‘‘Hillary Clinton understood the politics of diplomacy: what the person across the table needs in order to sell something,’’ said Inderfurth, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. ‘‘Susan Rice’s background is different. What she'll bring is her experience in multilateral engagement and the limitations thereof.’’
‘‘But the most important thing she brings to the table is her relationship with the president,’’ Inderfurth said.
Rice, like many other foreign policy experts of her generation, was shaped by the Clinton administration’s inability to prevent the genocide of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda 1994. Years later, she told a journalist: ‘‘I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.’’
That doesn’t mean the U.S. will change its policy of only providing humanitarian support to Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow the regime anytime soon. But Rice’s confirmation as the next secretary of state could alter the balance in an administration that has viewed humanitarian interventions with significant skepticism, given its rejection of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
An early supporter of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Rice fell out with some of her Clinton administration-era NSC and State Department colleagues who urged her to support Hillary Clinton’s competing candidacy, including her own mentor, Madeleine Albright, and some of her top aides.
With the Clinton-Obama primary battle in full gear in April 2008, tension between the two camps was on public display at a ceremony and reception to unveil Albright’s official portrait in the State Department’s ornate 8th floor Benjamin Franklin room, according to several people present. At those events, Rice firmly brushed aside appeals that she switch allegiance, those present said.
Obama’s 2008 election brought with it the prospect that Rice, one of his campaign’s top foreign policy advisers, might be in line for the Cabinet job she is known to covet. Instead, however, Obama went with the surprise choice of Clinton and gave Rice the U.N. portfolio, although he attempted to deflect her disappointment by restoring the job to a Cabinet-level position.
But her sights remained set on the top job, according to people who know her.
Since arriving in New York, Rice can point to a series of diplomatic achievements — most notably the NATO-led air campaign that toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and tougher sanctions against Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs.
But Rice has also been criticized — along with other Security Council leaders — for the failure of the U.N.’s most powerful body to take action to end the 19-month civil war in Syria.
She has also been criticized, especially by human rights groups, for being too protective of U.S. allies, namely Sri Lanka where the U.N. says up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians may have been killed in the final months of the country’s civil war that ended in May 2009, and Rwanda, which has been accused of backing the M23 rebel group that last week took control of the eastern Congo city of Goma.
As U.N. ambassador, she has gained a reputation for a sharp intellect and sharp elbows. She is not known for diplomatic finesse, rather for being aggressive — sometimes too aggressive — and using salty language on occasion. In private, she has a good sense of humor.
In a legendary exchange last December, Rice dismissed an appeal by Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who also isn’t afraid to speak out, for a Security Council investigation of civilian deaths in Libya from NATO’s bombing campaign as ‘‘a cheap stunt’’ to distract attention from the Syrian conflict.
‘‘Oh, the bombast and bogus claims,’’ she told reporters.
Churkin responded by mocking Rice’s Stanford University degree, saying: ‘‘We hear that the Obama administration wants to establish a dialogue with the international community in the United Nations... If this is the intention, really this Stanford dictionary of expletives must be replaced by something more Victorian.’’
Associated Press Writers Donna Cassata in Washington and Edith Lederer in New York contributed to this report.