WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama will appoint Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice as national security adviser, he announced from the White House on Wednesday.
The move bucks Republicans in Congress who have spent months chiding her for her role in the handling of the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi last September.
Rice will be replaced at the UN by Samantha Power, known as the leading proponent in the White House of humanitarian intervention.
Reservations over Power surfaced quickly after a video from 2002 of her speaking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began circulating within an hour of the announcement. In the video, the former Harvard Kennedy School professor says that a “mammoth protection force” would be needed in any final-status agreement between the two parties. Power does not specify who the protection would be required for.
She refers to “major human rights abuses that we’re seeing there,” referring to the conflict.
“Putting something on the line might mean alienating a domestic constituency of tremendous political and financial import,” Power says with an apparent chuckle. Questioned about the interview in 2008, Power disavowed her comments as uncharacteristic of her true views.
“What she said is quite vague, but certainly the insinuations and the underpinnings of what she says are deeply offensive,” says Danielle Pletka, a former senior staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee now with the American Enterprise Institute.
The Anti-Defamation League quickly came out with a letter in support of Power, calling her a champion of human rights with a purist agenda in support of liberal democratic ideals in a tumultuous Middle East.
“Samantha engaged in an all-hands-on-deck US campaign against Palestinian unilateral efforts in the UN to circumvent peace negotiations,” the ADL statement read. “She experienced first-hand the hostility faced by Israel and the abuse of the UN bodies to promote anti- Israel bias.”
Power will require an affirmative vote in the US Senate to secure the position.
The choice of Power comes as no surprise to those familiar with the Obama administration, who know her to be a close confidant of the president ever since the mid-2000s. She has written extensively on how force is justified to protect human dignity.
Both women advised the president to more aggressively involve the US in Libya, when Gaddafi forces were coalescing near Benghazi, the rebel stronghold throughout the conflict, in 2010. Obama and Western allies chose to impose a no-fly zone.
“Rice has been a cabinet-level participant within those policy debates throughout all four years,” says Tamara Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, who has worked extensively with Rice in the past. “She’s very close to the president.
And for a national security adviser, that’s an absolutely critical qualification.”
Wittes adds that Rice’s commitment to the protection of Israel, like Obama’s, has been self-evident.
“Getting the Iran sanctions package through the Security Council in New York was huge, and a real testament to her,” Wittes says.
In the Rose Garden, Obama called Rice the “consummate public servant” who, at the UN, “defended Israel” while orchestrating “tough sanctions on Iran” and raising “her voice for human rights.”
The choice of her to head the National Security Council has been widely lauded by Israel advocacy groups, who note a reliable commitment to the defense of Israel throughout Rice’s career.
“Susan Rice is a known quantity at this point, with an A-plus record,” says Robert Wexler, president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
On Power, Wexler says that he can imagine “no one better to distinguish Israel’s stellar human rights record” than an advocate such as her.
“No nation has a perfect human rights record, including the United States,” Wexler says. “Israel’s record is, no doubt, imperfect. But compared with a moral compass to other nations in the region, Ms. Power would be in a superb position to compare the record of Israel to the records of many of her neighbors.”