Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is seen by some as the favorite to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, if she decides to leave.
A Rhodes Scholar, the 48-year-old Rice had a distinguished academic career, earning degrees from Stanford University in California and Oxford University in England. In 1993, she entered government service during the Clinton administration, working on the National Security Council in charge of peacekeeping and international organizations. In 1997, she became assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
An early supporter of President Barack Obama, she was one of his foreign policy advisers during his first campaign for the presidency, after which he named her U.N. envoy, a post she has held since 2009.
While Rice has been recognized for a number of accomplishments during her U.N. tenure, others have criticized her for failing to achieve U.S. objectives.
A tough negotiator
Nancy Soderberg, a former alternate U.S. representative to the United Nations who knows Rice well, calls her a feisty negotiator who knows how to promote U.S. interests
“She also knows how to listen and how to secure a deal," said Soderberg, referring to recent passage of a resolution tightening sanctions on Iran and getting U.N. Security Council approval for the Libya military operation. "So I think she would be an extraordinarily effective secretary of state as she has been as U.N. ambassador.”
Professor David Bosco, a U.N. expert at American University, says that while Rice is an effective ambassador, the United States failed to achieve key objectives under her tenure.
"The United States would have preferred even tougher action against Iran, and it wasn’t able to get that," he said, adding that Washington was also seeking more intense pressure on the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. “[The U.S.] was unable to get Moscow or Beijing to agree to that, leading to the vetoes of that resolution."
Bosco also pointed to what he called some other “blemishes” in Rice’s résumé, especially during the Clinton administration, when she was working on peacekeeping issues.
“That was a period of great controversy and significant failure for U.N. peacekeeping,” said Bosco, citing "dramatic failures" of U.N. peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Rwanda.
Some analysts have also pointed out that Rice was the senior diplomat for African issues in 1998 when terrorists bombed U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania — actions that brought about a re-appraisal of security for American embassies worldwide.
Rice is currently embroiled in a controversy over statements she made on U.S. television several days after an attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
Some Republican senators argue Rice misled the U.S. public about the attack. She said a spontaneous demonstration sparked the violence, but it turned out that it was a well-planned terrorist attack. Rice said her statements were based on the intelligence available at the time and in no way did she want to mislead the American public.
While several Republican lawmakers who met Rice after her statement have said they will block her nomination to become secretary of state if it comes up for Senate discussion, Soderberg says the Republicans are playing partisan political games.
“It is opponents of the president trying to take a pot shot at her over frankly nothing that Susan Rice had anything to do with,” said Soderberg. “They can oppose the president’s Benghazi policy, but they should not be taking it out on a very qualified individual.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said the question over what happened in Benghazi is much larger than Susan Rice.
“The controversy over Benghazi that has been reflected in her performance on the Sunday talk shows within a week of the attacks, shows that this issue is not going away," said Bolton. “[It] shows that this critique of the Obama administration’s foreign policy is going to continue well into the president’s second term.”
Both Bolton and Soderberg agree that President Obama should get the people he wants in his Cabinet, unless there is what Ambassador Bolton called, “gross incompetence or unethical behavior.”