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Right Turn
Posted at 09:45 AM ET, 11/26/2012

Obama’s second-term national security team

For reasons that baffle conservatives (To spite Republicans? To reward a political ally?), the president seems intent on appointing U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as secretary of state. Quite apart from the Benghazi debacle (which surely would be front and center in her confirmation hearing), her role in talking down more robust action in Syria, her lack of rhetorical control and widespread recognition (even among Democrats in the foreign policy community) that she is no policy heavyweight, her track record on human rights is, well, atrocious. Michael Hirsh explains:

Critics say that since her failure to advocate an intervention in the terrible genocide in Rwanda in 1994 — Bill Clinton later said his administration’s unwillingness to act was the worst mistake of his presidency — she has conducted a dubious and naïve policy of looking the other way at allies who commit atrocities, reflecting to some degree the stark and emotionless realpolitik sometimes associated with Obama. . . . Most recently, critics say, Rice held up publication of a U.N. report that concluded that the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, with whom she has a long and close relationship, was supplying and financing a brutal Congolese rebel force known as the M23 Movement. M23’s leader, Bosco Ntaganda, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for recruiting child soldiers and is accused of committing atrocities. She has even wrangled with Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, and others in the department, who all have been more critical of the Rwandans, according to some human-rights activists who speak with State’s Africa team frequently.

It is telling that this is the person Obama apparently wants at Foggy Bottom.

As we have noted before, nearly as bad as her installation at the State Department would be, her elevation, reports suggest, would send Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the Defense Department, an entity for whom he has had little use for (other than as a source of spending cuts) since he claimed to have witnessed atrocities in Vietnam. (His recent geo-political finesse is epitomized by his endless flattery to the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife.)

It is noteworthy that there is another liberal Democrat who actually knows something about the Pentagon who, rather than Kerry, might engender respect from the military men and women he would supervise: Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.). (Yes, dear hawks, he’s not ideal but this is what happens when you lose elections).

Levin’s performance Sunday on “Meet the Press” was noteworthy:

GREGORY: So what would you like to see the president say — to put a brake on [Egyptian President Mohamed] Morsi seizing power? What words does the president have to use to say we’re not going back to [Hosni] Mubarak?
SEN. LEVIN: He has to express those concerns and say, obviously, we want this change to be not just democratic but to also be supportive of stability and also to be protecting of minorities . . . and human rights in Egypt. He says that, but at the same time, he has got to point out that behind all of this is Iran. Iran’s support of Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, and the way that has then filtered into weaponry that goes through Egypt, into Gaza, if that can be stopped by Egypt, and if Iran can get a message that the missiles are not going to succeed against Israel because their defenses against short-range missiles, in this case, with the Iron Dome system, but also with the Patriot system . . . against possible Iranian long-range missiles, is going to take leverage away from Iran. Keep pulling the world together against Iran. That’s the source of the problem.

When asked later in the interview about Syria, Levin returned to Iran: “Well, with Syria, I think we have to — if we — if the opposition will get its act together, and become unified, it seems to me that then we should surely support Turkey’s request for Patriot missiles as defenses against any threat from Syria. But also we then have to consider a no-fly zone, providing the opposition in Syria comes together. But again, all this goes looking for ways to keep the pressure on Iran and to keep taking away from Iran the kind of weaponry, both psychological and real, that they are using.”

I can’t imagine something so coherent coming from Kerry (or Rice, for that matter). Perhaps the recent hostilities in Israel will remind the president that there is no way to minimize foreign policy and that putting second-rate advisers in key spots is asking for problems to become more troublesome, not to fade from view.

By  |  09:45 AM ET, 11/26/2012

 
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