Rice is best known for her deep personal commitment to human rights – a value that she shares with the president and one of the main reasons she has become such a trusted adviser to him. She has fought to keep notorious human rights abusers such as Iran, Syria, and Qaddafi’s Libya off UN bodies on human rights and gender issues, pushed for tougher Security Council action against Assad’s murderous regime in Syria (despite Russian and Chinese obstructionism), prevented the trouncing of democracy in Cote D’Ivoire, and helped midwife the peaceful creation of the UN’s newest member state, South Sudan. She well knows that we live in, as she puts it, “an interwoven world.” Her steadfast advocacy for democratization, development in the world’s poorest nations, individual freedoms, and women’s rights bode well for her ability to integrate these issues within the White House’s international agenda.
At the UN, she paid particular attention to transnational issues, understanding that some of the most pressing current and future threats are not confined to traditional borders and state-to-state relations. Her fight for increased aid and smarter development underline her belief that poverty can be just as large a threat to U.S. national security as more conventional foes.
Her concern for human rights does not come at the expense of hard-hitting policies against our foreign enemies. She is clear-eyed about the very real security threats America faces. The diplomatic relationships and trust she has built at the UN paved the way for the toughest sanctions ever on Iran, helping to further isolate the Ayatollahs’ regime “in the face of Iran’s deception and intransigence,” as she rightly described it. She led similar efforts to enact the toughest sanctions ever on North Korea. And when the history books address her role in the Libya intervention, they will not focus on those CIA-drafted talking points, but rather on how her principled advocacy for the use of U.S. force helped save thousands of civilian lives and advance American interests.
At the UN, Rice has been one of the administration’s most tireless defenders of Israel, one of America’s closest allies and most valuable security partners. She has relentlessly supported Israel in the UN Human Rights Council, battled the anti-Israel Goldstone Report, boycotted follow-ups to the Israel-bashing Durban conference, and helped ease Israel-Turkey tensions in the wake of the flotilla incident. Most prominently, Rice led the charge against the wrong-headed Palestinian drive to unilaterally declare statehood at the UN, personally lobbying members of the Security Council against a resolution there and successfully preventing a vote. When the Palestinian Authority turned instead to the UN General Assembly, Rice voiced a loud and eloquent “no” vote to what she called an “unfortunate and counterproductive resolution [that] places further obstacles in the path to peace.”
President Obama will be fortunate to be advised by one of America’s most tenacious diplomats and seasoned foreign policy thinkers. Rice’s insider knowledge of how to manage the National Security Council and marshal support within the White House and across the various departments and agencies will allow her to hit the ground running. The trust and respect she has earned from leaders, diplomats, and activists throughout the world make her an ideal intermediary for and executor of the president’s agenda. With Rice at his side, the president will be exceedingly well-supported as he tackles urgent challenges awaiting his attention across the globe.
Wexler, a former Democratic member of Congress from Florida, is president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.