Report: Susan Rice for UN ambassador

ABC reports that Susan Rice, a foreign policy advisor to Barack Obama, is likely his choice to be ambassador to the United Nations.

Published November 24, 2008 11:35PM (EST)

ABC News reports that Barack Obama is likely to nominate Susan Rice to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Rice, 44, earned a Ph.D in international relations from Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, then went on to serve on Bill Clinton’s national security council and as assistant secretary of state for Africa. At 33, she was the youngest assistant secretary of state in history. Since the end of the Clinton administration, she’s held down a desk at the Brookings Institution, and served as a foreign policy advisor to Howard Dean and Obama during their presidential runs. (Also, Rice’s husband, Ian Cameron, is an executive producer for ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos. Certainly could be a reason the network broke the story, especially as Stephanopoulos shares a byline on it.)

Rice was relatively unusual among former members of the Clinton foreign policy world for her opposition to the war in Iraq, which she says is what drew her to Obama. The president-elect, she told the New York Sun in January, had made “the same unpopular choice I had made,” despite a “huge amount of pressure in Washington to go along with or support the war.”

The issue that Rice is most strongly associated with, however, is stopping genocide in Africa. Writing in the Washington Independent earlier this month, Spencer Ackerman noted that her current passion for the issue may be born of an earlier mistake. Writes Ackerman,

On the NSC, Rice earned a reputation for pragmatism, which she carried over to the State Dept. as assistant secretary for African affairs, a post she held from 1997 to 2001. But her record was not without its blemishes.

According to human-rights expert Samantha Power’s study of the U.S. reaction to genocide, “A Problem From Hell,” Rice didn’t distinguish herself in the Clinton administration’s lax response to the Rwandan genocide of 1994. As an Africa expert on the NSC, she shocked an interagency conference call by interjecting domestic politics into the discussion of the administration’s policy options.

“If we use the word ‘genocide,’” Rice allegedly asked her colleagues, “and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Rice later told Power — who herself became a trusted foreign-policy adviser to Obama before leaving the campaign during the Democratic primaries — that while she didn’t remember saying that, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate.”

Later, Rice told Power, “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”

According to the profile in the Sun, Rice has backed off her support for aggressive action in Darfur somewhat since becoming a top Obama advisor. She maintains a reputation as a thinker not beholden to traditional foreign policy notions, however. Former Sen. Tim Wirth told Ackerman, “She was one of the few people to live in the foreign-policy world who understood global issues, transnational issues like human rights, climate change and terrorism.”

Rice, an African-American woman in a field dominated by white men, with an impeccable academic pedigree in international relations, a connection to Stanford University, and a shared last name, inevitably draws comparisons to the outgoing secretary of state. (Hence her nickname among Democrats, "our Rice.") That's about where the similarities end, though -- indeed, for those who’ve been saying that Obama needs to balance his more establishment appointments with a bold progressive, Rice is a pretty good get.

By Gabriel Winant

Gabriel Winant is a graduate student in American history at Yale.

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