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Will Obama’s Foreign Policy Change With Susan Rice as National Security Adviser?

June 5, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
How will national security adviser designate Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to the UN nominee Samantha Power, known as advocates of humanitarian intervention, influence the president's foreign policy? Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations and Anne-Marie Slaughter of Princeton University join Judy Woodruff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For more on what today’s announcements mean for President Obama’s foreign policy, we get two views. Richard Haass was director of policy planning at the State Department during the George W. Bush administration. He’s now president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of “Foreign Policy Begins at Home.” Anne-Marie Slaughter also directed the State Department’s policy planning shop, but during the Obama administration. She’s now professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

And we welcome you both to the NewsHour.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, to you first. Let’s talk about Susan Rice. To begin, we heard the president call her fearless and tough. How is she going to fit in with the foreign policy team?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, Princeton University: Well, I think she’s been a core member of the foreign policy team from the beginning.

I mean, really, as a U.N. ambassador, she’s been in the White House, in and out of the White House the whole time. She’s played a key role. This is not going to be that much of a transition, I think, for the White House in terms of policy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, Richard Haass, she’s going to be just a few steps away from the president, down the hall in the West Wing. We also heard the president say it runs in her — she knows how to throw an elbow, that it runs in her family. What does that say?

RICHARD HAASS, President, Council on Foreign Relations: Well, you know, that may well be true, but what we need is a national security adviser who really can wear two hats.

On one hand, in this case, she will have to be the principal honest broker, the person who makes sure the president is well-served by the process, he gets the advice he wants, that decisions are actually implemented faithfully and efficiently. And, second of all, she’s going to have to be a counselor.

No one has ever done it better than Brent Scowcroft, though her predecessor, Tom Donilon, I thought also did an extraordinarily good job.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Honest broker, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is that how you see the role? And, if that is what it is, how will she do in that position?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: That’s not the only way to do the role.

I mean, she certainly does have to make sure all — all views are heard, but some National Security Council advisers have been more of the counselor side, who have had more of a strong advisory role. And Susan will craft the role the way she is naturally fitted to it and really what the president wants.

The thing to know about Susan Rice, above all, she’s a true professional. She is going to do what the president needs. And she already demonstrated that. She stepped down when she realized that continuing to be a candidate for secretary of state was hurting the president. She stepped down. She said, the last I think I want to do is hurt him. And she is going to do the job he wants her to do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Haass, there was a New York Times piece today that described her as someone in favor of liberal intervention. So, how much does it matter what her personal views are?

RICHARD HAASS: Well, she can make these views known to the president, as I expect she will, but the president doesn’t have to, if you will, take her advice.

He will get advice from all quarters. So far, the administration, I think quite properly, has resisted many of the calls which I think are ill-advised for certain forms of intervention in, say — in, say, Syria. You have got to look at the costs. You have got to look at the likely benefits. You have got to look at alternative uses for American power.

So she, as well as Samantha Power, may very well make these arguments to the president. But so far, at least, in part because of Tom Donilon, the administration has shown real strategic restraint. And I would hope it will continue to.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Anne-Marie Slaughter, do you see policies changing under Susan Rice, and specifically with regard to Syria?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Well, I agree with Richard that I think the president makes up his — definitely has his own views on this.

I think he’s getting lot of different advice. I disagree on the merits. I think he’s making a real mistake. I think in the end, this — what has been a war in Syria is going to turn into a conflagration across the Middle East.

The one thing Susan Rice brings there that’s very important, she was in the Clinton White House under Rwanda, and she saw what happened when something that originally was a humanitarian call to intervene in a genocide went unaddressed, and the result is, we have a war across Central Africa where two million people have died and it is a continuing strategic problem.

So I think she and Samantha Power both understand the ways in which the humanitarian and the strategic are often actually intertwined.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Richard Haass, does that suggest that between the two of them, and particularly in the case of Rice, that there will be more — there will be more people talking to the president about becoming more involved in Syria?

RICHARD HAASS: Quite possibly.

But the big strategic idea of this administration — indeed, I think its historical idea — was to place less emphasis on the Middle East, which has so dominated and I would argue distorted America’s national security now for more than a decade, and instead to put greater attention on the Asia-Pacific, which is where the great powers of this year are colliding and where American instruments can actually accomplish great good.

So I would hope the administration will, if you will, stay the course there, as well as also do what I would argue, which is repair some of the foundations of our power here at home. There will be those arguing for intervention, but, again, I’m hoping the president, if you will, stays the course and continues to show real restraint.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What changes do you see coming?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: I think, again, this is a team that agrees on the desirability of focusing on Asia. And Susan Rice has dealt with North Korea and she knows that portfolio.

I think, though, the world has a funny way of deflecting what you want to do, even on the best advice. And, again, I think both Susan Rice and Samantha Power are people who very much understand the complexity of development issues, terrorism issues, sectarian issues, humanitarian issues in a very complicated strategic calculus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Richard Haass, pick up on that, and bring Samantha Power into this. She is going to be — assuming she’s confirmed by the Senate, she will be taking up the post at the U.N.


She takes the post at a time where, quite honestly, the U.N. as a whole is not terribly central to what is going on in the world. That kind of multilateralism, for the most part, isn’t working, in part because the major powers cannot agree.

Instead, what increasingly we’re doing is taking end-runs around the U.N., finding partners to deal with this or that issue where we can, and my hunch is that will be — that will be the future. But she has two hats, also, like a national security adviser. One is to represent the United Nations at the U.N. The other is to essentially be part of the president’s national security team and advocate back in Washington.

And we will have to see what kind of — what the president instructs her to do in terms of balancing those two roles.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see Samantha Power in the position at the U.N., assuming she’s confirmed?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Well, I actually think this administration has been very focused on the U.N., on North Korea, on Iran, on Syria, indeed, more focused than some people think they should be. They really have insisted on going multilaterally.

So I think Samantha Power is going to find herself, as Susan Rice did, often as a leading spear carrier for our diplomacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just finally, to both of you.

Richard Haass, what do these appointments say about the president?

RICHARD HAASS: Well, I think what it says is that here he is in his second term, he doesn’t face another election, that he essentially wants to have around him the people who he knows best, who he has worked with as a senator, as a campaigner, as president.

These are not outsiders, anything but. This is — if anything, this is a narrowing or tightening of the national security team at the White House.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You worked in the Obama administration. How do you see that, this narrowing of the team?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Only a man can say this is the narrowing of the team. This is adding two important women to key positions in the White House in a way that I actually think is very important.

These are more diverse voices right there. And, actually, although they do all know each other, I think there’s a broader range of views with Susan Rice and Samantha Power, with many of the other people who are in the White House. And I think we’re going to see that make a difference.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Anne-Marie Slaughter, Richard Haass, we thank you both.