David Ignatius: On Rice, a close call

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: December 2, 2012
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To get a sense of Rice's strengths and weaknesses, I talked last week to many people who worked for her at the United Nations, and alongside her in the administration. The pluses far outweigh the minuses.

Rice's strengths are that she's smart, strategic and forthright. She has been a deft negotiator at the U.N., with a subtle sense of the Chinese and Russians, and perhaps even played them off on occasion. And for all her reputation as a tough boss, her staff generally likes her, especially the younger members.

Rice's biggest advantage is her closeness to the president. She understands his vision of a changing world better than anyone else in government. Her instincts match his on the Arab revolutions, the need to engage Iran, the importance of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The negatives with Rice are mostly matters of style. She's pushy, profane and sometimes seems to shoot from the hip (a mistaken impression since she tends to read all the briefing papers). She was standoffish toward Hillary Clinton, prizing her special relationship with Obama and her Cabinet status. That offended some people.

Rice did two things at the U.N. that demonstrated her “A” game. First, she was tough enough to stand up against Russia's sometimes bullying diplomats. Second, she provided a secret channel for communicating urgent messages with Iran. As secretary, Rice would be Obama's young, dynamic face to the world and a good, if risky, choice.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP