Susan Rice and Samantha Power: Is Obama Gearing Up For More Interventions?


News emerged on Wednesday from Washington, D.C. that Susan Rice will replace Tom Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser. Rice has served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations since 2009 and recently withdrew her own nomination for Secretary of State amid fierce accusations from Senate Republicans that she played a central role in spreading false talking points about last September’s attacks on an American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Administration officials have also indicated that the president will nominate Samantha Power, the current senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights on the National Security Council, to fill Rice’s shoes at the United Nations.

While Rice’s promotion does not require Senate approval, Power’s does and will likely elicit firm opposition from Senate Republicans, considering both Power’s support for intervention in Libya’s civil war and her rather radical liberal foreign policy outlook, which advocates for aggressive U.S. intervention in order to curb humanitarian crises. While largely misguided, however, a successful conservative block of Power's nomination could prompt a wise movement away from U.S. interventionism in the coming years as America enters an era of international retrenchment due to continuing war-weariness and a rapidly increasing national debt.

Conservative opposition to Power’s nomination is misguided because her liberal, interventionist foreign policy outlook will naturally prompt her to look towards the United Nations as a central player in mediating international crises that might otherwise require costly unilateral or limited multi-lateral U.S. intervention. Accordingly, as conservatives hope to reduce government spending, strengthening the UN prerogative to intervene in situations like Libya could present a first step in helping the U.S. further disperse both the financial burden and long-term accountability of international interventions. Furthermore, even beyond this potential alignment of conservative and liberal foreign policy interests, Powers has a long-tested record of expertise in working to prevent genocide, embark on humanitarian relief, and strengthen international organizations, all of which make her a more than adequate candidate to serve as the U.S.’s ambassador to UN, an organization that is dedicated to international cooperation and multilateral policy concerns.

The danger of Power’s nomination, however, emerges when her movement into the UN is juxtaposed with Rice’s promotion to national security adviser. Like Power, Rice witnessed the tragic genocide in Rwanda that was allowed to occur through the inaction of the Clinton administration, which Rice was a part of, and has since expressed that she would support “dramatic action” for intervention that would prevent such a tragedy from ever re-occurring in the future. Combined with Power’s potentially aggressive advocacy for humanitarian and UN-centered intervention, Rice’s similar dedication to this type of intervention would undoubtedly strengthen the number of voices around the president encouraging involvement in complex international issues that the United States may not have the money or manpower to mitigate effectively.

Especially considering that Rice will serve as the primary conduit through which the president is educated on virtually all national-security threats, her potential bias towards intervention along with Power’s aggressive United Nations diplomacy could combine to make humanitarian interventions more politically tenable, and therefore more frequent. With this danger in mind, if conservatives choose to block Power’s nomination, they may unintentionally succeed in saving the United States from UN-facilitated international overreach during an era of massive debts and enduring war-weariness.