Rwanda remembered: Samantha Power reconciles past and present on genocide anniversary

Terry Moran, Clark Bentson, Jordyn Phelps, and Richard Coolidge
Power Players

Power Players

It was a problem from hell.

That’s how Samantha Power summed up the United States’ failure to respond to Rwanda’s 1994 genocide in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” – and in so doing, Power made a name for herself as a critic of U.S. foreign policy.

Now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, the former critic-turned government insider is in Rwanda to mark the 20th anniversary of the genocide as the United States’ official representative.

“President Obama wanted us to come back and pay our respects and show that even if it's 20 years later, this genocide is something that stays with us,” Power told “Power Players” during an interview in Rwanda’s capital of Kigali.

“When you meet a survivor and they lost their children, and their siblings, and their parents,” she added. “It just matters intrinsically, even if it did no good for the rest of time, it matters to those people that the world is coming and saying that we're still with them.”

On Bill Clinton, who was president during the 1994 genocide and made the decision not to send U.S. troops, the U.N. ambassador said he has done an “extraordinarily important service” by reflecting on the genocide and calling it the “greatest regret of his presidency.”

Power said she has talked to the former president about the genocide, but doesn’t take any credit for his repentance.

“I think the facts influenced him. It happened very quickly. It was six months after Somalia,” Power said, referring to failed Battle of Mogadishu, also known as Black Hawk Down, that cost 18 U.S. lives. “Many people around him assumed that six months after Somalia, he would never wish to send American troops.”

The United States now finds itself facing another mass atrocity of sorts with the ongoing civil war in Syria that has resulted in over 150,000 deaths and displaced millions more. But Power rebuts the notion that the United States has stood idly by in the conflict.

“Nearly 2 billion dollars in humanitarian aid, massive assistance to the moderate opposition, sustained efforts at diplomacy, economic sanctions,” Power said of the U.S. response to Syria. “Are we doing enough where the conflict is coming to an end? Clearly not. Are we doing enough to prevent suffering for families and innocent children? No, none of us are satisfied with what has transpired or what has resulted from what we've put in place.”

While military force remains a potential tool that the United States could utilize in Syria, Power stands by the president’s decision not to escalate militarily. “The president's judgment is that the cost of doing that could exceed even what we see to be the costs of the day-to-day horrors that the people of Syria and their neighbors are enduring,” she said.

But as a former government critic herself, Power said the cries of those appealing to the United States to intervene in Syria are not lost on her.

“The outside Samantha Power gets to live with the inside Samantha Power, so she gets to critique her all the time,” Power said. “I think when people are suffering at the scale they're suffering at in Syria, you can never be at the office too late.”

For more of the interview with Power, including her reflections on how Rwanda has managed to progress so far in just two decades after the genocide, check out this episode “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Clark Bentson, Alexandra Dukakis, and Tom Thornton contributed to this episode.