This morning, the Washington Post opinion page leads with a wistful editorial, asking “Could Rice’s appointment signal a more activist US foreign policy?” Certainly, we could use one. Look around the world: the Middle East is in flames, Egypt is in dire economic and political trouble, Yemen is experiencing crippling military unrest, and al Qaeda is making a major comeback across the region and into Africa. Europe is a slow-mo economic crisis, Russia is suffering from Putin’s Soviet recidivism, and in Asia, China is encroaching on its neighbors. Those who care about national security know I’ve barely touched on the crises that are being mismanaged, ignored, or exacerbated around the world under Barack Obama. So a little engagement, a little passion, a little principle, a little sharp-elbowed behavior from both NatSecAdviser-designate Susan Rice and her likely successor at the United Nations, Samantha Power, would be more than welcome. But it’s not likely.
It’s true that Susan Rice brings a different style than incumbent NSA Tom Donilon to the White House. But we haven’t seen much of what admirers and discreet detractors call her combative persona at the UN. Possibly her staff doesn’t like her, maybe even her fellow ambassadors will be glad to see her go. But on matters of policy, she’s been Obama’s handmaiden. Not that she shouldn’t be; he’s the boss. But those who nurture hopes like the WaPo editorial board are sure to be disappointed. Word was that it was Rice, Power, and former SecState Hillary Clinton who urged Obama into supporting NATO’s Libya operations. But after Benghazi, can you imagine any of them are going to tread that ground again?
In addition, there’s something about the character of this president and his administration that is different from others. Where some presidencies have been the sum of their parts — a leader who relies upon a seasoned group of like-minded (or even rivalrous) counsels — this has most assuredly not been one. Rather, it has been an administration, even more clearly in this second term, that is about the president as Pasha and his few viziers. Thus is it that Ben Rhodes and Valerie Jarrett are the architects of national security policy, of the “end” to the war on terror, and more largely of the retreat from American international leadership. Those who disagree with this vision have seen themselves out of the president’s orbit, out of his favor, and irrelevant. Don’t ask me, ask any internationalist Democrat. At the end of the day, he is a different leader from those who preceded him, and who believed more in country than in self. Barack Obama is a man who believes the presidency can help him do great things for America. And Rice and Power — as I’m sure they’ve already been told — will get with that program or get out.