Replacing Rice as ambassador to the UN will be Samantha Power, an anti-genocide activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
On Wednesday, President Obama introduced former Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice as the replacement to Tom Donilon as National Security Advisor. In doing so, the president may have rubbed salt into congressional Republicans’ Benghazi wounds and also may have slammed shut any remote chance of a bipartisan truce.
Replacing Rice at the UN will be Samantha Power, an anti-genocide activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.”
The nomination of these two women not only help to mitigate criticism that the president’s administration team in his second term was overwhelmingly ‘old White men,’ but also suggest a shift in foreign policy for the White House. After the appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and John Kerry as secretary of state, the White House developed a “wait-and-see” attitude with the Middle East — rejecting calls to intervene militarily in Syria and Iran.
The introduction of these two pro-human rights, pro-military intervention hawks into the foreign policy team offers ballast to Kerry and Hagel and may suggest a White House more willing to use force to stop the war in Syria.
A wall of opposition
The appointment of Rice has generated a storm of controversy in Republican circles. Rice’s clumsy talking points on the Sunday talk shows following the American consulate attack in Benghazi, Libya — which were later proven to be incorrect — made her the whipping boy for the administration. Coupled with her abrasive, unaccommodating demeanor, Rice became a favorite target among conservatives. Originally slated to be the replacement for Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Rice was forced to withdraw in December due to heavy opposition from the Republicans.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Wednesday, Tina Brown, editor at the Daily Beast, argued that Rice’s appointment is her reward for “taking one for the team”:
“I think [the president] felt he owed her this even more, that he wanted to do this and she was trashed on his behalf,” Brown argued. “She behaved eloquently over that and didn’t whine about it and did it with fortitude — and now she gets her reward.”
“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough said, “This is the president saying, ‘I’m in my second term and I’m going to do whatever I want to do.’”
Scarborough also felt, however, that this appointment would be met with the fury of the Republicans. The national security advisor position is not considered an executive-level position in the Cabinet and therefore does not need confirmation from the Senate. However, most Washington insiders consider the position of national security advisor more influential than that of secretary of state — especially without a charismatic secretary (such as Hillary Clinton) in power. This may lead to backlash from the conservative caucus, which could hamper upcoming immigration and debt negotiations.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a leading House investigator into the Benghazi attack, feels that Rice is a terrible choice to lead the president’s national security staff. “It’s curious the president selected her for a position that does not require Senate confirmation, there is no way she could get through that process,” he told the Daily Beast. “I am sure she is a nice person but she lacks judgment. She claims to have read the daily intelligence brief and anyone who was following what was happening in Libya would have known terrorism was likely a factor in the incident in Benghazi.”
However, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — who led the Senate’s attack against the White House on Benghazi, and was the most vocal against Rice’s appointment to be secretary of state — was less hostile to the appointment. “Obviously I disagree w/ POTUS appointment of Susan Rice as Nat’l Security Adviser [sic], but I’ll make every effort to work w/ her on imp’t issues,” McCain tweeted Wednesday morning.
A controversial career
Rice, 48, has had a chaotic career in Washington. Appointed as a staffer for the National Security Council and later as assistant secretary of state for African affairs during the Clinton administration, she was marked as a traitor in the Democratic Party in 2008 for supporting Barack Obama over the Clintons — who were (and still are) considered power-brokers on the political left. “There were some people who were former colleagues of hers who told her she would never get lunch in this town again for supporting Obama in 2007,” a Democratic party foreign policy specialist told The Daily Beast. “It was seen as blasphemous inside Clinton land.”
Even though animosity still exists among Clinton supporters, Hillary Clinton was able to call on Ambassador Rice and Samantha Power for pushing the Obama administration toward military intervention in Libya in 2011. Shaped by the inaction from the Clinton administration during the genocide in Rwanda, experts feel that Rice will bring a realist sensibility to the Oval Office.
“She is realistic, she will not advocate for intervention in Syria for the sake of intervention in Syria,” Thomas Vietor, a former spokesman for the National Security Council, told the Daily Beast. “She understands all the pitfalls, she understands our experience in Iraq, that these things are often a lot more complicated.”
“She is also a person who was in government during [the Rwandan genocide] and was seared by that experience, Vietor continued. “From her work at the United Nations, she understands that the United States as a diplomatic and military power is often the last best hope.”
Outgoing National Security Advisor Donilon was cited in a Foreign Policy report as having tensions with Denis McDonough, the Obama administration’s chief of staff and Donilon’s one-time deputy. It has been reported that Donilon had difficulties working for someone who once worked for him.
The road ahead for Power
While the appointment of Rice does not require cooperation from the Republicans, the appointment of Power as ambassador to the UN does, and it is likely that the Republicans indeed will vent their frustrations at Power, especially in light of President Obama virtually daring the Senate Republicans to filibuster his appointments to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit earlier this week. Power, 42, was the Irish-born senior director for multicultural affairs and human rights, and special assistant to President Obama until she was asked to chair the Atrocity Prevention Board in March. A professor of human rights practice at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, she won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, the 2003 National Book Critics Circle award for general nonfiction and the Council of Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Prize for best book on U.S. foreign policy.
Power is well-known and well-liked on both sides of the aisle, despite a suspicion among some that she is not a friend of Israel. Her call for public awareness of the genocide in Darfur and her statements on non-military intervention to the mass atrocities in the Balkans – “If you think of foreign policy as a toolbox, there are a whole range of options: You can convene allies, impose economic sanctions, expel ambassadors, jam hate radio. There is always something you can do” – gave her credibility in the Beltway as a determined advocate of human rights.
Power, who reportedly is more amiable than Rice but just as fiery, is felt to be in the mold of other activist ambassadors to the UN, such as former Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. However, her path to confirmation will be long and arduous, and will test her mettle and endurance.