The more important question: Will the appointment of Power and Rice influence the direction of Obama's foreign policy, which has generally resisted intervention and the assumption of new burdens?
Apart from Syria, it is likely to make a large difference. A number of issues will gain sponsorship at the highest level of government: fighting human trafficking, going after war criminals such as Joseph Kony, anti-atrocity efforts in other regions. Even a modest push on humanitarian issues can put bureaucracies and coalitions into motion.
On Syria, the options are flawed and the president is hesitant. But it is absurd to think that personnel is irrelevant to policy. Large, immediate shifts are not likely. But moving forward, each incremental choice will be influenced by a team of advisers — including Rice, Power and Secretary of State John Kerry — who are predisposed toward greater support for the responsible Syrian opposition. And if worst comes to worst — as it tends to in Syria — there will be people in the room arguing to prevent mass atrocities. The president, of course, can ignore their counsel — and then spend his retirement explaining why.
In an interview Power conducted as a journalist, Susan Rice recalled her experience dealing with Rwanda during the Clinton administration. “There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide,” Rice said, “and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively.”
This points to a role that Power is well-qualified to play. If she spends the next three years trying to make the United Nations work as a model institution, it will be frustrating and useless. If she spends the next three years calling attention to the moral and human consequences of collective decisions, it could make all the difference in the world.
Michael Gerson's email address is email@example.com.
WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP