Samantha Power was the USA's youngest ever ambassador to the UN, during President Barack Obama’s second term, and is a writer and academic. She has just been invited to join president-elect Joe Biden's administration. Samantha was born in London but grew up in Ireland. At the age of nine, she moved to the US with her mother and younger brother following the breakdown of her parents’ marriage. Her first ambition was to be a sports broadcaster, but watching live footage of events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 led her to change course and she became a war correspondent instead, reporting on the conflict in Bosnia in the early 1990s. After returning to the US, she wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book in which she examined what she saw as America’s repeated reluctance to confront genocide in the 20th century. In 2013 she was appointed ambassador to the UN. She stepped down in 2017 and became professor of global leadership, public policy and human rights at Harvard. Shortly after this edition of Desert Island Discs was recorded, she accepted the role of Administrator of the US Agency for International Development. DISC ONE: Dancing Queen by ABBA DISC TWO: Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens DISC THREE: Thousands Are Sailing by The Pogues DISC FOUR: Crazy by Seal DISC FIVE: Boots of Spanish Leather by Mandolin Orange DISC SIX: Why? (The King of Love is Dead) by Nina Simone DISC SEVEN: Tonight Will Be Fine by Teddy Thompson DISC EIGHT: A Million Years by Alexander BOOK CHOICE: A guitar LUXURY ITEM: The Irish Times Book of Favourite Irish Poems by Colm Tóibín CASTAWAY'S FAVOURITE: Tonight Will Be Fine by Teddy Thompson Presenter Lauren Laverne Producer Paula McGinley
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Bbc sounds music radio, podcasts, hello, I'm Lauren Laverne, and this is the desert island discs podcast. Every week I ask my guests to choose the eight tracks book and luxury they'd want to take with them if they were cast away to a desert, island and. for rights reasons, the music is shorter than the original broadcast. I hope you enjoy listening. the mike the way this week is the author and academic samantha power once labelled the conscience of president obama. She was a key player throughout both terms of his administration. First, as an adviser on foreign policy, then, as because the youngest ever ambassador to the, u n, born in loans,
into irish parents, she spent her early life in dublin before the family settled in atlanta. Her first ambition to become a sports broadcaster until one day she saw lie footage of the events in tiananmen square in nineteen, eighty nine and that changed everything by the age of twenty three She was reporting on the war in bosnia, where she was Described as a breath of fresh outraged by her colleagues, her experiences in spite of book irrigating, the american response to genocides throughout the twentyth century. It won the pulitzer prize and placed her on the then senator Obama's rita, she went from criticising government policy to working to shape it she's. Currently, professor of globally, chip, public policy and human rights at harvard. She says the road to hell is paved with good, tensions to be sure, but ten a blind eye to the toughest problems in the world is a guaranteed short cut. same destination. Samantha power welcome to desert. The disks so
to be here. So, let's get straight into it, Joe Biden's arrival at the white house. Rumors are circulating that you might be returning to frontline politics. Have you had a call from Joe Biden yet I don't know honestly what the what the future holds, but I will say that having been a journalist and activists and academic, a diplomat staffer Nothing has been more rewarding in my career, then, and more meaningful, really, then getting to represent the united states getting to be a public servants. So if I had the chance serve again I'd. I think I'd leave, but the opportunity. Of course he spent figures in academia, I wouldn't feel going back to politics and leaving behind We're in a moment of such crisis, it's a kind of ash, all international emergency men in a literal sense, with the pandemic, and the economic crisis, but in such
a deeper sense with human rights in retreat in so many parts of the world that I think this a moment where we need all hands on deck. So I dont think I'd be conflicted about leaving the class I would miss my students. I would miss the lifestyle, which is a little more luxuriant than that of the twenty four seven national security job, but there are moments where, when the call comes, I think you don't really have a choice. no, you listen to the programme, so you know we're here to get send to the person behind the politics to an end. A journalist friend of yours once said: if you she's either intense or asleep, would you say that's a fair assessment? It's not even sure I don't have a middle gear. I think. That's that's fair to say, bye
I certainly you know. I love music. I love sport. I love to dance. I may be intense in how I do all of those things to a fault, but there is a lightness that comes with not taking myself too seriously. We can get started with your first disc right now. What's it going to be in, and why have you chosen this I have chosen dancing queen by ABBA. This, a song? The just reminds me so much of my beloved mother, who grew up in cork city cork, the daughter of a police, she longed to become a doctor when she was a kid and was deterred. From pursuing medicine, because she was a girl but in her mid twenties, went back and got her medical degree talk about intense mom, there was intense, is intense, but amid that in
and city just this joy. This desire to dance dancing queen by abba dedicated samantha power to your mother vera. And you were born in london in nineteen, seventy and your mother and father both irish. They took me back there when you very small, so you mother, veer it. is it in a frolic distance, kidney doktor on an avid sportswoman two, apparently, when you were growing up the only time you
we're sitting still was one wimbledon was honest: that right, yes, sitting, cross legged face pressed up to the tv as she would urge me never to do watching every point of every match that was broadcast ireland, she sends like a woman determined to follow her dreams in with bang civil energy. To do it. Yes, I mean only when I myself became a, Neither did I serve reflect on just the the bravery and the brazenness in some ways of the of the choices that she made, and what about you? Father tell me about him dad was a pretty and thinker, he professionally became a dentist but as my mother's career and as her sporting conquests progressed, I think he began to feel all shut out or a little left behind and he had it has been a straightforward. Irish
girl, someone who like to go to the pub, but as he began to retreat a little bit from his marriage to my mother or my mother was off banging wash balls and and taking courses and transplant neurology to learn more about the kidney he be spending more time at the pub and It was, there was one pub in particular called hard against in downtown dublin. I was his sidekick, probably between aid, of three and nine I've been there with him, with my banter and my planters peanuts? So what now of course seems like exactly the wrong and I meant for a child to be in at the time it was the only environment I really knew so. It sounds like the lot going on in your parents. Relationship did eventually breakdown you, your mother, one custody of union stephen. She took you with her to start a new life in the: u s, nineteen. Seventy nine, a really big change view that point. You did go back one
smith to stay with your father that christmas later that year, une stephen and your mother came to collect you on christmas eve. What happened here? This is a very dry attic and very sad evening when it shouldn't have been. Was it's christmas eve, but my dad's with us back in his company hitting the tennis, on the cul de sac outside the house, he said to my mother: I'm key them and my mother said no you're, not the courts have made clear. I have custody and you can come visit them and they will and visit again very soon, but you can't keep them many snob keeping them so she just swooped down on christmas eve and ends pick us up and brought us pretty soon. Thereafter the airport, and that would prove the last time I saw my dad in person. Let's take a break. This music- this is your second disk day and I think it is connected to your dad. My dad's was
magnificent piano player and one of his favorite songs was killed. stevens morning has broken and I have some. Fond memories of lying to the piano stool, on the carpeted floor and watching his feet on the pedals, as he played this, this beautiful song, and it that being the song that I had played I came down the aisle from my wedding and in county carry more new, the yes, is please see rays, in the
ok by cat Stevens, so samantha power you settled in atlanta, georgia, with your mother, your brother, stephen and used father eddie, a new developed a past and fourteen sports I'm imagining that not made it a bit easier to fit in school. When I came America, we initially move to pittsburgh and when I there I was in my head. My irish catholic girl school uniform maiden have a lot of money. So was wearing my tartan skirt and my black leather shoes to this american public school. I just you know I felt like a real oddball and then I heard that what people are talking about as major league baseball in pittsburgh pirates, the team that belong to the town was marching towards that happen ship than you can looked around thought. Okay, I think if I can figure this out I'll heavily something to talk about. I may have an irish accent, a dublin accent, and I worked on losing that as quickly as I could. But this
is all the rage and so like any kid wanting to fit- and I think that was it see you fourteen month when a call came, and you received some terrible news from ireland. What do you remember by that date? I remember sitting in my bedroom in anti georgia and hearing my mother come home from the hospital early and that didn't happen, often probably some radar, was going off in me that that something was amiss, but I wasn't care for my mother coming into my room and said me down and and telling me that my father had passed away was forty seven. The one day tell that, I was sick, into my soul was that he died alone. And I remember overhearing that he had been found days later, in the house in our house, only as a mother now
my own children, and just how you they are when their young, Do I realise that my its childhoods hence of having superpowers. You know if I were stronger I had been more worth it, you know my dad would have able to get it together and only when you get there? Do you understand what what addiction is and what alcoholism is and how much bigger it is then than one sins will or one families will. But again I was teen all I knew was this large charismatic very loving father had vanished in an instant got to go his excellent the power. What are we gonna hear next and why wisely chosen, it This is a song by one of my favorite bans, the pokes it's a song about immigration coming across that big atlantic ocean, the heart,
of coming to a new land longing for what you ve left behind and the determination to dance with me. What steps does the books and thousands of sailing system the power in nineteen. Eighty eight, you went to yale university to study for liberal arts degree and you had set your sites on becoming a sports journalist, but not long into your course You changed your mind. What happened well the summer, after
my first year at university. I worked. Unsurprisingly, at the CBS sports affiliates and as I was sitting in the booth. The video booth, taking notes on routine braves game. The CBS news feed was up. next to me and on its came unfiltered footage from beijing, china and the footage captured. What was the beginning of the chinese government's crackdown on democracy, protests and the tanks. Raw then, as I sat with MIKE Bored in hand, I watched stew, my age, fleeing onto their bicycles out of the line of fire, and it was a devastating scene and made me think. Ok, I could probably get the balance a little bit better between
how much time I'm spending learning about sport and what actually happening in the world around me. Is it true that east timor cup the newspaper and test yourself and after it indeed yeah? Why I began subscribing to the new york times the hard copy? The new york times come to my dorm room every day and read in. I would underline the name of the head of state and then I finish, the article quiz myself to know who it was, then I didn't quite make flashcards for myself, but it was almost ass, bad and so you would sat on a different course in and by ninety. Ninety two, you taken up an internship at the canadian down and for international peace as a foreign policy think tank, and they you learnt about the atrocities that were taking place in bosnia. You decided to become a war correspondent. Why did you feel that such a young age that you had to go that yourself? the period where I was coming of age in america. The holocaust was getting. Detention there was a museum opening up
on the mall in washington, with america's chow, monuments was taught in great detail in can schools and the idea of never again heads gathered significant force. I think so fast forward, then ninety ninety two I've just gradually from college the berlin wall all has fallen just a few years before and there's a great sense of promise that pieces at hand and that the world can come together, but at this in time as yugoslavia collapse You see the savage war in bosnia break out this horrific ethnic cleansing.
and such suffering, you wanted them to put your journalist, ict skills to good use, but you were sports reporter, so get press pass was going to be tricky. How did you manage it? Carnegie endowment at that time put out an academic publication called foreign policy and that editors office was a few doors down from mine and so late at night cleaning staff had finished hoovering. I crept into the office and took a piece of stationery and wrote. A letter on my own behalf, but unfortunately, in the name of the editor of foreign policy, in the u n, to grant samantha power all the necessary credentials she would need in order to contribute to the publication. I was just consumed with this
objective of getting over to bosnia, and I was gonna, do whatever it took, even if it meant doing something, I should have done time for some music samantha path. You fourth disk, if he would was gonna, be crazy I seal, an australian journalist this song and splice together, video of the carnage? in bosnia, and so this song and those images that this journalist captured will always go gather in my mind and and just how war can scar you for forever
whenever we gonna let no one ever seen and crazy samantha path, you taken great means to get there. How did covering conflict in bosnia first hunt shape your own thinking. It has me certainly with the desire to be out in the world talking to people who are affected by our decisions affected by the decisions of their governments, that that is a pity. active that is invaluable and too often lacking honestly and in the bubble of policymaking. President Clinton refuse to intervene in the conflict at that stage your personal feelings about what you saw us: a lack of direct action by U s and nato at the time
to see kind of chaotic and disperse deplore. see that didn't seem to be well leverage and to know that the effects of diplomatic failure always going to be more bloodshed and more kids killed, while John rope in in I grounds it bit tore me up inside and tore many many journalists up inside. So, as a citizen, I think of the wolden, citizen of america. I really wanted to present Clinton to prioritize this conflict in september, one thousand nine hundred and ninety five president Clinton changed his mind and nasal launched airstrikes against the forces. You would last bus nearby then, but how did you feel when you heard the news because it involved bombing. I was scared, you know I kind of lived in suspended animation for that weaker too. as events unfolded on the ground in and when Sarajevo
liberated. When it was clear that military force was going to work in a peace agreement was going to be forged an imperfect one, but nonetheless a peace agreement. I just was the greatest sense of relief. I think I've ever felt on the professional side? I wonder about your experience as a war reporter I mean many people who pursue that korea talk about the the camaraderie, the adrenaline. Did it see you? I think I did suit. May I think it's credibly, stimulating line of work the ability, if you're a cure, this person to go out and talk to people whether people who had survived unimaginable. Crimes against humanity or even to talk to the perpetrators of those crimes. and and get inside the head of people who are doing things that a year before two years, that would have been inconceivable to them, but at the same time I felt its limits.
felt that what we were writing was not landing in a way it was affecting the calculus of of people with power. It's time disk number five. What are we going to happen next and wisely chosen it today, some of them. So this is a bob dylan cover boots. of spanish leather and it is performed by a wonderful called mandolin orange This is a sign that reminds me of my husband cas who, in addition, to being the most original person. And, having the most original mind that I have ever encountered in being the author of dozens and dozens of books is someone who has a bob dylan lyric response to anything happens in one's life. No matter what news I bring now given day or what crossroads I find myself at, or what lemon station. I am making he's got a bob dylan lyric for it.
Ah yes, The is there wrong these boots spanish leather written by bob Dylan and perform tat by mandolin orange? Some the parrot. Ninety ninety five you took place at harvard law school. You had intended to become a prosecutor, but you ended up writing a book. Instead, a problem from It was published in two thousand and two would go on to win the pulitzer prize. What was its central thesis? Vat america, despite
king grand promises and despite believing itself, a country that would stand up the face of genocide by and large, the other way when genocide happened, and it was that book that ended up on the night, stunned, a man it was then a young senator, Barack Obama, later you'd gone to work in his office and then in two thousand and seven you joined his election campaign. How would you describe your working relationship We have an understanding that way. I think he puts up with me. there would be occasions when I was at the white house or when I was in his cabinet, is you an ambassador where he would say straight up soon: we're getting on my nerves or one occasion when I think I was going, on too long, which is a tendency of line,
in the syria context. You know he snapped. We've all read your book. Sam we've all read your book and I'm thinking I'm not. I'm actually not sure everyone here has read my phone, I'm not convinced that the president, but he has a really uncanny ability to kind of look around a room and say I don't have all of myself here and I mean by that, is if he looks around the room and sees okay, have a lot of people you're gonna be arguing for providing more military assistance to these cc government in egypt get that, but where sam like where where's the persons can tell me why this is a bad idea, you didn't used to prompt you occasionally for a bit too quiet by asking. Are you sick power yeah? Exactly and of course, I have no poker face. Forehead would be all coiled up in and he be like something on your mind, samantha end and and so
he was immensely decisive, but never wanted. Yes, man that happy talk as he is. He described it that would get you know were cement pow. I've got to take a moment, theo next disk, number, six, why you taking it to the island? So is Nina Simone's why the king of love is dead, it's a song written a few days after the assassination of martin luther king. I think it captures of the anger that we see today, given that so much injustice persists particularly racial injustice, I think, Simone who was radicalized in her later years, meant it as a song of despair as as laments, I find it emits
flee, motivating cause Dave he was phi phi? Why the king of love he's dead. Nina Simone on the power. As we ve heard, your career has had many highs, but it has had its laws to one of which occurred during a bomb is two thousand and eight election campaign. You are forced to resign. After
during to Hillary Clinton, who was then a presidential candidate in the race to the white house as a monster in print. How do you look back on what you said? No well even at the time. I couldn't believe that I had said it. I it's hard to be convincing in this regard. Since the words came out of my mouth, but I got way too caught up and it was my first presidential campaign the mud was being slung from one campaign to the next, and I regret it to this day. I did have a chance to appalling eyes to her in person in- and I am very glad about that- and of course a chance to work with her in when she was secretary state and I was present enormous human rights adviser, and so we ve come a long way. But I that's a reminder of just how One can lose perspective. It can feel like center of the universe, but you have to stay true to treating people in town, about people with with respect, I didn't I didn't do that and in the
well tim, of course it cost you dearly. You went from being at the heart of the campaign to being a complete outsider. Is it is it that you resigned or one that obama asked you to go initially, he rejected the idea. I would have to resign many realised that it was potentially gonna be costly for the campaign. So he said we wanted to put the penalty box and where's my irish cousins would say the sin Ben I didn't go to the same then So I was in the sin bin for quite a while there until he locked up the nomination and then I I came back for the the general election time. this number, seven samantha what's gonna, be, and why wisely chosen this? This is Leonard Cohen cover tonight will be fine by my dear friend teddy Thompson, I have long had this sense because of my father. Death. When I was young that nothing great can last and when I had kids a course, my fear of some
thing? Bad happening was always with me when I had Declan just thinking. Will he be okay and and this song kind of calms me and just says you know, we can't predict the future, but tonight let's enjoy it tonight will be fine. Soon sounds a good thing to me, slow to each other, the uk, you think tonight- we'll be fine, written by Leonard Cohen, on performed by teddy thomson? So on the power after president obama was elected. He brought me back into the fold appointing you to the national security council in his second term. You said
as u s ambassador to the un, now, as we've heard, you are afraid to speak your mind, how did you take to being a diplomat the short answer. Is I loved every minute of it The longer answer is that I wasn't known for being the most diplomatic person before becoming a diplomat, but I think that authentically being serious about my colleagues from These other one hundred and ninety two countries playing soccer with the an american ambassadors joining the korean danish. serbian? ty ambassadors in amateur rock, and you know build I think, just seeing all that we have in common. We love, we all love music, we all love soccer and, as a diplomat, you would have have meetings at whom? How did that chance,
the dynamics of the conversations that you are having. I think fur embossers from other countries too, just see the chaotic humanity? Somebody barely hanging on in this period of yellow, taking phone calls from John carry the sector's stay. And from my daughter's day care and that's life right, but on in one instance, I was on a call. What sector carry around think russian sanctions and and tackling came up looking to get my attention and, in this sense I shoot him away, I think one too many times and he marched off, saying: Putin, putin, putin, putin when is it going to be dec on deck when tackling duckling well samantha? I am, of course, about to cast you away to a desert island, and I know that you're going to miss you family and you ve, also saw a lot about the idea of leaving family. behind in real life, and I read the letter that you wrote
declan when he was just six months old we're going away on your first trip to Iraq? What did it say I just was began afraid that some bad would happen that I'd be in iraq and wouldn't come home to my boys, and so I just tried to convey the dec on the the love than I felt for him at that time and again don't get me talk about the letter I guile allusive here at the end of the programme. Whenever you hear thunder, that will be me whenever the red sox, when the ninth, that will do me, the It was very hard to rights very hard to read and write now it's very hard to keep that book away from my son because he's eleven and wants to he's heard about the latter. Anyway, to read the letter, and I am absolutely determined for him not to read the letter, I hope never to have to read the letter while one more track, samantha pebbles
we send you after your island. What's gonna, be your last disk today so well, it did. Take cason me a few years to conceive are our second child daughter ryan, whose now eight it was after many rounds of ivf sin and miscarriages- and so this song heard not long after ryan was borne by alexander ebert, and it's called a million years and the key, resin in line for me is a million years full of tears. But I found my girl I found my girl ryan, The just say
the a million years alexander epithets, samantha power. It's time to cast you away, some gonna give you the books to take with you. As you know, the bible, the complete works of shakespeare and another book of your choosing. What would you like column beans, irish times book of favorite, irish palms, so columns a great friend of mine, brilliant irish writer, poets in his way and for him to choose the palms that I'd be cast away with. I think makes a lot of sense. It's you You can also have a luxury item, but would you like? I have wanted to learn the guitar my whole life. I thought I might do it. in the pandemic period, I have failed the guitar and me on the island. It will happen its time and finally, which
eight tracks. Would you rush to save if there was only time to rescue one from the waves teddy? thompson's take on Leonard Cohen's tonight will be fine, samantha Thank you so much for sharing your desert island discs with us. Thank you I hope you enjoy my conversation with samantha. I'm sure that you'll find many ways of brushing up a baseball skills on the island. Of course, we ve cast many diplomats away, including cynically henderson, sir Crispin, to cow and worries to it: can hear their programmes viral website on BBC sends next time. I guess we'll be the astronaut major tim pique I do hope will join us
the hell, I hope you've enjoyed the podcast. You just heard, there's another podcast available as well as called the infinite monkey cage with me robin ince and me Brian Cox, and it's going to be, I think, more educational than whatever it is that you just listened to, because we are going to consider subject. Such is the nature of reality which encompasses whatever it is that you just listen to so yeah jan eleven Eric idle, frank wilczek, SARA Pascoe, ross, noble chris Jackson, Allen, Davis, David hill, there's a huge number of people talking about many big ideas. That won't be that many equations there might be one equation when lebron the well. It also Erica mcalister, lady of the flies very twenty twenty one, and you can hear the infinite monkey cage on BBC sounds yeah, there's hundreds of them actually and it's loads of them. Who just thought you could do over one hundred episodes where everything that's in the universe is a lot more than I first imagined while you're a comedian. Scientist
Transcript generated on 2022-06-06.