For the U.N., a clean break


If former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton went to Bizarro World, his counterpart there would be Susan Rice. Inhabitants of DC Comics’ fictional planet are the polar opposites of their earthly doubles, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who would represent a clearer break with the Bush administration’s foreign policy strategies than Rice, whose selection as U.N. ambassador was announced Monday by President-elect Barack Obama.

Rice is a liberal multilateralist, and Bolton, who spent a tumultuous year at the U.N. before resigning when it became clear that he wouldn’t be confirmed by the Senate in 2006, is a conservative unilateralist. She would be warmly welcomed in New York if confirmed, and would be in a strong position to rebuild the bridges burned by Bolton, which current Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has had a tough time doing, given that he represents a deeply discredited, lame-duck administration.

Bolton’s appointment was President Bush’s way of thumbing his nose at the U.N. The ambassador’s bullying, arrogant approach rendered him ineffective as a diplomat, but it did please a conservative wing of the Republican Party that has long despised the U.N. in the same way, and for many of the same reasons, it despises big government: It’s bureaucratic, slow and rarely gets much done. Yet it’s also utterly indispensable. Warts and all, it is the world’s only meaningful bulwark against nuclear proliferation, human-rights violations, genocide and wars of conquest.


Unlike Bolton, Rice favors dialogue even with our most serious enemies and rivals, a philosophy she shares with the other members of Obama’s foreign policy team announced Monday. Yet Rice is to the left of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Obama’s pick for secretary of State, and her fondness for intervention could put her at odds with other members of the Cabinet.

Analysts have been somewhat puzzled by the spectrum of political viewpoints represented by Obama’s picks, but if there’s one thing most of his defense and foreign policy choices have in common, it’s that they tend to be “realists” -- favoring the use of “soft power” over military intervention, and multilateralism over unilateralism. Rice, a former senior diplomat on African affairs under the Clinton administration who is so horrified by the genocide in Darfur that she backs a U.S.-led bombing campaign or naval blockade of Sudan, will compete for Obama’s ear against retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones Jr., his designated national security advisor, who is no fan of nation building or unnecessary wars. Rice could best serve her country by strengthening the U.N. as a body to police the world, not trying to give the U.S. a bigger badge.