President Obama is recasting his foreign policy team, with the promotion of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to national security adviser, replacing Tom Donilon. Samantha Power, an Obama foreign policy adviser and Pulitzer Prize-winning author on human rights, will be nominated as UN ambassador.
Mr. Obama’s elevation of Ambassador Rice to the top foreign policy position in the White House represents a bold move that angers some Republicans. The sharp-tongued Rice has been at the center of controversy over her public statements on the terror attack last year on US facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The brouhaha, which continues to this day, squelched her chances of becoming secretary of State.
But Obama has remained steadfastly loyal to Rice, who joined his first presidential campaign despite her years of service in the Clinton administration. She shared candidate Obama’s opposition to the Iraq War, and became a close confidante on foreign policy. Now she will have the job she reportedly wanted from the start.
“Rice's promotion places her at the epicenter of foreign-policy decisionmaking in a senior-level White House position that is arguably more influential than secretary of state, given its close proximity to the president,” writes John Hudson at ForeignPolicy.com. “She replacesTom Donilon, a cautious realist who has amassed immense influence over Obama's foreign policy in his 2-1/2 years on the job.”
The choice of Rice and Ms. Power also signals Obama’s intention to put women in key policy jobs. During his first term, the president faced criticism for running a fairly male-centric White House. Rice will be the second woman and third African-American to serve as national security adviser, after Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell.
One of Rice’s biggest achievements as UN ambassador came in 2011, when she used her muscle to get the UN Security Council to approve a “no-fly zone” over Libya, paving the way for a successful multinational effort to oust strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
But it was also Libya that set the stage for the biggest stumble of her UN tenure. Days after the Benghazi attack, Rice appeared on Sunday TV shows with CIA talking points asserting that the attack appeared to be a reaction to an inflammatory movie, not organized terrorism. Republicans accused Rice and the Obama administration of providing misleading information to protect the president on the eve of the election. Key GOP senators made clear they would fight any effort to make her secretary of State, and she took her name out of contention.
The national security adviser position does not require Senate confirmation. But UN ambassador does, and so Power’s confirmation hearing could become a proxy for more criticism of both Rice and the former secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, over Benghazi. With Mrs. Clinton reportedly considering a presidential campaign in 2016, Benghazi remains a political hot potato.
With Rice, too, some Republicans are still upset over her role. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a Republican critic of Rice in the House, quickly tweeted his opposition Wednesday to Rice’s appointment: "Judgment is key to national security matters. That alone should disqualify Susan Rice from her appointment. #benghazi #BadChoice."
Second presidential terms often feature an emphasis on foreign policy, as presidents don’t need congressional approval to pursue initiatives. Obama, for example, heads to Palm Springs, Calif., Friday to meet with the Chinese president, a summit set up by Mr. Donilon.
But not all Republican legislators are aiming darts at Rice. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, issued a cordial statement upon word of her appointment.
“I had a very good conversation with Ambassador Susan Rice to let her know I look forward to working with her on shaping important foreign policy and national security issues as she serves in her new role,” Senator Corker said.
Power’s nomination as UN ambassador represents a rehabilitation of sorts for her as well. During Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, she resigned as a senior foreign policy adviser after referring to Obama’s principal Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, as a “monster” in a London newspaper interview. Power quietly came back to Obama’s foreign policy team after the election. Like Rice, Power favored military intervention during the Libyan civil war.
A journalist early in her career, the Dublin, Ireland-born Power won the Pulitzer Prize for her book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Her husband, Cass Sunstein, is a legal scholar and former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
President Obama is scheduled to make the Rice and Power announcements from the Rose Garden at 2:15 p.m. Eastern.