“The Final Year”: An Inside Account of Diplomacy in the Obama Administration


Associated Program:
John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum
Greg Barker
Samantha Power
Ben Rhodes

A Conversation with
Greg Barker
Director, The Final Year
Samantha Power
United States Ambassador to the United Nations (2013-2017)
Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Ben Rhodes
Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting (2009-2017)
Mark Gearan (Moderator)
Director, Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School

The JFK Jr. Forum aims to educate, inspire debate, and foster conversation at the Institute of Politics. Unless otherwise specified, members of the Harvard community and general public are encouraged to attend Forum events.

To learn more about events like this one, sign up for the JFK Jr. Forum newsletter HERE

Greg Barker looks for strong personal narratives that illuminate the complexities and moral ambiguities of global politics and war. For THE FINAL YEAR Barker secured unprecedented access to the White House and State Department, capturing the emotions and human dynamics behind American diplomacy at its highest levels. With his longstanding producing partners John Battsek and Julie Goldman, Barker’s films include HBO’s Manhunt, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, (PrimeTime Emmy®), Homegrown: The Counter-Terror Dilemma, Sergio (Sundance editing award), and Koran by Heart. Barker previously worked as a journalist, making numerous films for PBS/Frontline, including the acclaimed Ghosts of Rwanda. He grew up in California, lived in DC and London for a long time, and now lives in Santa Monica with his British    wife and family. He has a masters in International Relations from the LSE, and is a Future of War Fellow at the New America Foundation.

Ambassador Samantha Power is the Anna Lindh Professor of the Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Practice at Harvard Law School.
From 2013 to 2017 Power served as the 28th U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, as well as a member of President Obama’s cabinet. In this role, Power became the public face of U.S. opposition to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Syria, negotiated the toughest sanctions in a generation against North Korea, lobbied to secure the release of political prisoners, helped build new international law to cripple ISIL’s financial networks, and supported President Obama’s pathbreaking actions to end the Ebola crisis.
From 2009 to 2013, Power served on the National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, where she focused on issues including atrocity prevention; UN reform; LGBT and women’s rights; the protection of religious minorities; and the prevention of human trafficking.
Before joining the U.S. government, Power was the founding executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School. 
Power’s book, “A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide  won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Power is also author of the New York Times bestseller Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World (2008) and the editor, with Derek Chollet, of The Unquiet American: Richard Holbrooke in the World (2011). She began her career as a journalist, reporting from places such as Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Rwanda, Sudan, and Zimbabwe and has twice been named to Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list. 
Power earned a B.A. from Yale University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. 

Ben Rhodes is currently an advisor to former President Barack Obama, the co-chair of National Security Action, and the author of the forthcoming book, The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. He served as a Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama from 2009-2017. In that capacity, he participated in nearly all of President Obama’s key decisions, and oversaw the President’s national security communications, speechwriting, public diplomacy and global engagement programming. He also led the secret negotiations with the Cuban government which resulted in the effort to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba, and supported the negotiations to conclude the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. Prior to joining the Administration, he was a Senior Speechwriter and foreign policy advisor to the Obama campaign. From 2002-2007, he worked for former Congressman Lee Hamilton, supporting his work on the 9/11 Commission and Iraq Study Group. A native New Yorker, mostly-suffering Mets, Knicks and Jets fan, Mr. Rhodes has a B.A. from Rice University and an M.F.A from New York University.

Mark Gearan became the 19th director of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government on March 1, 2018. A leading voice at the intersection of education and public service, Mark has held numerous leadership roles in American politics, government, and education.  
From 1999-2017, Mark served as the President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS), becoming the longest-serving president in HWS history. During his tenure, Mark oversaw an era of unprecedented growth that included doubling the Colleges’ endowment, a capital plan which raised $205 million to support facilities, endowment and annual giving, establishing 168 new endowed scholarships, and the completion of 80 significant capital projects. Following his time at HWS, Mark held an appointment as President-in-residence at HGSE for the 2017-2018 academic year.
In September 1995, President Bill Clinton appointed Mark as the 14th Director of the Peace Corps, after serving in senior positions in the Clinton White House. While Director, Mark oversaw the expansion of the Peace Corps program into South Africa, India, and Haiti as well as the establishment of the Crisis Corps, which would send former Peace Corps volunteers into crisis areas for six months or less to help during emergencies.
President Clinton said of Gearan: “One of the best personnel decisions I have made as President was to appoint Mark Gearan as the Director of the Peace Corps. I believe he has been one of the most successful Directors since President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961. He has rejuvenated the Peace Corps, and demonstrated a deep commitment to its legacy of service and the women and men who serve as Peace Corps volunteers. He can be proud that the Peace Corps will soon have more volunteers serving overseas than at any time in a generation."
Mark has served in a variety of roles in American politics and government including White House Communications Director, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, Vice Presidential Campaign Manager for Clinton/Gore ’92, Executive Director of the Democratic Governor’s Association, Headquarters Press Secretary for Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign, Chief of Staff for U.S. Representative Berkley Bedell of Iowa, and a reporter for the Fitchburg, Massachusetts Sentinel and Enterprise.
Mark’s first taste of politics came as an IOP intern in the Washington, DC office of Massachusetts’s Congressman Robert Drinan, S.J.
He is the Vice Chair for National and Public Service of the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service; and is a past chair of the Board of Directors of both National Campus Compact and the Corporation for National and Community Service. Mark also sits on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Standing Committee for Public Service.
Born in Gardner, Massachusetts, Mark attended Gardner High School. He earned an A.B. in government cum laude at Harvard University in 1978 and a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 1991. He is the recipient of 13 honorary degrees. Mark is married to Mary Herlihy Gearan and they have two daughters, Madeleine, Harvard ‘15 and Kathleen, HWS ’21.
Follow Mark on Twitter at @MarkDGearan