At UN, Rice has led U.S. policy on Syria, N. Korea
UNITED NATIONS — Susan Rice, tapped by President Barack Obama to become the next National Security adviser, has been at the center of the international feuding over Syria’s disastrous civil war as the outspoken U.S. ambassador at the United Nations.
She is expected to bring her blunt negotiating style to her new, higher-profile post at a time when Russia and the United States are struggling find a political way out of Syria’s conflict — one of the most intractable foreign policy challenges facing the Obama administration.
Rice, 48, also brings controversy to the position: She dropped out of the running to become secretary of state after Republicans heaped blame on her for the Obama administration’s bungled account of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attack that killed four Americans at the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya.
The furor over Benghazi overshadowed Rice’s top accomplishments as U.N. ambassador: Her successful push in 2011 for Security Council approval of international intervention in Libya’s internal conflict and tougher sanctions against Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.
It’s unclear whether Rice’s appointment to the post signals a significant shift in Obama’s foreign policy, particularly in Syria. Although Rice backed greater U.S. involvement in Libya, administration officials have made clear they don’t draw direct comparisons between the situation in Syria and the push to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Obama planned to announce today that Rice will replace Tom Donilon as his national security adviser in July, a job that does not require Senate confirmation, according to a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement.
Rice had been the front-runner for secretary of state but dropped out of contention when it became clear she would not gain Senate confirmation to that post, which went to John Kerry.
Rice aggressively spearheaded Obama’s foreign policy during her 4 1/2 years as his top U.N. diplomat, promoting democracy in the Middle East and toughening sanctions against Iran and North Korea.
She gained a reputation for being blunt, sidestepping the niceties and courtesies that are a hallmark of diplomatic discourse when she deems necessary to make a point. She has sparred repeatedly with Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who can be equally blunt. In private, Rice is known for her good sense of humor, which she displayed a few years ago at the U.N. Correspondents Association’s annual awards gala.
A graduate of Stanford University, Rice was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and served in the Clinton administration in various capacities from 1993-97, rising to assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
Like many other foreign policy experts of her generation, Rice was shaped by the United States’ failure to prevent the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Years later, she told a journalist, “I swore to myself 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.”
Rice took a leave of absence from the Brookings Institution to become a senior foreign policy adviser to then Senator Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. After his historic victory, Obama chose her for the U.N. ambassadorial post, where she has served since January 2009.
As a member of Obama’s Cabinet as well as U.S. ambassador, Rice has spent more than four years shuttling between New York and Washington, where her husband and two children live.
She is well-liked by many U.N. diplomats who were rooting for her to get the secretary of state job, but some have grumbled that Rice’s commuting life often kept her from the halls of the United Nations and the nightly round of receptions and dinners where most diplomacy is conducted.