THE LAST PAGE: Rice And Power In Obama’s Foreign Policy Mix

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Ernest CoreaBy Ernest Corea*

WASHINGTON DC – President Barack Obama has named Ambassador Susan Rice, the indefatigable US “permanent representative” at the UN as his next National Security Adviser. The official designation is Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, an influential White House position that does not require confirmation by the US Senate. .

Rice, and former White House official Samantha Power who has been nominated to succeed her, are expected to shake up Obama’s foreign policy establishment, making the case for a more activist policy with human rights as its centerpiece.

Rice, described by some critics as combative, will succeed low-keyed and consensual Tom Donilon, who is expected to leave the White House in July.

Rice joined the Obama presidential election campaign in 2008 and has functioned as one of his key advisers since then. As a campaigner, she reportedly dismissed Obama’s 2008 opponent Senator John McCain’s foreign policy approach as “reckless”. McCain led the charge against her when she was considered the front-runner to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The innuendo-laced campaign against Rice became so vitriolic that she removed herself from contention.

An alumna of Stanford University, and of New College, Oxford, where she earned a DPhil degree, Rice is a Rhodes Scholar. Her professional experience includes a staff position at the prestigious Brookings Institution, and on the White House National Security Council which she will now direct. She was Assistant Secretary for African Affairs in the Clinton administration.

Power began life as a highly regarded journalist, and has a well-established reputation as an academic and author. She was on Obama’s campaign team in 2008 until she described his opponent (Clinton) as a monster. Subsequently, she was appointed to the White House Staff and until recently, was a senior NSC adviser.

All ambassadorial positions require Senate confirmation. While her record makes Power a good fit for the UN position, some rash comments made and later regretted could raise the question of temperament when Senate scrutiny of her nomination begins.

Malaysia: More Of The Same

Passions have not all cooled, but sufficient time has passed since Malaysia May 5 general elections that Malaysians and their many friends abroad can breathe a sigh of relief, exhale, and say: “”It’s not another 1969.”

That was the year in which the ruling coalition (National Front) was so embarrassed at the polls that its supporters “went amok” in waves of death and destruction. Some of the worst violence, directed mainly against Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese, was in the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The government – led at the time by the father of Malaysia’s independence, Tunku Abdul Rahman – suspended parliament and the constitution. A new constitution with restrictions on public discussion (outside parliament) of explosive ethnic issues was adopted, as were new economic policies designed to placate the Malay majority while also providing opportunities for the almost proverbially hardworking minority Chinese.

Between then and now, Malaysia went through a successful economic transformation, and its successes are widely touted among international investors. But the country also saw the spread of public unrest over allegations of corruption in public life and fears that a restrictive streak in national politics was growing. The poor-rich gap widened.

On the eve of this year’s election The Economist wrote that the opposition would “never have a better chance than now” to unseat the government which has been in office for 56 consecutive years. When the votes were counted, however, it was clear that the chance was lost. The government remained in power, although the voting figures were skewed.

The ruling and victorious government coalition secured 47.38 percent of the vote while the defeated opposition coalition had 50.87 percent. More important, however, is the ethnic polarization that characterized the election campaign and could dominate national life unless Prime Minister Najib Razak is able to develop a healing touch. The overall ethnic breakdown is: Malay – 50.4 percent, Chinese – 23.7, Indigenous – 11, Indian – 7.1, and Other – 7.8.

Pakistan: Sharif Gets Another Chance

A Pakistani military leader told a group of American legislators several years ago that “democracy is for phlegmatic people like the British.” He obviously did not consider his own countrymen and women sufficiently phlegmatic to qualify for democracy. Now, a new generation in Pakistan appears determined to show that Pakistan can grapple with the challenge of establishing democracy.

The June 5 election of Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister, backed by a majority in the National Assembly, resulted in the transfer of power from one democratically elected party to another. This is a historic moment for the country.

Now, as a local commentator has said, comes the hard part. Sharif who has been Prime Minister twice before well knows both the promise and peril of the responsibilities entrusted to him. Problems requiring resolution include economic development in a country where the power supply is so poor that 20-hour blackouts have been experienced. Security questions ranged from concern over the use of US drones in his country to the continuing activities of the Taliban. Neighborly relations are, as always, in a state of flux.

A complex agenda; but, then, he wasn’t compelled to seek the office he holds.

*The writer has served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon 'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is Global Editor of and Editorial Adviser to IDN-InDepthNews as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council. (Global Perspectives | June 2013)

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