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Loyalty Rewarded: Susan Rice and Samantha Power

In a move that should surprise absolutely no one who’s been paying attention, President Obama has named Susan Rice to replace the outgoing Tom Donilon as national security adviser.

Not only was the move expected, but for Obama it makes perfect sense, although in conventional terms it would seem somewhat odd for a president to appoint someone with such a controversial and easily criticized past. But Obama cares little about the public’s opinion of his appointees; see how tenaciously he has clung to Holder so far through thick and thin.

It’s exactly the thing for which Rice has been criticized — her dutiful presentation of the administration’s deceptive but politically advantageous talking points about the death of the ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi — that makes Rice most attractive to Obama as a close aide. He can trust her, and he doesn’t trust too many people.

I called her presentation “dutiful,” but another word for it would be “loyal.” It’s a loyalty that lies not only in Rice’s having presented those deceptive “facts” in the first place, but in never having turned on the administration afterward for putting her in that position (perhaps originally without her knowledge of the deception), even though it ended up costing her the post of Secretary of State, which would have required congressional confirmation.

Rice stuck with Obama even after she was thrown under the bus, as it were. And now she has been rewarded with a job that arguably could be as important in terms of influence if not prestige, because it is likely that Obama listens to his national security adviser at least as much, if not more, as he does to his secretary of State. To Obama, loyalty is almost everything, and Rice has the added bonus of actually having more of a background in foreign affairs than her predecessor.

The Rice appointment also frees up the job of UN ambassador, which gives Obama the opportunity to name another controversial woman and Obama loyalist to that position, Samantha Power. Power has a long record of supporting his foreign policy, is a fellow graduate of Harvard Law School, and is married to well-known leftist law professor Cass Sunstein. In an interesting twist, Power (like another close Obama adviser, Valerie Jarrett) was born outside the U.S. — in Power’s case, in Ireland to non-citizen parents who emigrated to the U.S. when Power was nine (Jarrett‘s parents were expat Americans in Iran during her early childhood).

More on the Power appointment, from Wednesday’s Washington Post:

But Republicans could decide to launch a fight against Power, whose book generated considerable reaction by focusing on what she deemed America’s moral failure to act in the face of modern genocides in Africa and the Balkans….

“We need a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, permitted by the United States,” she wrote.

Keith Urbahn, a former chief of staff to George W. Bush Pentagon chief Donald H. Rumsfeld, tweeted this morning: “ I don’t know about you, but it might be helpful to have someone rep’ing America at UN who doesn’t think we are the source of world’s ills.”

Power has also criticized the UN, and undoubtedly there’s a great deal to be criticized there. But although the Security Council isn’t the problem that usually comes to mind, it was the target of Power’s censure:

The U.N. Security Council is anachronistic, undemocratic, and consists of countries that lack the standing to be considered good faith arbiters of how to balance the stability against democracy, peace against justice, and security against human rights.”

The fuller context for that quote from Power can be found in the March 2003 TNR article in which it originally appeared. In that piece, to her credit, Power also criticizes the UN for letting nations such as Libya join (and sometimes even chair) its Human Rights Commission. But here’s some of what Power has to say concerning American foreign policy and the general direction in which it needs to go:

U.S. foreign policy has to be rethought. It needs not tweaking but overhauling. We need: a historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States. This would entail restoring FOIA to its pre-Bush stature, opening the files, and acknowledging the force of a mantra we have spent the last decade promoting in Guatemala, South Africa, and Yugoslavia: A country has to look back before it can move forward. Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors. When Willie Brandt went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto, his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also ennobling and cathartic for Germany…

The United States is willing to bind itself to the World Trade Organization, because it knows it benefits more than any other country from free trade, but not to the ICC [International Criminal Court], because there is no good selfish reason to expose American citizens to external scrutiny. But the truth is that only U.S. resources and leadership can turn such institutions into forces for the international stability that is indispensable to U.S. security. Besides, giving up a pinch of sovereignty will not deprive the United States of the tremendous military and economic leverage it has at its disposal as a last resort…The United States has thus far lost its campaign to persuade its allies of the merits of preemptive war with Iraq not because of the dearth of smoking guns. Few who oppose the U.S. attack do so because they disagree with Bush’s characterization of the Iraqi regime. Most do so because of what they take to be the character of the U.S. regime.

Note that last word “regime.”

Power has what one might call a western European sensibility and attitude toward the U.S. That outlook is hardly limited to Europe, of course; it’s one that is also rampant among most of the American left. What’s more, it seems to be shared by Obama himself — although for political reasons he has rarely articulated it quite as fully and clearly as Power — the conviction that the U.S. has blood on its hands and that we, like the Germans after WWII, must go on bended knee in order to achieve a similar catharsis.