12 March 2013, 10:40

Susan Rice: a crony Barack Obama would never let down

Susan Rice: a crony Barack Obama would never let down

As reported by The Washington Post, Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has emerged as the front-runner to succeed Thomas E. Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser. The job would place her at the nexus of foreign-policy decision making and allow her to rival the influence of Secretary of State John F. Kerry in shaping the president’s foreign policy. Her appointment may probably take place sometime after the United States assumes the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council in July this year.

Susan Rice is regarded as one of President Barack Obama's closest associates, and after the former Secretary of State Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her decision to step down from the secretarial position, it was Ms. Rice who was generally perceived as her heir apparent. But then came the September 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, and a series of Ms. Rice's clumsy explanations of the situation. This, writes The Post, ignited a firestorm of criticism from Senate Republicans, who questioned her honesty and vowed to oppose her nomination. And even more liberal detractors questioned whether her temperament, her family's investments and her relations with African strongmen made her unfit to lead the State Department.

All this forced Susan Rice to withdraw her name from consideration for Secretary of State and successfully blocked any nomination for her that would require senatorial approval. But this has not put an end to her ambitions.

Being the U.S. representative to the U.N., Ms. Rice, using her own words, has won a reputation of a "brusque, aggressive and abrasive" person. Even compared to ambassadors of the times of Republican presidencies, she may well be singled out as one of the most hawkish U.S. ambassadors to the U.N.

Also, in dealing with certain issues, Ms. Rice has very evidently demonstrated the basic principle of the U.S. foreign policy – that of double standards. While pressing for sanctions against regimes regarded as "rogue" by Washington (namely, Iran and North Korea) she, as has been disclosed by leaked documents, staunchly opposed any sanctions against Rwandan President Paul Kagame, whose government is accused of backing a brutal insurgency in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Ms. Rice is well aware of the reputation. "Of course people don't say that to my face," she joked at a U.N. Correspondents Association ball, "because they know I’d kick their butts."

Indeed, Barack Obama, himself not a great foreign policy pundit, would tend to appreciate Ms. Rice's skills. This, apart from the close friendship and the notorious "team spirit", was enough for Barack Obama to keep on looking for ways to promote her.

One of the advantages of the position of the President's national security adviser is that the nomination does not require the senators' approval. And therefore, having experienced a lot of unpleasant moments during hearings concerning other nominees for top cabinet positions, President Obama found the exact way to reward Ms. Rice for her services. If The Post's report that the choice has already been made is correct, this will mean that President Obama will succeed in creating a system of balances and counterbalances in his foreign policy team. While the Secretary of State John Kerry is regarded as pragmatic and sometimes maybe even too soft to the tastes of too many in the Washington establishment, the President will always have at hand a much more outspoken and aggressive option.

And in that case, Ms. Rice'sskill to "kick butts" will come in more than handy.

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

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