In a defiant, but largely expected move, the White House has announced it will appoint United Nations ambassador Susan Rice to replace Tom Donilon as national security adviser. The shift, which includes the nomination of Rice ally Samantha Power to the top post at the U.N., is likely to rile Republicans who squelched Rice’s nomination to the State Department six months ago. We explore the background each woman brings to U.S. foreign policy, and find out how the dynamic shift may affect policy in hot spots like Syria.


  • Josh Rogin Senior Correspondent for Newsweek's Daily Beast


  • 13:06:41

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. later in the broadcast crimes of genocide and human rights and whether the international criminal courts can handle them appropriately or whether some domestic courts are also handling them appropriately.

  • 13:07:12

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, do you agree with President Obama's appointment of Susan Rice and Samantha Power to top foreign policy. You can start calling us now, 800-433-8850. It's a major shakeup and a definite gesture to Capitol Hill. This afternoon in the Rose Garden President Obama will announce that he's appointing Susan Rice to be his new national security advisor.

  • 13:07:33

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIRice replacing Tom Donilon who has guided the president's foreign policy for the past four years. Her ascension to a top White House post comes just months after Republicans forced her out of consideration for Secretary of State.

  • 13:07:47

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut this time she does not need Congressional approval for the job. Her close ally, Samantha Power, does need that approval. President Obama has tapped Power to replace Rice as U.S. Ambassador at the United Nations. Both women are long time Obama insiders but their approach to foreign policy represents a mark and potentially more aggressive shift toward U.S. intervention in the world's hotspots.

  • 13:08:11

    MR. KOJO NNAMDISo how will this shakeup affect U.S. foreign policy and more pressingly, the conflict in Syria? Joining us in studio is Josh Rogin now senior correspondent for "Newsweek's Daily Beast." He was formerly a senior staff writer for "Foreign Policy" magazine and author of "The Cable" blog. Josh, good to see you in your new role.

  • 13:08:31

    MR. JOSH ROGINGreat to see you too, thank you.

  • 13:08:32

    NNAMDIYou too, as I said, can join the conversation. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Do you think Susan Rice is a good fit for the White House? Should her personality matter when it comes to making policy? Josh, we knew that Tom Donilon was on his way and there was plenty of buzz that Susan Rice would replace him. Is Rice's appointment now an in-your-face gesture to Republicans who essentially crushed her nomination to lead the State Department six months ago?

  • 13:09:04

    ROGINYes, well we've seen this pattern of President Obama asserting his presidential prerogative, right. He wants to, in his second term have the staff that he wants to have. We saw this first with the appointment of Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary and now the appointment of Susan Rice as National Security Advisor.

  • 13:09:22

    ROGINLet's remember here that Tom Donilon who's stepping down after quite a long stint in the White House, also made an attempt to have Susan Rice be placed at the World Bank as part of his own bid to become Secretary of State which faced Congressional opposition.

  • 13:09:41

    ROGINThe bottom here is that Republicans in Congress have repeatedly raised Rice's involvement in the Benghazi issue and her reaction to Benghazi and her activity, reading, talking points that she did not craft on September 16, days after the attack as the main reason that they object to her servicing in a senior White House position.

  • 13:10:03

    ROGINSo the White, President Obama's appointment of hers not only an assertion that he should be able to choose his staff and have his people close to him but also a rebuke of the Republicans ongoing, oppressing of the Benghazi scandal.

  • 13:10:15

    NNAMDIHow much of a surprise is it that President Obama's giving Samantha Power the nod to replace Rice at the U.N. After all she's known as a more of a behind the scenes kind of thinker, author, policy maker.

  • 13:10:28

    ROGINSure, Sam Power, again, along with Susan Rice one of Obama's closest confidants dating back to the 2007 - 2008 presidential campaign, served in the White House in a senior position as the senior director for multilateral affairs. She was essentially the White House's top staffer for the issues of human rights, atrocity prevention and democracy promotion around the world.

  • 13:10:50

    ROGINThat's a very behind the scenes position. Before that she was an author, a journalist, a Harvard educated lawyer but she's never really been out front as a policy maker with such a public. We had heard rumors that there were two people up for this job. Sam Power and Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, the nation's top Foreign Service officer and the number two official in the State Department right now.

  • 13:11:14

    ROGINBy making this choice President Obama has signaled that he wants to have an advocate at the UN who has a strong voice on the issues of atrocity prevention, on anti-poverty, on U.S. democracy promotion abroad. Of course it's not clear how effective Sam Power will be in that role but she'll have this chance to bring her long-held view into the public sphere for the first time.

  • 13:11:38

    NNAMDIYou mentioned the 2007 - 2008 campaign, some may remember that after Obama hired Sam Power to join his first campaign, she resigned abruptly in 2008 after making some blistering comments about then candidate Hillary Clinton. Can we expect Sam Power, Samantha Power to have a smooth confirmation through Congress?

  • 13:12:00

    ROGINYes, a couple of things here. So Sam Power did clash with Hillary Clinton, she's also clashed with Susan Rice. In Sam Power's book about the Rwanda Massacre known as "a problem from hell," she criticized Rice's response and the fact that in a reported meeting in the White House, Rice who then worked at the White House in the '90s had debated whether or not to use the term genocide because it would have political implications for President Clinton in the upcoming midterm election and the Democrats.

  • 13:12:30

    ROGINSo Sam Power in her role as a journalist and as an author and as a campaign person has clashed with officials but, you know, that's largely in the past and I don't think you'll see either Democrats or Republicans fight her nomination based on her perceived differences with other Democrats.

  • 13:12:46

    NNAMDIShe won a Pulitzer for that book that you mentioned, "The Problem from Hell" so we can, I guess, expect human rights to be a priority for her at the UN?

  • 13:12:55

    ROGINExactly and let's remember that Susan Rice since Rwanda has had a much more active view about U.S. involvement in human rights and genocide and atrocity prevention abroad. She took that a lesson from the Rwanda experience and she has been a forceful voice for that in the UN.

  • 13:13:13

    ROGINNow, whether or not that's had a real effect on policy or in UN activities is a debatable question. But what we're seeing here is a switch overall from realists such as Tom Donilon and his former deputy, Dennis McDonough, who's now the White House Chief of Staff, dealing with more domestic issues.

  • 13:13:30

    ROGINTwo more of what we call liberal interventionalists or liberal activists. We think that where you sit is where you stand and in this presidency it's really all about the president. So it's not clear that Susan Rice will be able to win the day and convince President Obama to take a more interventional stand in places like Syria, in places like Sudan but that is certainly her view and she certainly has a better platform as well as does Sam Power to argue for those views internally.

  • 13:13:58

    NNAMDI800-433-8850, our guest is Josh Rogin, senior correspondent for "Newsweek Daily Beast." You can also send email to, do you think the Obama administration should be spending more time on human rights issues in its second term? These appointments certainly seem to suggest that it might. You can also send us a tweet @kojoshow. But here is Anton in Leesburg, Va. Anton, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:14:27

    ANTONYes, both Susan Rice and Samantha Power represent the most extreme pro-war element in both London and Washington and it is extremely dangerous that they are to be appointed by President Obama. I think that the Democratic party and...

  • 13:14:52

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to interrupt for a second. On what basis do you see them as being the most extreme pro-war elements to quote you, in the United States and Europe?

  • 13:15:03

    ANTONJust the tradition. Both in England and the United States since Harry Truman, that when this oligarchy get war started, they have to go with some kind of a saint liberal cover. And Susan Rice, for example, goes on the straight 20 layer program of pursuing war at all costs with a humanitarian or human rights cover.

  • 13:15:34

    NNAMDIIn other words, Josh Rogin, Anton is claiming that the Obama administration is feinting with the left while planning to punch with the right. Will it stand, does the historical evidence support that?

  • 13:15:46

    ROGINSure, well there are certainly more pro-war elements in Washington especially amongst certain parts of the Democratic party and many in, there are some in the Republican party that are arguing for armed intervention and air strikes and things that Susan Rice and Sam Power have not argued for.

  • 13:16:03

    ROGINWhat my sources tell me internally is that throughout the Syria crisis Sam Power and Susan Rice were both leaning more heavily toward doing more to protect civilians under the guise of responsibility to protect, this was the rationale that was used to intervene in Libya and they both did support the intervention in Libya, a limited intervention that it was, along with Hillary Clinton.

  • 13:16:26

    ROGINSo within the pool of people that are in Obama's inner circle they are more pro-intervention than others but within Washington they really aren't. and I would also just say that where you sit is where you stand and Susan Rice gave an interview to The Washington Post where she said, "No, actually I'm not as much of an interventionalist as people make me out to be and I realize the constraints and limits of American power and what we need to and what we don't need to."

  • 13:16:53

    ROGINSo we can anticipate that when she gets to her new role she'll take her new role on as what it is, which is to coordinate policy, to advise the president and not to necessarily advocate for one specific thing or another.

  • 13:17:06

    NNAMDIAnton, thank you very much for your call. President Obama's current national security advisor, Tom Donilon, was well-known for his emphasis on Asia and his swan song will likely be the summit with the Chinese president. What kind of legacy does Donilon leave?

  • 13:17:20

    ROGINSo Tom Donilon, you know, came from a very unique background. Unlike most national security advisors he had both foreign policy and political credentials. He had worked in the State Department but he was primarily a political guy. So he always viewed foreign policy with an eye towards the domestic politics and the political implications. That's part of his legacy.

  • 13:17:39

    ROGINAnother part of his legacy is that he consolidated the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council into what's known now as the National Security Staff. And he gave that staff hundreds of people who work in the White House and the building surrounding it, increased power and control over foreign policy.

  • 13:17:54

    ROGINAnd that power control necessarily came at the expense of the State Department and the Defense Department and other agencies. He really, this has been something that ebbs and flows over administrations but Tom Donilon really did make the White House the leader and controller of foreign policy and he took over issues including Asia.

  • 13:18:12

    ROGINNow, insiders know that actually the Asia rebalance and Asia re-pivot was managed largely at the State Department but Tom Donilon nevertheless oversaw it and directed it and takes some credit for it justly.

  • 13:18:24

    NNAMDIAny buzz about where he might be headed next, Tom Donilon?

  • 13:18:27

    ROGINWe haven't heard yet. Tom Donilon has many interests and many connections and has many options.

  • 13:18:34

    NNAMDIIn the same way that we saw the shift of Asia under him can we maybe expect to see a shift under Susan Rice's watch, to more of an emphasis on Africa and the human rights?

  • 13:18:43

    ROGINYes, exactly. so Susan Rice was the assistant Secretary of State for Africa. She worked on Africa in the White House. She travels there many times especially since the Rwanda Massacre she's done a lot of work setting up regional structures in Africa that would be hopefully in place to prevent a future occurrence of such a thing.

  • 13:19:02

    ROGINThat is her passion, that does make a difference. Also with Tom Donilon's departure, there aren't really any senior officials who have Asia passion or Asia experience right. Kirk Campbell at the State Department who was leading the Asia pivot, he's gone. Hillary Clinton, who was heavily invested in Asia, she's gone. Chuck Hagel doesn't really have an Asia background.

  • 13:19:21

    ROGINSo if you look at the senior personnel the future of the Asia pivot is somewhat in question and we'll have to see how that plays out especially with the resource problem that the Defense Department and the State Department are playing. So yes, Africa could see a benefit but let's be honest here, all eyes are really focused on the Middle East. That's where the world is really grappling with its biggest problems.

  • 13:19:43

    NNAMDIHere's David in Sandy Spring, Md. David, you're on the air, go ahead please.

  • 13:19:47

    DAVIDHello. I would like to have clarified whether Susan Rice was set up when she gave her initial statements about Benghazi or whether, similar to the situation that Colin Powell found himself in or whether she was not set up.

  • 13:20:06

    NNAMDIJosh Rogin?

  • 13:20:06

    ROGINSure. So we're talking about the talking points that Susan Rice used to speak about Benghazi on TV shows on Sunday September 16, five days after the attack. The problem with those talking points is that they set a narrative that claims that the attack on our mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, was a spontaneous event following similar events in Cairo that were spurred on by an anti-Islam video.

  • 13:20:31

    ROGINSubsequently we learned that that wasn't really the case. It was just not true. The creation of those talking points has become its own story promoted by so many Republicans really ad infinum without any real sign of it abating any time soon. And eventually they got the White House to release emails detailing how those were edited. Ensure that Susan Rice was not involved in those editing at all -- those editing processes at all. It was done between the CIA, the White House and the State Department, incidentally by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Newland, who is now facing her own confirmation battle to be America's top diplomat in Europe.

  • 13:21:08

    ROGINThe bottom line here is that Susan Rice did not participate significantly in the crafting of the talking points, but she did utter them. And, you know, in politics you are responsible for the words that come out of your mouth. So one criticism is that okay, maybe she wasn't in charge of the talking points but maybe she didn't do her due diligence to find out if they were really true before she uttered them. That's a criticism I think will linger as long as the story of Benghazi lingers.

  • 13:21:36

    ROGINBut no, ultimately, she had no role in Benghazi. She had no role in the crafting of the talking points. And it seems that she was placed on the talking shows with incorrect talking points unbeknownst to her.

  • 13:21:47

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. David, thank you for your call. Josh Rogin is senior correspondent for Newsweek's Daily Beast. Josh, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:21:55

    ROGINAny time. Thank you.

  • 13:21:56

    NNAMDIWhen we come back we'll be having a conversation about the International Criminal Court and its effectiveness. Also the trial of a former dictator in Guatemala, who was convicted of genocide and violations of human rights, but that conviction has been overturned. What does it all mean? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows

The Politics Hour — March 16, 2018

Friday, Mar 16 2018Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.