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The Virtues of Susan Rice’s “Undiplomatic” Diplomacy

I’m not quite sure why so many of my fellow conservatives have focused so much ire on Susan Rice’s potential nomination to be secretary of state. She would definitely not be my first choice for the job (that would be Joe Lieberman) but compared to some of the other rumored second-term nominations—e.g, Chuck Hagel at Defense or John Kerry at State—the possibility of Susan Rice doesn’t seem so bad. She actually seems to have a more activist vision of American power than many in the Democratic Party who are eager to cut the American role in the world back as rapidly as possible.

Much of the criticism directed at her for her blunt, undiplomatic personality sounds like a virtual replay of the criticisms once made of Jeane Kirkpatrick and John Bolton, both conservative favorites when they served as UN ambassador. Indeed Rice sounded positively Boltonesque (admittedly not something she would consider to be a compliment) when she recently told off the Chinese ambassador, Li Baodung, in a UN Security Council debate over how to respond to North Korea’s missile launch. According to Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy:

Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea’s surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang’s action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that “undermines regional stability.”

Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.

“That’s ridiculous,” Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.

“Ridiculous?” a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. “You better watch your language.”

“Well, it’s in the Oxford dictionary, and [Russian ambassador Vitaly] Churkin — if he were in the room — he would know how to take it,” retorted Rice.

The reference to Oxford dictionary refers to Churkin’s riposte, in December 2011, to a public broadside by Rice, who charged him with making “bogus claims” about alleged NATO war crimes in Libya to divert attention from charges of war crimes against its Syrian ally.

“This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt,” said Churkin to Rice. “Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you?” said Churkin, mocking Rice’s alma mater. Rice, a former Rhodes scholar, later noted that she also went to Oxford.

Frankly any American diplomat who tangles so openly with the Chinese and Russian ambassadors, rather than retreating into the usual mealy-mouthed equivocations, can’t be all bad. Obama can do worse in his choice of secretary of state—and probably will.



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