Samantha Power, President Barack Obama’s nomination for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pledged Wednesday to combat the "de-legitimization" of Israel at the global body in response to criticism of her previous statements on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The United States has no greater friend in the world than the State of Israel," Power told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She also expressed support for increasing pressure on Iran and maintaining the option of military force to deter its development of a nuclear weapons program.
However, she stopped short of endorsing more robust aid to Syrian rebels and said she would pursue a "multifaceted approach" at the United Nations to secure the exit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Israel—not Iran, not Sudan, not North Korea—is the one country with a fixed place on the Human Rights Council’s agenda. Israel’s legitimacy should be beyond dispute, and its security must be beyond doubt," Power said in her testimony.
Nearly 50 former military officers and pro-Israel leaders denounced Power’s nomination earlier this month in a letter questioning her views on Israel.
In response to a hypothetical question about stemming violence between Israel and the Palestinians, Power recommended in a 2002 discussion at the University of California-Berkeley that the United States divest its support from Israel’s military and devote billions to "a mammoth protection force" in order to create a "meaningful military presence" in Israel.
"Putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import," Power said at the time, an oblique reference to the pro-Israel lobby in the United States.
Power also advocated in a 2003 New Republic article for "a doctrine of the mea culpa" that would enhance U.S. credibility worldwide and deprive terrorists of a recruiting tool.
"Much anti-Americanism derives from the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying such freedoms to others," she wrote.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) pressed Power on these comments at the generally amiable nomination hearing for Power, who is also a Harvard University professor and the chairwoman of Obama’s Atrocities Prevention Board.
"There is no shortcut" to a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said. "Unilateral Palestinian statehood measures just won’t work."
Power disavowed many of her previous remarks and said she "would never apologize for America" despite past mistakes.
"The U.S. is a leader on human rights and dignity. When we make mistakes, and mistakes happen — for instance the incident in Abu Ghraib — no one is proud of that."
Yet "we hold people accountable because we believe in human rights and international law," she said.
Rubio introduced legislation Wednesday that would designate U.S. funding for the U.N. budget as "voluntary contributions" and appoint an inspector general to audit those contributions among other measures.
Power told the senators that U.S. funding for U.N. projects should be subject to "full transparency."
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) pushed Power to pursue more avenues of assistance for the Syrian rebels in the wake of crippling defeats at the hand of Assad’s forces in recent weeks.
"With 100,000 people massacred we’re going to have to look at every option we possibly can," he said.
Other lawmakers such as Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) advised a more cautious approach.
"We can’t even tell who our friends are in the Afghan army, which is a much more stable situation than Syria," he said.
"I don’t think there’s a valid argument for fighting secret wars without the approval of Congress."
Many of the senators commented that Power will need her penchant for "blunt" outspokenness at the United Nations.
"I have a feeling that you are certainly going to carve a path at the United Nations," said Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), ranking member of the committee.