of old school spouse. Over the years, I had learned that when I assigned him domestic tasks, I often regretted it. After I gave birth to our son in 2009, the first year I was in the Obama administration, I asked Cass to write Declan’s name and birthdate on the official form. A few months later, after I waited several hours at the Washington DC birth registry for Declan’s birth certificate, I received one for Pecklynn Power Sunstein. As soon as I saw the typo, I knocked on the glass window and asked for the spelling to be corrected, but the clerk told me that such an alteration would require a trip to the Amendments office. I was beside myself. “Man,” I said, “I promise you I did not call my son Pecklynn and then change my mind. My husband just has horrible handwriting.” The clerk repeated directions to the Amendments office and slid the glass window shut. After waiting another hour, I received the corrected birth certificate, which still noted and notes to this day that Pecklynn Power Sunstein was born April 24th, and then beside his birth name in inch-high black type, the office had added the stamp ‘amended’ and his new name, Declan Power Sunstein. This experience now seems completely trivial, but at the time, it sent me into an exasperated rage at my husband. “One job. You had one job,” I told him, “And now for the rest of his life, Declan will have to explain to people why his parents named him Pecklynn. When our daughter Rían was born three years later, Cass promised I could count on him. “I learned well,” he said. Yet when I returned to the same birth registry to collect our daughter’s birth certificate, our daughter named Rían, the certificate read ‘Rtan Power Sunstein.” No Joke. Her birth certificate like Declan’s now has an inch-high ‘amended’ stamp indicating that after a few months of reflection, her parents decided that Rían was preferable to Rtan. I felt we had no margin for error when it came to settling our family in New York, and was grateful to be able to rely on Hillary.”

Okay. Many spouses are laughing extra hard. There’s a degree of identification going on here. Okay. There’s a lot of family woven into this just as inevitably, there’s a lot of family woven into my life and family is the foundation for everything I’ve tried to do. There are also a number of tensions embedded in the story, particularly when I go from being a critic to being suddenly in the Situation Room, in the room where it happens. And then, when I make my way to New York. So this is just a short scene from just after I’ve arrived in New York, and I’ve just attended my first-ever security council serving as the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I had attended others as a reporter and others as a staffer with President Obama, but here I was sitting in the chair for the first time. And the meeting dragged on forever and nothing was achieved. And when I left, the president of the council who was then the Argentine President Kirchner, some of you know, her team escorted those of us who had participated to a large UN dining room for lunch. And here’s the passage.

“At the lunch, I found myself seated next to Bruno Rodríguez, the foreign minister of Cuba, a country with which the United States had not had diplomatic relations since 1961. And I should note, this is 2013 when I arrive, so before the normalization was announced and before anybody even knew that the negotiations were happening. So I found myself seated next to Bruno Rodríguez, the foreign minister. Because US officials did not then have contact with Cuba’s diplomats, I seized the opportunity to raise the case of Oswaldo Payá. And again, I’d been in the job less than a week at this point. I haven’t gotten through Senate confirmation. Payá was a fearless Cuban democracy activist who had gathered more than 25,000 signatures to press the communist government to allow basic freedoms. After mobilizing the largest peaceful movement in Cuba since Fidel Castro had taken power in 1959, Paya had been killed in a car crash in 2012. According to Payá’s family, and the Spanish politician who was with him at the time of his death, government back thugs had run his car off the road. The Castro government naturally denied wrongdoing, but its history of harassing and imprisoning those who pushed for reform left it with little credibility. At the lunch, I pressed the foreign minister to allow an independent investigation of what had happened. “If you have nothing to hide,” I said to Rodríguez, “What are you afraid of? Why not have an independent investigation?” I had just started an official Twitter account. Having returned to the US mission, after the lunch, I tweeted: “Oswaldo Payá stood up for freedom. Just raised with the Cuban foreign minister the need for a credible investigation into his death.” That was my tweet. Payá’s daughter tweeted back her thanks, and urge the UN to “help stop the #cubangovernmentimpunity.” The Washington Post and news wires picked up the story, which appeared in media all around the world. I was exhilarated, new to my job, by the seeming ease with which from this new position I could elevate the profile of an egregious injustice. But a few days later, when I met the Mexican ambassador to the UN for the first time, he chastised me for publicizing something I had discussed during a private UN lunch. “You have to decide whether you’re a diplomat or an activist,” he said. “You can’t be both.” “I am both,” I told him, “And we should all be both. I’m not going to drink wine at a lunch with the Cuban foreign minister and pretend his government is not responsible for killing one of the country’s best.” “I hear you,” the Mexican ambassador said, “But people won’t speak freely to you if they think you’re more interested in making a media splash than engaging in real dialogue.” I explained my rationale. “Cuban government goons ran Payá off the road. They know that and they will never allow a proper independent investigation. The closest we may ever get to holding them accountable for murdering a Cuban activist are a few negative headlines. I don’t see how silence helps anyone.” “Talk to me in a few months,” he said. The Mexican ambassador became a friend, but I never came around to his view. I was not prepared to choose between public and private diplomacy. Both have their place.”

SP: Thank you. Questions?

John Koenig: Well thank you very much for those readings, they really were excellent. I think they encapsulated some of what is so good about this book. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy, because I was doing this event, and I enjoyed it immensely. I have to say that I’ve read quite a few memoirs of policy personalities in the United States, including most recently Bill Burns, but this book is far and away the one that interweaves your personal story and the policy story best. So it is a very personal book, and I would say you reveal a lot of things about your inner feelings, your inner workings as you become a senior official throughout your life. I don’t think there’s any need for the unauthorized broad biography of Samantha Power any longer.

SP: You have no idea what’s on the cutting room floor, man.

JK: Well, that’s right.

SP: Right?

JK: You’re right. So, how did you decide what to include in the book? What not to include, if anything? And what were you trying to convey by including all of these very personal details?

SP: Well, just for those who haven’t managed to read the book in the five days it’s been out. It starts in a Dublin pub, where I’m originally from, Ireland, as I mentioned. It tells a very personal story about my parents and the difficulties in their marriage. My father was an alcoholic. I spent a very, very large portion of the time I wasn’t in school, when I was a kid, in a pub. And so I think I described that pub vividly. I don’t know if it’s an advertisement for the pub or its opposite, given that I do describe it vividly. And then I describe coming to America as an immigrant when I was nine to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 1979, the year of We Are a Family, for those of you who like baseball, and the Steelers also won the Super Bowl that year, and I mentioned that because, geez, who knew, the Seahawks-Steelers rivalry, I was unaware, had really gripped the nation. But I mentioned that because sports became a kind of lingua franca and a way of fitting in and I describe sports and my love of sports. And then, and this is relevant I guess, particularly for the young people in the audience. I wanted to be a sportscaster. When I was in college, I was a sports reporter. I was on a sports radio talk show with a number of other students. Um, and you know, to the degree that I was opinionated, I was opinionated about sports of all kinds. Baseball, basketball, you name it. I had an opinion. And then the summer of my freshman year, I was in Atlanta, Georgia, interning at the CBS sports affiliate there. And as I was taking notes on a Braves-San Francisco Giants game, the footage from Tiananmen Square came down on the feed next to the one that had the baseball game. And I had one of those—I mean it really was sort of an epiphany, and in one level in the sense that it was a jolt—but it wasn’t an epiphany in the sense that there was any divine implication to what I was seeing. It was just kind of, “Oh my God, how is this happening?” Because it was young people my age who’d risen up, and unlike me, had risked everything and then were being mowed down. So all it did for me at that time, it did not crystallize an intention to become a human rights lawyer or anything like that. It was far too green and ill-informed to even know what career paths might be that worked in human rights or that worked in foreign policy. But I did go back to college and become a more serious student, read more. I took a Chinese history class immediately and dug into current events.

So this is just a taste of the stories that I tell. Plus, as you know, John, the inner workings. I had a lot of anxiety in my early years, maybe stemming from my father’s death or from other factors. And I go into all of that and describe how it shaped how I related to the events I was seeing around me. And back to your question, finally, the question of why. When I started, what I think I thought I was going to do, having read all the traditional government memoirs. I’m not that imaginative. So I think I thought I was going to do a pretty traditional government memoir. And then as I wrote about our debates—of course all the Trump stuff is happening in the background, the Trump stuff being his presidency—so I’m writing this book and I’m writing about the inner workings of government and all the rest. And then, all of my assumptions are being not only challenged—I mean, I don’t know if you can rip apart an assumption, I guess not—repudiated, I think, with the policies that are being made. And so I start to think, “Gosh, I can’t just start in the government as an idealist.” The scene I read you is a good example of some of the tensions that one encountered, and that maybe is interesting but, but we’re at a moment where first principles are under siege and I have to go back, I think, and do more to show—and I was a journalist before, so show, not tell—to show how those ideals came into existence in the first place. Hopefully in a convincing way, and to me, the only way I know to convince is not to ‘Hector’ to make an argument, but to tell a story that shows why human dignity matters so much and why it has so much more of an impact on world events than I think it gets credit for. I mean, if you think about even Trump’s election and the flip of Obama voters to Trump voters as some sense of dignity with globalization being lost or trampled. Or if you think of the Arab Spring and all that that has wrought, and the fruit seller who set himself on fire because of the humiliation and the corruption. So I believe that about dignity. I knew I believed it when I started writing the book, but I realized I had to go back and show it and to open it up in order to retry to reclaim first principles. And I realized I never really thought—of course I thought of myself as an immigrant to this country—but it wasn’t a political statement to be an immigrant. Everyone was an immigrant, or the kid of an immigrant, or the grandkid of an immigrant. And now suddenly it’s a radical political position to think that immigration has made America a better place. So that dimension of my story became more important again as the world changed around me.

And then lastly, and thank you for your patience, as I said at the outset, I think a good story that has a character in it and it happens to be me, rightly or wrongly, but that is a way to bring more people into the conversation that care about foreign policy might’ve been having for a long time, or diplomats or people who read the International section of the New York Times with great eagerness. This book aims to go well beyond that to young people who might be more interested in dealing with homelessness in New York City or dealing with racial injustice. But for whom the larger lesson of ‘How do you apply your ideals in a messy world, in the face of constraints that you wish weren’t there, but did you have to find a way to navigate?’ So it aims to go bigger, to go younger—young, actual age, young, but also young at heart. People who are very much engaged in figuring out ways to deal with the current crisis and in trying to shape a different tomorrow than today. So in that sense, I felt I had to go beyond foreign policy to a bigger story.

JK: Great. You mention quite a bit about how you wrote this book for this time, in a way. You shared these revelations about yourself and your experiences for this time. And I think that brings to mind other things about this time. All of us have been watching, or I think most of us in this room, probably, have been watching the Democratic Primary and all the preparations for the 2020 election. You were part of Obama’s campaign, and a part of Obama’s staff when he was a Senator. Drawing on that experience, what would you make of this current contest? All of the anxieties about candidates damaging one another’s reputations in advance of the main event? And what would you encourage young people to do as they engage in politics? How should they look at what’s happening?

SP: Great. I tell the story of Obama’s campaign. Others have told it. Mine is from the vantage point of having met my husband on the campaign. Cass, the aforementioned “Peckland/Rtan christener. But it’s also from the vantage point of having gotten to know Obama in a very different context and then watching him evolve on the campaign. It’s from the vantage point of being a complete Neophyte when it comes to campaigns and thus in, well, I have a chapter called Monster, which I probably don’t need to elaborate on here, but is about losing my cool, getting completely caught up, I mean ridiculously caught up, really, in the back and forth between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as the election grew more and more tense. I mean, there isn’t a lot of memory of that. Of how heated it became and how intemperate it became in the way that people talk about the alleged mudslinging in the current primary process. I mean, it does tend to be like that. It tends to be people trying to distinguish themselves, at times feeling like they’re not making strides with their policy positions and feeling like they need to claim the one liner or the limelight in certain ways. So in some respects, what we’re seeing is pretty typical and pretty familiar. But the main thing, the lesson that I would draw and apply to the present is one that Barack Obama—who was also new to campaigning for president and of course was just a first term Senator—one he shared with me and others after he was unexpectedly defeated in the New Hampshire primary. Some of you remember that he had won Iowa and that blew people’s minds even though he’d been a very effective fundraiser in the year prior to the primary process. The Iowa Caucus was the first election, as it were, in choosing the nominee. And he had won it handedly over Senator Clinton and John Edwards, and a number of others who people forget were part of the campaign: Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, others. And so he’d won, and then his lead shot up in the polls and he was, I think, seven points ahead or in some polls, 10 points ahead. And then Senator Clinton had a very impactful last 36 hours. Senator Obama had a relatively bad debate where he lost support, and she won New Hampshire. And then everybody thought that the old order was reasserting itself. And this is what Obama said, which I think is relevant for those of us who feel anxiety when we see so many candidates at each other. But Obama said at this small gathering at Katie Lily’s here, somewhere. I think Katie was there as well. Obama said, “Hey, you know.” We were all crying. We thought the whole thing was over, that it had just been this meteor that had shot into the sky and expunged itself somehow. And he said, “You know, I—” and this is vintage Obama, “I also was pretty much writing my convention speech, you know, I was writing my speech for Denver, like basically accepting the nomination in my head. I also got carried away, but you know what? We need this. Because when we face off against the Republican nominee,” who already by then look likely to be John McCain, and this is the phrase he used. I tell the story in the book, but, “We are going to be like steel that has been forged and fortified.” And if anybody thinks again that you can afford to tread lightly and not go through something bruising… In some ways it really is like sparring partners, people coming at you from every angle. So I think there is that salutary dimension of these debates that we are looking at, and it’s going to get reduced to a final four pretty soon. And when you have the final four, and it is the case that the four are really different. And yet, at a baseline, in terms of an abhorrence of cruelty, a desire to combat racial injustice, a desire to put in place sensible gun control measures, a desire to reengage internationally, but with an emphasis on diplomacy and on our alliances and instilling values again in our foreign policy. There are baseline tenets that it’s important to remember that all of these candidates share, and the winner is definitely going to be like steel who has been forged and fortified. And then it’s really to your point about what’s the lesson for the rest of us. It’s about activation and it’s about coming together in a way that right now feels very, you know, when you see Warren support. Let’s say Warren and Biden are the two front runners. Biden and Warren, whatever the order you believe, but the supporters are really down on each other. Whoever wins, whether it’s them or anybody else, it just has to be about coming together around this common purpose. And I think in all but maybe one or two of the candidates, I think there would be that coming together, which will be so important to the ultimate cause.

JK: Wonderful. Thank you. You mentioned when you were describing the kind of epiphany moment, you mentioned Tank Man and you have a wonderful chapter on that and called that in your book. You also—

SP: Just to digress, because I actually didn’t mention. Tank Man being the man you all remember, because it was the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen, and Tank Man who I didn’t mention explicitly but was the man who went in front of the tanks who had his grocery bags, and that was one of the images, and he just dared the tank to run him over. And that was one of the images that very much moved me.

JK: Exactly. And right now you’re known, I think, for your insistence that we must include a human rights agenda and empowerment and other issues in our foreign policy. Right now, everybody, here especially in Seattle, which is so Pacific-oriented, is watching Hong Kong. China, it sounds like, fascinated you as you were moving through your interesting career, and you did deal with China a lot when you were at the UN and in the National Security Council staff. What do you think we should do about China now? And how do you view the way that China’s developing and how central should human rights and human dignity and empowerment be in our agenda with China?

SP: Well let me say, I think for starters, that the mishandling by the Chinese government of the Extradition Bill is what has caused, for the Chinese government, a bigger and bigger headache. And I was reflecting on this the other day, just thinking about what it would be like for any of us to—and I mean, some people are experiencing this already, of course in this country—but to enjoy whatever your standard of living is as it applies to human rights. And then to see rights taken away in that manner, and to see that kind of shrinking of political space. I mean, imagine if suddenly you had to get a permit to come here, or let’s say you work. I was just reading the article in yesterday’s Times about employees of Cathay Pacific. Did you read this? Where employees of Cathay Pacific are getting fired now because of their Facebook posts, if they express sympathy for the protesters in Hong Kong or if they participated in the protest. And so again, you used to be able to be living in Hong Kong and expressing your views and then suddenly it’s just slowly taken away. And so China has created a bigger and bigger headache for itself by not recognizing that two systems was a commitment that the people of Hong Kong took extremely seriously. In terms of US policy, I don’t pretend that there’s an easy answer or response to China’s rise. But what I would say is that on the one hand, as I experienced at the UN, China is a veto holder, and an incredibly powerful force on the planet, evermore so. In the 21st Century, economically, and in terms of the heft that it could exert potentially en route to becoming the most powerful, ultimately. And we can’t deal with an existential threat to our planet, climate change, without China being at the table. Much of what comes out of the UN security council, which again, doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but 100,000 peacekeepers going to this place or that place, any hope of sanctioning a wrongdoer or a coup plotter, China is a pass-through just as Russia is a pass-through, just as now President Trump is a pass-through. You have to get China, Russia, and the United States on board in order for the international architecture, such as it as it is here in 2019, to work. And so there is no path that allows us to achieve our interests. That’s merely one of confrontation.

But I think what you’ve seen from the Trump Administration, and like with everything, it’s mixed messages. You never know what you’re going to get from a Monday to a Tuesday. We’re Monday today, right? That means appeasement. And then tomorrow, it’ll be new tariffs. And even one of the things that the President does often, which is really disturbing and problematic, is linking, you know, let’s say Walway and the 5G issue, where our intelligence community has come out and declared what the Chinese are doing in terms of permeating the planet, a national security threat. That it would create the possibility, not only for greater spying, but potentially to shut down whole electric grids or phone systems in a crisis. And so the conclusion is that that’s a national security threat, by our fact-based community. The President has said in negotiations with President Xi, “Hey, I’ll throw in Walway while I’m at it, you know, we can figure that out. We’ll just do that at the end. And that’ll be like the cherry on the cake.” And so this linkage, and the same is true with human rights with this administration, is it’s just a cudgel for those like Venezuela who were mad at and we who we are rightly standing up in opposition to, but there’s no consistency of application. And in general, because of this nationalism and privileging of sovereignty, most of the statements out of Trump himself, have been basically about respecting China’s will and its desire to do what it wants “within its borders,” which is a kind of 19th century conception of what sovereignty allows, or at least a pre-1945 conception. Because what we’ve learned is that what a state does within its borders, A) ends up being a predictor often of how it acts externally, but B) it’s very rare that those consequences stay confined within borders. And in the case of Hong Kong, of course, to even say it’s within its borders is a complicated misstatement of sorts. So to walk and chew gum at the same time is going to be extremely challenging with China. But my own view is that we are heading into a struggle between two models, an authoritarian model and what we hope is a revitalized democratic model of which we hope that the United States will be a flag bearer. And in that spirit, it is still the case that we have a voice that we can show solidarity. We’re not going to be able to dictate what China does in Hong Kong. And to think that we can is delusional, but what we can do is increase the cost for China to be using evermore coercive measures, and try to be part of their calculus as to how far they go in again, trying to exert the heavy hand. And that’s with our voice. It could ultimately be with economic sanctions on particular individuals or actors involved in the crackdown. There are a range of tools. But I think the main thing is right now you wouldn’t know if you were in Hong Kong, whether or not the Trump Administration is green-lighting China to do what it wants or whether it’s urging the democracies and the rights respecters of the world to come together to urge China to act with restraint. I wouldn’t know. I’m not sure anybody in the region would know.

JK: Yeah. It’s amazing that we saw so many demonstrators carrying the American flag under these circumstances in Hong Kong. In your story about Hillary, and her help in preparing for your move, and also about Cass and his bumbling of the birth certificates, that was a kind of a vignette about being a woman in a very, very challenging professional occupation. In this case, security policy and international relations, where men have dominated in the most crude sense of the word for a very long time. Perhaps you could share a few of your other experiences, particularly those that are relevant for all of the young women—some of my finest students are young women—or just the young people, because I think that we all appreciate the difficulties that women are in, in these occupations now. About how, how—life lessons I guess is what I’m talking about—what should they know as they go into this? Do you have any advice for them? How is it? The field—it’s not a level playing field. How do they play and what should they do?

SP: Well, one of the things that’s been immensely gratifying in my very short book tour, so far, is to see how many young women are at events like this. And unfortunately, I can’t really see the audience, A) because it’s dark, and B) because I can’t see without my glasses. But, is to see young women and this aspiration I think they have, whether to promote human rights or to be involved domestically on trying to make change. I mean, there is a way in which Trump has done us all one favor, which is, I think there is a pretty broad feeling or a broader feeling, let’s say, than there might’ve been before November, 2016 of, “Hey, if he can be president, surely I can join the school board.” There’s sort of less of a cap on people’s sense of where they can go, arguably. So I try to open up my experience as a woman, in a way. And to be honest, this took some work for me to go back over it and really reflect on it. Because as is true, I think, for many working women here, you’re just one foot in front of the other. You’re barely hanging on if you’re juggling this, that and the other thing, and raising kids and trying to keep it all together. That extra set of minutes to reflect and go meta on your experience, that’s a luxury. One luxury too many. So there’s some examples in the book I think of the unconscious ways. Actually, the example of my friend Hillary Schrenell and her help for me, and her line about just how different it is because you just don’t have that support network in quite the same way I think speaks to that. There’s one story I actually don’t tell in the book, but that I think is an example of the bias. Because there’s the numbers issue, which is just that there just aren’t a lot of women in national security.

And then there’s the way in which, notwithstanding that stark and well known fact, so few people notice who are in the majority. And so the best example of this came, and some of you may remember this, when President Obama was helping negotiate an end to the first debt ceiling crisis. Do remember that, when Congress was like playing chicken with raising the debt ceiling? And the White House put out a pic. And you know, President Obama, the son of an amazing feminist trailblazer, married to one of the great women leaders and inspirations and professionals of our time, Michelle Obama, two daughters, I mean, as feminist as you could get in the White House. But nonetheless, particularly in national security, but across the board, a very male-dominated institution. And so he’s in the midst of this negotiation and the White House puts out a photo, as they often do, of him in kind of crisis mode. And it’s a chair like this one in the Oval and you just see the back of his head. And then this phalanx of advisors and there are, I can’t remember, a dozen, maybe 13 advisors, and they’re all guys. And somebody thought it was a good idea to put this photo out. I mean, now we’re used to it, right? Because we see when the Saudi delegation is meeting the Trump administration delegation, the Saudi delegation might have at least a woman translator. And so now, you don’t even. But in the Obama Administration, someone progressive who’s part of the administration put out this photo. So everybody freaked out. Some number of people saw the photo and said, “How could they have this meeting and how could this be, how in 2012 is this what a White House meeting looks like?” And then somebody else decided it was a good idea to say, “No, no, no, you’re not looking at the photo carefully enough. If you look just behind Dan Pfeiffer’s corduroys, you will see a leg and it is the leg of Valerie Jarrett.” And so, Jodi Kantor, who has a great book out now, she tweeted, “Valerie Jarrett’s leg as metaphor.” Right? And I felt like I live that. And especially at the UN, where there’s never been a woman Secretary General. But in each instance, in both male-dominated environments, the White House National Security environment and the UN.

I have a chapter called “Lean On,” right? Not Lean In, but Lean On. I learned, and it was more by instinct, now it would be much more intentional if I was going back into those environments, but at the time it was by instinct or was on someone else’s initiative. But at the White House, a female colleague of mine invited a group of the women, so-called senior directors, the kind of senior advisors to the president who aren’t not the very top, but the next layer down, and invited a handful of us to her office for a glass of wine one Wednesday. And I looked around and it was the only all-women meeting I’d ever been in since I got to the White House. And suddenly I noticed that, my gosh, it’s different. We’re asking questions about each other and inquiring about how it’s going and sharing our disappointments, venting, a little bit of a therapy session. And the woman, Liz Sherwood Randall, started scheduling this meeting, and we called it the Wednesday Group, and we met every Wednesday barring terrible crises. And we would just meet and we would have a glass of wine, talk, and just be there for one another. And we became friends up to a point, but we were really just colleagues who cared about each other. And it changed the way we interacted in the larger meetings, in the sense that we, as often happens once you become a little more intentional, we reinforced each other’s messages. And we disagreed on all kinds of policy issues. I mean, again, just being a woman doesn’t mean you agree on whether we should recognize the Armenian genocide, or what to do about Syria. I mean these are issues and judgments that grow out of one’s whole life experience. But when I got to the UN, influenced by Madeline Albright, who had done the same. Madeline, when she was UN ambassador, had created what she called the G7 because back then, there were only seven women ambassadors in the UN out of 183 countries. That was 1993. So I got there in 2013, and there were 37 – yay! – but out of 193 countries. So still not making rapid strides. But nonetheless, I created the G37, and it fluctuated, so it would go up and down, but it was similar to the Wednesday Group. Just to find a place. And you know, some of these countries are island nations, or they’re repressive countries who decided to send a woman to represent them, and that might be the only enlightened thing they do all year. But the solidarity with an aspiration to create networks and coalitions across regional lines and across ideological lines, and we had some success in that regard, but that deepening of the relationships to try to offset some of the sense, and I was America more than I was a female ambassador. I was representing the host country, the most powerful country in the world. I didn’t have the experience that these other women were having by any means. But in me being there for them, at least as described by them, it could buck them up or give them a sense that somebody had their back and that somebody, being America, made a difference. I think.

JK: Well, that’s wonderful. You know, your book is full of so many uplifting stories, I would say, about the use of American power. I’m afraid we might not really have a chance tonight to talk about them, but I do want to really commend certain parts of it, because there’s kind of a conflict underway in our country about whether or not you can do any good through collective action or through government action. And your story about Ebola. Your story about Central Africa. There were very many stories that demonstrate yes, you can. I guess I shouldn’t say that. Yes we can, but we can! And I think that maybe some of those issues will come out in the audience Q&A, but I really did love the book. I hope that everybody will take the opportunity to read it. I think it tells a unique story of course, because it’s your story about your involvement in international affairs and a wide range of issues. But it’s a story that certainly touched my heart, and also reminded me of all sorts of things that I love about this country. So thank you very much. Thank you.

SP: Thanks.

Audience Member 1: I had a couple of questions. Namely, given the fact that over the last couple of years, so much of the work that you did has been either challenged or to an extent dismantled in some cases, how would you say moving forward, what’s the way that American diplomats can regain some of that lost ground and rebuild some kind of national identity or reputation within the international community and in the eyes of our allies?

SP: Did you say you had two questions?

Audience Member 1: I had two questions, but I was gonna start with that one.

SP: Okay. It’s a great question, and let me say a couple things. First, the bad news, and you were polite in saying so many things have been challenged or dismantled. I mean, a lot has been dismantled. And my husband, Cass, was in charge of regulation for the first term. So that included health and safety regulation, environmental regulation, labor regulation. And so much of that has been dismantled, which I’m equally alert to. I mean, our foundation for our leadership on human rights, internationally, comes from how we’re treating our own citizens and whether we’re looking out for them. So I think the bad news is twofold. First, just the intrinsic badness of, for example, ending the Iran deal, which we spent years negotiating and which by all accounts, by all independent accounts, was preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. So that’s just intrinsically bad. You blow up the deal. He blows up the deal. He and his team, they have no stated ambition about what they want to replace it with. They believe in punishment for punishment’s sake, which may be satisfying somewhere in the Trumpian bosom, but it isn’t doing anybody any good. And it certainly isn’t achieving the objective that the deal was achieving, which was again, cutting off Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon. And moreover, we had united the whole world against Iran and its nuclear ambitions. What Trump has done has united the world and Iran against us, and I suppose Israel and Saudi Arabia as well. But that’s very different, the skewing of the coalition now is very different. So that’s just an example of the intrinsic harm. And then the intrinsic harm on something like the Paris Treaty.

I tell the story in the book of us, and I think Obama would admit as well, that he thought that Secretary Clinton was a strong favorite to win. He did have the foresight to say to us after Secretary Kerry put the finishing touches on the Paris Agreement in Paris in 2015, Obama said, “John, Samantha, Susan, the whole National Security team, you guys go out. I want you to play as if this is your last dash, that this is our last stint in power and I want you to get the Paris Agreement locked into international law before the November 2016 election.” Now that sounds like just a formality. Not a formality at all. First, Kyoto took nine years to bring into force, because the requisite number of parliaments have to ratify an international treaty before it acquires the force of law. And by doing it so much more quickly than any international environmental treaty had been done before, Obama understood that if Trump won and he pulled out, it would not dismantle the entire Paris Agreement. It would mean that the United States was falling behind in its commitments and that the world was falling behind on combating climate change, but at least the other signatories would be committed, and the tree would remain in effect. But the harm of the US not even fulfilling the baseline. Paris was just the baseline before we were going to re-energize another process to get another accord put in place, so we stretch ourselves further. And now the United States is lagging. So that’s intrinsically harmful.

And then the collateral bad news on issues like this, and there are dozens of them, in terms of what Trump has undone, is that it means that our successor, Trump’s successor, whoever it is and whenever it is—from my standpoint, I hope of course in January, 2021—but whoever his successor is, is going to have a hell of a time convincing other countries to be part of treaties and agreements with the United States. So there’s the intrinsic harm, and then there’s this knock-on harm, which is the damages to our credibility, which isn’t just a kind of popularity contest. It has practical consequences when we think about doing further international agreements. That’s the bad part.

But the good part is two things. One, countries are desperate for US leadership to return. There is no team captain in the international system here. Notwithstanding China’s rise, we’re a long way from—in the face of an Ebola epidemic in Congo, China, you know—gathering the countries of the world together to combat that. And even on, for example, an issue of climate change. We’re a long way notwithstanding China’s progress on solar or whatever else. China is still building coal plants as part of the Belt Road Initiative, even as it’s taking credit under Paris for dialing back coal use at home. So there’s a hunger for US leadership, for one. And then the second positive thing I would say is, I don’t think you can discount what it meant for President Obama to take on so many taboos in American foreign policy. I mean, even though Trump, for example, has undone the Cuban Normalization, does anybody here think—I mean, you know, again, barring like some perpetuation of Trumpism at a federal level, which I have a hard time seeing as something more than an epi-phenomenon, even though I take the phenomenon very, very seriously, but nonetheless—does anybody see in 10 years, us not having normalized relations with Cuba? And five years ago, what are we now, 2019, six years ago. Could you have ever seen the politics if Obama even raised the Cuba issue, and this is a very small issue. But that Florida would fall off the map, you know, that no Democrat would ever win again. And so that’s an example of where the baseline has shifted. Even the engagement of Iran to do the deal in the first place was taking on a huge taboo. I mean, we hadn’t spoken to them, basically, since 1979. Trump, again, there’s very little I can say about his foreign policy that is positive, but I will say I would support his engagement, or at least the Trump Administration’s engagement with Iran. Of course, the fact that he’s even talking about that stems from the fact that those taboos have lifted. And I’m perfectly supportive of the Korean engagement. I would just be wildly critical of the manner in which it’s being done. But, in that sense, we’ve made strides as a country. Remember that Kennedy line? “Never negotiate in fear and never fear to negotiate.” So I think the boundaries have been pushed and I’m hoping that when a future democratic president or a future, sane, Republican president seeks to negotiate with other countries, that people—I mean, we have so much amnesia in our politics right now, but—that Republicans remember that they supported Trump when he engaged North Korea and talked about engaging Iran when they ridiculed Obama for doing the same thing. I hope that again, in the future, now we have two very different politics behind policies of engagement on behalf of US interests, and I think that’s an important threshold that’s been crossed from which I’m hoping we won’t go back. Thank you.

Audience Member 2: What policies do you think the United States should be following toward the tragedy in Venezuela?

SP: It’s a great question, and again, not something that even despite eight years in the Obama administration, we were not able to stem the bleeding within that country. The destruction has gotten much worse over the last couple of years, but I would say this about the Trump administration. I think it’s one of the few crises where they’ve really worked to build a kind of multilateral coalition around their position mobilizing support for recognition of the national assembly president, for example. For the US, I think our policy, especially in the Americas, is filtered through our history in the Americas, which makes the invocation, however hypothetical, of the use of military force in Venezuela, a very flawed approach. So I would stop that. There’s no way to go back in time. We cannot undo the John-Bolton-year-as-national-security-advisor. But it was part of his approach and reflected by the President, or vice versa. It was Trump’s approach reflected by John Bolton, but that invoking the specter of the US military was a kind of footstep effect that would scare Maduro into potentially giving up power. I mean to me, just on its face, that was very foolhardy and undid some of the good that was done in building the coalition. So I think massive emphasis on the humanitarian, given the devastating toll, the state failure, manmade failure is having on the people of Venezuela. So sadly, because of our loathsome position domestically, our American position on refugees, we are not in a strong position to do what we need to be doing on Venezuela, which is to be encouraging the neighboring countries to continue to welcome refugees. Columbia has, I mean, it’s incredible how many refugees are coming across the border daily. It’s now going to surpass Syria, I think at some point soon, to have produced the most refugees, or almost a comparable number of refugees. And that’s not from a traditional conflict situation, but just from the horrific management of the State by the Maduro Regime and the violence against political opposition. So I think, maintain the support of the national assembly, emphasize the humanitarian, be much more careful about sanctions and whether they are targeted, or whether they themselves are taking a toll on the access to medicines. But fundamentally the pressure is going to have to come from the region, and the United States will have more support for its position and there’ll be more energy behind the diplomacy if we’re not invoking military support and if our position on human rights is more consistent and doesn’t seem as if it’s a one-off for Venezuela, which is how it’s sometimes seems because of Trump’s position towards Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Philippines, et cetera. And so, putting what is a strong human rights position or a vocal human rights position in a more consistent context would make this administration more persuasive in its diplomacy.

Audience Member 3: Hello. I have two questions, if you don’t mind. First, I’m about to start my first job in International Security at the Pentagon. So I was wondering if you could turn Mr. Koenig’s question into some practical advice for me. And then second, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about your relationship between the Fourth Estate and working in government, and what that transition was like for you.

SP: Great. First of all, thank you in advance, for your service. Of all the things I did in my career, I don’t think I found anything as meaningful as serving in the government. As John noted, on a good day, to be even a small part of, US leadership, for example, to end the Ebola epidemic. A story I tell, bucking some very difficult domestic politics. I think working at the Pentagon, there’s plenty that the Pentagon is doing off the headlines. I don’t know what part of the Pentagon you’re working in, but whether that’s care for military families, or even some of the military and the non-military dimensions of trying to combat ISIS, which still goes on, is an incredibly worthy fight. Just making sure our troops in Afghanistan, for as long as they’re there, and I do hope they’ll be coming home soon finally after 18 years, but that they have the supplies and the support that they need from the building. But that’s an abstraction, because I don’t know what you’re doing specifically.

I think what I’d say more generally, about public service, among the lessons I learned was—and this is true of citizenship, which I’m now learning, being reminded of this challenge—but I think we all feel that the problems in the world are, if you’re me and you’re critical of the Trump administration, even the own goals or the or the self-inflicted wounds by this president, the problems feel much bigger than any one individual can solve. And even when I was a member of the president’s cabinet, so not coming in for the first time to the government, but actually getting to operate at this amazing level and having the ear of the president, I’d look at the 67 million people displaced in the world and just think, “What can one person do?” Which is how I’m sure you feel now, and all of us do, and how you’ll feel also as a cog in the Pentagon machinery. And one of the concepts I introduced in the book is not mine, but it comes from a wonderful book called Switch, by the Heath brothers. The subtitle is Making Change When Change is Hard. But they have a great concept, a very sort of familiar concept, but it’s “shrink the change.” So how can you figure out—and not at the beginning, you’ve got to get the lay of the land, but—what is your slice of the problem about what you can do something? And one of my examples I use in the book was, we were even before Trump facing a huge human rights recession around the world, and I would feel small. I would just think, “Damn, I’m in the cabinet of the President of the United States. And yet all the data is showing freedom declining in this country and that country.” And this was back when I thought Secretary Clinton was going to be winning the election. So even then, it seems like a bleak global picture. And I sat down with my team, and together we came up with the idea of a very modest campaign to seek to free 20 female political prisoners from jail, from countries like China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Cambodia. And I didn’t actually write about it in the book, I don’t think I really believed. This is how much you can feel small. I don’t think I believed that we would necessarily make tangible inroads on behalf of these women, but I thought it would mean something to these women, and it would mean something to the families of these women, that the United States was standing with them against these unjust charges.

Anyway, I won’t spoil the whole story in the book, but 16 of the 20 women were freed from jail as a result of not only this campaign, but of course teaming up with the families and the lawyers and so forth. And again, I’m very incredibly proud of this modest effort. It’s only 16 people against a backdrop of a human rights recession around the world. Yes, each of those 16 women go back to raising their voices and trying to help impact their own communities. But it’s so tempting to say, “it’s just, it’s just too small next to that,” but it’s the small and the small and the small. I think that will add up. And I quote Obama in the book at one point. We have a back and forth, and some of you have heard him say something similar publicly, but Obama likes to say, “better is good, better is good.” And you know what he says sometimes? “Better, sometimes, is a hell of a lot harder than worse.” And so, I think just that. Shrink the change. Can you identify something that, if you stretch yourself, that you might be able to achieve rather than feeling like you have to solve all problems at once. And what was your second question?

Audience Member 3: Can you talk about your relationship between the Fourth Estate and government work?

SP: Yeah. For me, being a journalist in advance of being in government was immensely useful. When I got to the UN, I used stories rather than talking points, or sometimes in addition to talking points, depending on what kind of leash I was on in a given negotiation. But basically there’s too much rote from having worked at NATO, just talking points that could have been dusted off from when Madeline Albright was ambassador 20 years before I was. Whereas a story, and not a hokey story and not a saccharine story, but just an actual retelling of someone else’s experience, or your own experience witnessing something, has the chance of breaking through. It doesn’t always. So one of the things I tried to do is get out of the way, and bring, for example, a survivor of Syrian chemical weapons into the Security Council, and to ensure that his story is told. Or to bring the doctors who treated chemical weapons survivors to meet with security council ambassadors in an informal session for the first time. Or a Boko Haram survivor, or a parent who lost a child to Boko Haram. I mean, to bring home the stakes. And that’s what journalists are often trying to do, is to find the human angle that can help tell a more universal story. So I didn’t find the transition hard, but bear in mind, I had a bridging device, which was when I wrote A Problem From Hell, I interviewed hundreds of US officials to try to tell the story of what US officials were up against. So maybe, in that sense, I had more experience, certainly not making policy, but trying to put myself in the shoes of those who had. And some might’ve been a little more prepared, certainly than I would’ve been, if I had just gone from being a war correspondent into the Situation Room.

Audience Member 4: First off, thank you very much, Ambassador Power, for coming here to Town Hall and talking with us, giving us the benefit of your knowledge. I wanted to ask you today about, I saw Edward Snowden on CBS Morning today. I’m not sure you caught that.

SP: Didn’t catch it.

Audience Member 4: Mm. Well you will, probably, in the near future. I was curious and wanted to hear your thoughts on Edward Snowden and his particular predicament right now.

SP: Always the softballs in Seattle. Softballs in Seattle, the new movie.

You know, I have a different perspective on Edward Snowden than many of my progressive counterparts, because I was in the government when all of this information was put out. And because I was the President’s Human Rights Advisor, had the job of working with state department officials who worked through the night for days and days on end. I don’t know, John, if you were still in the state department then. And at our diplomatic posts all around the world, trying to go through what he was putting out, to try to figure out who was likely to be harmed by virtue of the disclosures. And so whether that was a dissident, who thought they were having a private meeting with a US Official, like John or myself, in a different life, or whether it was a US Official reporting on something they knew dissidents or opposition activists to be doing. All of that went out just with, from what I can tell, no regard for consequences. And so, it was incredibly harmful. It also, just as a practical matter, this is diplomatic reporting. There’s the intelligence component, which I’ll come to in just a second, but I think those are the kinds of voices, that that was a trust in America, in our diplomatic good offices, in these relationships. It was a trust that that was very difficult and will remain very difficult to rebuild. Which just means we know less and we hear less. I mean, trust me, the US government doesn’t need any help finding official sources. Right? I write about this in the book, the natural tendency of US officials, unfortunately, is to go find other officials and there’s a kind of statism as a default. But what the disclosures did was, it just put out in the public domain, this broader net that I think the best US diplomats have sought to cast so that we can be learning from people well outside the government. And that was a real downside and a very harmful dimension to what Snowden did. The good thing is that I was also part of the internal process where, and President Obama has said this publicly, went back over the way in which technology had just expanded and expanded and expanded without the kind of systematic and deep review that was needed about whether our national security objectives and our human rights and privacy objectives and balance were properly achieved. The effect of the disclosures as well was that we achieved a better balance through an exhaustive review process that the disclosures catalyzed. I know he claims otherwise, but I wish that he had done more within the system, using the channels that existed, to go to higher levels. At least to see whether or not in the Obama administration, he could have kickstarted or secured that kind of exhaustive review without having to put so much else at risk.

Audience Member 5: Good evening, ambassador. I have a number of memories of you standing up in the UN Security Council and condemning Russia for their campaign of deceit, especially when it related to the Crimean Peninsula. How does it strike you today, or rub you, that we have a cheap government spokesman that just engages in daily, habitual, shameless, non-tactical lying for no apparent purpose? And as a follow-up, did President Obama ever ask you to do something like that? Deny something that you thought was true?

SP: To deny something? So was your question, I just wanna make sure I caught it, I heard the part about Russia. Your question is, in the US? Is that what you’re referring to?

Audience Member 5: Right.

SP: To have a spokesperson. Okay. And then second question, did President Obama ever ask me to do something comparable? Um, luckily my answer to your second question is no. Although, I do tell the story in the book of something very, very different. I’ll come back to your first question.

We had made a campaign promise to recognize the Armenian Genocide, and Senator Obama’s position on why we should recognize, was that it didn’t affect forced diplomats, whether they’re serving in Turkey or they’re serving anywhere else around the world or in Armenia, to not tell the truth. Because we know it to be true that a genocide was carried out in 1915 by the Ottomans against the Armenians. And so I tell the story in the book of how when we got into office, how when push came to shove and when it came time to fulfill that promise—and believe me, when we got into office, we had a list of Obama’s promises and we were trying to tick through them, and it wasn’t like anybody was blind, as if these were just, “Oh, that’s the campaign, things happen. Now we’re in office. We get to do what we want.” I mean, really, there were people at the White House whose job it was to hold us accountable to the promises that we’d made in the campaign, including this one. But because we were drawing our troops down from Iraq, and so much of the resupply to our troops who are still in Iraq occurred through Turkey, and because, frankly, also the domestic economic circumstances in the US which were devastating and consumed much of the President’s time, he chose in that first year not to recognize the Armenian Genocide. And I tell the story of arguing with him about that and in the wake of that, or maybe because of that, as it happens, my water breaking and my son—I know it’s crazy, but my son—but the chapter’s called April 24th—you heard from my ‘Pecklynn’ story that Declan was born on April 24th—but April 24th is Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day, for those of you who don’t know. And so every year, we light a candle to the Armenians. But I feel terrible because this was a promise that I was also a part of making, using the credibility that I had amassed, having written a book that included the Armenian Genocide. And we tried again in the 100th anniversary to come around to doing that. But then we were fighting ISIS and we were using Turkish bases. So I still think it would’ve been much better, and it would’ve left diplomats in a position to not have to dissemble and to just be telling the truth and sticking to the facts of what happened in 1915.

To your first question, I mean, you put it in your language. I guess what I would say is the following. When I got to the UN as an ambassador in 2013, relations with Russia were just beginning to deteriorate. And I had, as part of my post-Tiananmen youth, gotten very interested in foreign policy. I’d read everything I could about the Cold War when I was a college student, and in my twenties when the Balkans were imploding and I became a war correspondent, I became again an amateur reader of history, but I was really interested in Soviet History and Cold War history. And I remember, again in my youth, but reading about what, for example, the Soviet ambassador would say at the UN during the Cold War. And I would just think to myself, “How could he have possibly thought that anybody would believe this?” I mean, the Soviet Union to be invading Czechoslovakia and it’d be all about the humanitarian emergency in Czechoslovakia where the Soviet benevolent troops are coming in in order to prevent a massacre, or the same in Hungary in 1956, and I’ve just read these things. I think, “Geez, nobody could ever get away with that kind of thing today.” And then lo and behold, in 2014, I walk into the Security Council, Russia’s just gone into Ukraine to lop off Crimea, would soon go into Eastern Ukraine to lop off part of Eastern Ukraine. And the tactics were identical to those that I had in my mind. I just thought, “How could anybody back in the day have gone along with this? Now you have people with phones and cameras and the internet, and live witnesses and video testimony and it was like a playbook. But what I never thought, even as I saw that playbook employed on Ukraine, on Aleppo. “Oh, no, we’re not involved militarily in Aleppo. Oh, we just took Aleppo. Oh no, we’re not in Ukraine. Oh, now we’re annexing Crimea.” I mean, just crazy lies, bald-faced, whatever. No regard for shame, as you say. But I never thought that that set of practice — I never thought it could happen in the modern age. Back then I was still would’ve called it an age where facts would matter. But the idea that that set of habits, which both include deceit and dissembling, but also the same diversionary tactics. What about ism? A phrase I didn’t know until after I left the Obama Administration, but when you get accused of doing something or you’re at fault for something, immediately attacking your enemy, but also just completely diverting and with a non-sequitur to something else. So no, that migration is extremely disturbing. But what we have here is the privilege of citizenship and the ability to do what we did in the Midterms, which was to have unprecedented turnout and an unprecedented wave of new candidates. And an ability to organize and to express ourselves. And even with all the big money in politics, and the gerrymandering, and the crazy Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering, we still can win and we can defeat that. And that is a set of privileges they certainly didn’t have in the Soviet Union and they also don’t have today in Russia. And we just have to use it. Thank you.

Jini Palmer: Thank you for listening to our Town Hall Seattle Civics Series. I’m Jini Palmer. Our theme music comes from the Seattle artist David Bazan and Seattle’s own Barsuk Records. A special thanks to our audio engineer, Dave Campbell. Check out our new season of Town Hall Seattle’s original podcast, In The Moment. Each episode, a local Seattle correspondent interviews someone coming to Town Hall. They get you excited about upcoming events by giving you a behind-the-scenes look into a presenter’s content, personality and interests. If you like our Civics Series, listen to our Arts & Culture and Science Series as well. For more information, check out our calendar of events or to support Town Hall, go to our website at

Send this to a friend