Monday, December 01, 2008

With Rice at the U.N., Obama may take tough line on genocide

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Susan Rice, Obama's pick to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N., may or may not be in line to replace Hillary one day, but, regardless, her nomination and elevation to the Cabinet table signals that the president-elect is serious not just about working with the U.N. but about confronting genocide:

During her first run at the State Department, Ms. Rice was a point person in responding to Al Qaeda's 1998 bombing of United States Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. But her most searing experience was visiting Rwanda after the 1994 genocide when she was still on the N.S.C. staff.

As she later described the scene, the hundreds, if not thousands, of decomposing, hacked up bodies that she saw haunted her and fueled a desire to never let it happen again.

"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," she told The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. She eventually became a sharp critic of the Bush administration’s handling of the Darfur killings and last year testified before Congress on behalf of an American-led bombing campaign or naval blockade to force a recalcitrant Sudanese government to stop the slaughter.

Much of the focus has been, and will be, on the bigger stars on Obama's foreign policy team, notably Hillary and Gates. And, of course, much of the focus has been, and will be, on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, terrorism, and other such high-priority issues and challenges. With Rice at the U.N., though, and having Obama's ear, there is hope, at long last, that the U.S. will move aggressively to respond in meaningful ways to the ongoing genocide and humanitarian crises in Darfur, the Congo, and elsewhere.

As a proponent not just of humanitarian foreign policy but of humanitarian intervention (albeit on a case-by-case basis -- I'm a pragmatist, too), I applaud the move. Over time, Rice could prove to be an effective counterweight to the realist hawks with whom Obama has surrounded himself.

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