Rice, the interventionist
Rice's reputation as a proponent of humanitarian intervention stems from a 2006 op-ed she wrote with former U.S. national security advisor, Anthony Lake, and the late Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), which called for air strikes against Sudanese airfields, aircraft, and other military assets, to compel Sudan to allow international peacekeepers into Darfur.
In Libya, Rice emerged as a principal proponent of the NATO-led air-campaign that toppled Muammar al-Qaddafi's government. But don't bet on Rice pressing for a U.S. invasion of Syria if she is appointed secretary of state. She has proven less activist in government than she was in her days as the opposition. So far, Rice has shown little inclination to confront Sudan with military threats for its human rights abuses in the more recent killing fields of Abyei, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile.
As U.N. ambassador she has argued against U.S. military involvement in Syria, which possesses a far more powerful military, including the region's most sophisticated anti-aircraft systems and chemical weapons. "If anybody thought that I was going to be a bomb thrower or a wild-eyed advocate of military intervention, they don't know me," Rice told me in September. "There is no one-size-fits-all."
Travels with Susan
For those in the State Department press corps, pack your bags and your hiking boots -- because Rice likes to travel, and she tends to cram a lot of side trips on her voyages. In an October 2010 trip to Sudan, Rice led the council and the press corps on visits to hospitals, a police training station, and even a fistula treatment center. Following that visit, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, reportedly complained that Rice "drags us on all these ridiculous adventures, including this "gynecological clinic that has nothing to do with the United Nations," according to a fellow traveler.
But don't expect to be invited to the fun stuff. When Rice and her colleague met up with movie star and Darfur activist George Clooney, the press corps were not invited.
"We reporters never saw him," Louis Charbonneau, Reuters U.N. bureau chief wrote in a blog post. "The journalists covering the Security Council's African trip were barred from the party that Clooney, council diplomats and U.N. officials attended. According to several of those present, Clooney and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, had a long huddle to discuss the problems of Sudan, including the referendum and the 7-year-old conflict in Sudan's remote western Darfur region. Of course Sudan was not the only interesting thing about the evening -- one U.N. official boasted of having seven pictures of her and Clooney on her digital camera."
Curses like a sailor
Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA), Rice's key rival for America's top diplomatic post, looks and bears himself like a mid-20th century movie star version of a U.S. secretary of state: he's tall, patrician, courtly, and white. Rice is none of those things, but she stands a chance of further changing the nation's view of what an American secretary of state looks and sounds like in the 21st century.
Rice, who had privileged upbringing in Washington, appears comfortable in the role of a superpower envoy, forcing her will on Americans less powerful friends and enemies. But she can also do gracious and charming, heading out first to the dance floor at a U.N. press ball.
Her default in the Security Council, though, is sharp-elbowed. Rice's colleagues have described here variously as the "bulldozer" and the "headmistress," a dominating personality who can exhibit great forcefulness in making her case while frequently rubbing people the wrong way with her impatience for diplomatic niceties. One Security Council ambassador, who said he was taken aback by Rice's full-throated brawls in the Security Council with Russia's U.N. envoy Churkin, said "her favorite word is bullshit."
Rice has hardly blushed at her portrayal. In a video-skit at the 2010 U.N. Correspondents Association ball, Rice blurted the F-word (bleeped out by the censors) four times as she sought to rally the membership to drive a horde of bed bugs out of U.N. headquarters. As I wrote at the time, "Rice cursed with such conviction that it made you wonder what she sounds like behind closed doors."
The Republicans have portrayed Rice as insufficiently supportive of Israel at the United Nations. This charge falls a bit flat when you consider the lengths to which Rice has gone to shield Israel from prosecution for war crimes for its conduct in the 2008-2009 war against Hamas. A Wikileaks cable details how Rice brow-beat the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon into rejecting a proposal by his own envoy, Ian Martin, to open a wide-ranging investigation into crimes against humanity by both sides in the conflict.
Her action in defense of Israel has subjected her to intensive criticism from human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, who maintain that she has placed America's relationship with Israel over its commitment to hold nations accountable for possible crimes. It's too early to say how Rice will respond to the current crisis in Gaza, but she has done little in the Security Council so far to pressure Israel to back down from its military operations in the Gaza Strip in response to constant flurry of rocket attacks on Israeli soil. In a closed door Security Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 19, Rice told her counterparts that the United States was not prepared to engage for now in negotiations on a statement, introduced by Morocco on behalf of the Arab League, that called for an immediate halt to "all military activities" in Gaza, according to council diplomats. Rice said that the United States was concerned that the council's action could undercut regional mediation efforts aimed at securing a ceasefire.