On June 5, President Obama announced that two dynamic women, Samantha Power and Susan Rice, will be moving up the ranks of the government’s foreign policy establishment. Ambassador Susan Rice, who has led the United States mission at the United Nations for the past four and a half years, has been appointed to the White House to head the National Security Staff. Power, who has previously worked at the NSS on multilateral affairs and human rights, will be moving to New York to take on Rice’s post as ambassador at the United Nations.
These new appointments amplify the Obama administration’s longstanding commitment to foreign policy decisions that prioritize human rights and atrocity prevention. Rice and Power are outspoken supporters of a pragmatic humanitarian approach to international affairs animated by a special commitment to act against atrocity. The decision to elevate both women is a strong signal that in spite of competing strategic, political, and economic imperatives, the White House remains committed to listening to its moral compass. In sending a strong multilateralist back to Turtle Bay, the President also reaffirms America’s belief in the international system, which was undermined during John Bolton's controversial tenure.
John Prendergast, Co-founder of the Enough Project, states:
“Two extremely committed public servants will be assuming two of the most important positions with an ability to affect human rights and peace around the world. President Obama could not have chosen two more effective advocates for human rights and human dignity. Susan Rice and Samantha Power will have a tremendous impact on America's ability to effect positive change in the places where people are hurting the most.”
In her new role as the president's national security adviser, Susan Rice will hold one of the most influential positions in Washington D.C. A Rhodes Scholar and career civil servant, Rice will craft U.S. foreign policy and guide the administration as it struggles to deploy appropriate responses to crises in Syria, Mali, Sudan, Congo, and Burma. While her proposed appointment as Secretary of State stirred a firestorm in Washington last year, the position of national security adviser will not be subject to a grueling Senate confirmation.
Power, a liberal academic, is best known as the author of A Problem from Hell, a powerful study of American inaction in the face of genocide. Power’s book is a call to action and a challenge of historic indifference. She articulately objects to the indifference of the traditional American foreign policy establishment, which “brand as 'emotional' those U.S. officials who urge intervention and make moral arguments in a system that speaks principally in the cold language of interests." While in government, Power put this plan into action by establishing administration’s cutting edge Atrocity Prevention Board initiative, which seeks to increase inter-agency coordination and responsiveness to atrocity around the world.
Rice, who was working in the White House while the genocide in Rwanda unfolded, is quoted in Power's book as promising 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." When confronted with impending crimes against humanity in Libya, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the U.N.-proposed no-fly zone would not stop the atrocities. Rice and Power were convinced that more could and should be done. Together, Rice and Power are credited with convincing then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to change her position on intervention in Libya. In March 2011, Rice dramatically secured multilateral consent at the U.N. for Resolution 1973, which allowed broader intervention—including the ability to attack armor and ground troops.
We are profoundly encouraged by President Obama’s recent staffing decisions. We hope that Rice and Power's promotion is the beginning of a second-term commitment to raising the profile of human rights and atrocity prevention in our foreign policy.
Photo: President Barack Obama stands with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Samantha Power at the White House (AP).