There’s been some recent criticism of Ambassador Rice suggesting that she is somehow neglecting her duties at the UN. The main argument, it seems, is that she is only spending four days a week in New York and the rest in Washington. John Bolton’s former spokesperson and a New York Post columnist suggest that this is evidence she is not engaging at the UN to a sufficient degree.
I think there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, Ambassador Rice is unique among recent U.S. ambassador’s to the United Nations in that she is a cabinet-level official. But deeper still, she is a close confidant of the President and has his ear. This is a tremendous asset as a diplomat. When Rice speaks, her audiences across the table know that she is speaking for the president. There is no going around her.
Second, American policy at the UN is only implemented in New York. It is made in Washington, D.C. Accordingly, Rice has a larger staff at the State Department than has been typical for UN ambassadors in recent years because she has a larger policy-making role than previous UN ambassadors. This goes back to the first point. Rice is a powerful bureaucratic player because she has direct access to the president. This is a pretty rare thing among recent American UN ambassadors.
You can see manifestations of this dynamic back in New York. For example, strengthening UN peacekeeping has been Susan Rice’s first priority at the UN. During the UN General Assembly week, President Obama backed Rice in a big way by taking the extraordinary step of hosting a meeting of the top fifteen troop contributing countries to UN peacekeeping. Also, later in the week, President Obama became the first American President to chair a Security Council meeting. The point is, having a UN ambassador that is so close to the president results in a president that is more engaged at the UN.