Last week, President Obama named U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as his national security advisor, only months after Rice pulled her bid for secretary of state after her role, albeit a minor one, in the Obama administration's Benghazi talking-points misstep gave congressional Republicans the ammunition needed to block her confirmation.
By appointing Rice as his National Security Advisory, President Obama has made his latest move in his game of chess with congressional Republicans and simultaneously has added another woman to the growing list of intelligent, tough, and politically savvy women taking on leadership roles in the male-dominated field of defense.
The history of women working in the field of defense has been long and complicated. Despite the instrumental role women played in the war effort during World War II (including in the construction and testing of artillery, planes, and tanks), the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948, and the key defense and intelligence roles played by women during the last century, the fields of national security and defense have largely been occupied by men.
More recently, however, we have seen significant strides made in regards to women holding key defense-related positions and advocating for defense-related issues. With the ban lifted on women taking combat roles in the military, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) effort to bring the issues of rape and sexual abuse in the military to the forefront of discussions regarding national defense, Janet Napolitano currently serving as the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and two consecutive terms of a woman holding the position of secretary of state (Former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice and Former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton), the field of defense is ripe for women's involvement.
Rice's resume not only speaks for itself, but also provides an example of how women can become involved with and succeed in the field of defense. Rice earned degrees from New College at Oxford and Stanford University before serving the Clinton administration in numerous capacities at the National Security Council from 1993-1997. She served as the managing director and principal at Intellibridge from 2001-2002, joined the Brookings Institution as a senior fellow in the foreign policy program in 2002, and served as foreign policy advisor to both the Kerry and Obama campaigns before she was nominated by President Obama to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in 2008.
While women in politics are often pressured to focused on children, education, families, and healthcare to soften their image, Rice — like Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice — has taken on national security, defense, and foreign policy as her issues of choice despite thinly veiled sexist attacks on her character. (Yes, I’m calling you out, David Rothkopf —I doubt you'd ever tell a man in her position to "dial back the bravado and contentiousness" when working on issues of national security).
While Rice may not be the sole reason more women are taking an interest in defense related work, she is one of the trailblazers leading the way. She is tough, savvy, can admit when she is wrong or has made a mistake (but does not dwell on her mistakes), is loyal, and, above all, has her hand on the pulse of foreign policy, which directly affects national security and defense. Her career path serves as an example for women (and especially for young women of color) who are interested in careers in foreign policy, national security, and defense.
Many women — and men — were understandably frustrated when Rice pulled out of the bid for secretary of state and President Obama replaced a middle-aged woman of color with an older white man. However, as President Obama's national security advisor, Rice will have daily, direct contact with the president and play arguably the most important role in shaping the president's policies on national security, which are in desperate need of revision.