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Susan Rice To Replace Tom Donilon As National Security Adviser

Susan Rice

Later today, President Obama will announce that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice will replace Tom Donilon as National Security Adviser:

WASHINGTON — In a major shakeup of President Obama’s foreign-policy inner circle, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, is resigning and will be replaced by Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, White House officials said on Tuesday.

The appointment, which Mr. Obama plans to make on Wednesday afternoon, puts Ms. Rice, 48, an outspoken diplomat and a close political ally, at the heart of the administration’s foreign-policy apparatus.

It is also a defiant gesture to Republicans who harshly criticized Ms. Rice for presenting an erroneous account of the deadly attacks on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya. The post of national security adviser, while powerful, does not require Senate confirmation.

(…)

A central member of Mr. Obama’s foreign-policy team since he first took office, Mr. Donilon, 58, has exerted sweeping influence, mostly behind the scenes, on issues from counterterrorism to the reorientation of America to Asia from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Among his last big projects was negotiating the highly unusual informal meeting between Mr. Obama and President Xi Jinping of China on Friday at an estate in Southern California. Mr. Donilon, just back from talks in Beijing, clearly took pride of ownership.

“I don’t know when there was a broad meeting like this,” he said in an interview. “For the last 40 years or so, these conversations have taken place in a more formal, scripted context.”

But Mr. Donilon has also hit a rough patch recently, with the publication of an unflattering profile in Foreign Policy magazine that cast him as a sharp-elbowed infighter and a domineering boss, who had strained relationships with colleagues, including his former deputy, Denis R. McDonough, now the White House chief of staff.

Mr. Donilon and Mr. McDonough, however, both denied those reports, with Mr. McDonough saying he had a “very good relationship with Tom.” He added, “It pains me to think anybody would think he’s leaving because of me.”

(…)

For Ms. Rice, the appointment amounts to redemption after she withdrew from consideration as secretary of state because Republicans threatened to block her nomination over Benghazi.

Mr. Obama steadfastly defended Ms. Rice, and after he nominated John Kerry instead of her, White House officials said she became the front-runner to succeed Mr. Donilon, who has been in the job since October 2010 and had been the principal deputy before that.

A Rhodes Scholar who holds a doctorate in international affairs from Oxford University, Ms. Rice began her government career on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration, later serving as senior director for African affairs from 1995 to 1997.

A foreign policy adviser to then-Senator Obama during his 2008 campaign, Ms. Rice was viewed as a potential national security adviser in his first term. Mr. Obama instead sent her to the United Nations and chose Gen. James L. Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant.

At the United Nations, Ms. Rice earned good reviews for lining up balky members behind sanctions on North Korea and Iran. After Mr. Obama’s re-election, she was seen as a prime candidate to replace Mrs. Clinton. But that was before she appeared on television to discuss the attack in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

Ms. Rice, using talking points drafted by the C.I.A., said the assault appeared to be a protest gone awry rather than a premeditated terrorist attack. That proved incorrect, and though Ms. Rice cautioned that the account could change with further intelligence, Republicans accused her of sanitizing the truth for political reasons.

After withdrawing her name as secretary of state, Ms. Rice returned to the United Nations, where she kept a low profile, immersing herself in issues involving countries like Syria and North Korea. But she has retained the confidence of the White House, playing an influential role in internal debates over questions like whether to arm the rebels in Syria.

“When she speaks,” Mr. Biden said last month, “no one wonders whether or not she is speaking for the president.”

When Rice withdrew her name from consideration for Secretary of State, it was assumed that she’d eventually be moved to the National Security Adviser, a position that does not require Senate approval, at some point in the near future. No doubt, the appointment will draw ire from those on the right who have long criticized Rice not only for her role in the events immediately after the Benghazi attack, but also for the policies she has helped usher through the United Nations during her tenure such as the resolutions that were used to justify Western intervention in the Libyan war. Of course, none of that matters since Rice will not have to get Senate approval for her new position. Effectively, though, even though she’s been denied the Secretary of State position, she’s being put in what is arguably the second most important foreign policy position in the American government.

Meanwhile, it’s being reported that Samantha Power, who has long been a close Obama adviser and served on the staff of the National Security Council until stepping down in February of this year, will be nominated to succeed Rice as United Nations Ambassador. Given that Power has long been recognized as a primary advocate for the so-called “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine, and was among those who advocated U.S. intervention in Libya, one can expect that her confirmation hearings will be contentious, although it seems unlikely that Republicans will find the votes to block her nomination or that there will be enough opposition to mount a successful filibuster.

At the very least, this seems to be another example of Obama taking a defiant tack against Republican opposition, much like yesterday’s decision to appoint three judges to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Denied the chance to make her Secretary of State, Obama is making Rice his closest foreign policy adviser in the White House and there isn’t a single thing that the GOP can do about it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. beth says:

    Wow, your last paragraph makes it seem like Obama is being a petulant child, sticking out his tongue and chanting “nyah nyah nyah” at the Republicans. How about this – he has a smart person with excellent foreign policy credentials he wants on his team and, like every President before him, has a right to appoint.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 28 Thumb down 6

  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    How about this – he has a smart person with excellent foreign policy credentials he wants on his team and, like every President before him, has a right to appoint.

    He has a pig and some lipstick. What he does is what ever the hell he wants and it has nothing to do with right.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 33

  3. Sam Malone says:

    This should make the heads of Republicanists everywhere explode.
    Oh…I see GAPhillips’ head already has.
    Well played Mr. Obama.
    Keep up the excellent work.

    I wonder…
    Considering that Obama is not even legally allowed to be President…because he was born in Kenya as we all know…can he serve a third illegal term?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 3

  4. edmondo says:

    Other than Susan Rice, does anyone care who the NSA is?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  5. Mikey says:

    @beth: It could be both, you know. It’s politics, don’t you think Obama might be getting just a little bit of a kick out of poking the Republicans in the eye?

    I’m not saying that’s his primary objective, far from it. But as an ancillary effect…I’m sure he enjoys a bit of humorous irony as much as anyone does.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    More psychological warfare…. The President is just continuing the G.A.ing of the GOP. Soon they will all have the emotional equivalence of a 2 yr old.

    Wait a minute, that is an insult to 2 year olds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  7. fred says:

    GOP and TP supporters are on high levels of medication for blood pressure as POTUS gives them the bird along with Gov Christie in NJ.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  8. Caj says:

    Way to go President Obama. Susan Rice was abused verbally by some Republicans during the Benghazi affair, no surprise there as they have no respect for women anyway. Susan Rice is smart lady and deserves this position and thank God there is nothing they can do about it. What with Chris Christie’s move yesterday and this news of Susan Rice will have Republican heads exploding everywhere! They will stomp and cry, smash up their toys and then sulk. Isn’t that what petulant children do?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  9. bandit says:

    An incompetent liar – who better to advise on security

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 16

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    At the very least, this seems to be another example of Obama taking a defiant tack against Republican opposition, much like yesterday’s decision to appoint three judges to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

    Woah — watch that framing!! The President, as part of his regularly mandated constitutional duties, appoints judges to the circuit court and appoints his national security adviser, and that’s somehow “taking a defiant tack”? It’s interesting that you immediately jump to the language that frames Obama, who’s merely doing what every president before him has done, as the “defiant” one, whereas in fact it’s the Republicans who are being defiant and operating outside of the norm by obstructing all of his appointees.

    Or, as John Cole wrote, “Only in the Beltway Media could the President doing his constitutionally approved duties be considered picking a fight. But, you know, both sides do it, so, let’s just move along.”

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  11. stonetools says:

    First, Susan Rice is a protege of Obama who many thought was unfairly treated by the Republicans over Benghazi. Obama likely sees this as a way to redeem a trusted adviser and favorite who “took a bullet” for the team.
    Secondly, it might be that this is a better position for Ms. Rice at this time. Rice’s reputation is as a blunt, outspoken person with sharp elbows of her own. This is not the ideal profile of a SoS. She may be more temperamentally suited to be NSA,and indeed may have been aiming for that spot anyway.
    Thirdly, this may have always been the play. Donilon was always supposed to be leaving at the end of the first term. Its also not surprising that Samantha Power will go to the UN.
    Finally, Obama has been accused of running a white-males only shop at the White House. Ms. Rice adds some needed diversity and defuses some of that criticism.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Woah — watch that framing!!

    C’mon now Rafer, you know he is the N in chief. How can you deny all the Scandals ™ on Fox news? It’s all politics the Chicago way.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  13. Jenos Idanian says:

    Well, Obama now fully owns the Benghazi coverup, as he’s rewarding the main propagandist for the spin story.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 17

  14. gVOR08 says:

    What @beth: and @Rafer Janders: said. Why do you have to accept GOP framing on this stuff? How is nominating three well respected moderates to empty judgeships picking a fight? How is it “taking a defiant tack” to promote a well qualified, trusted subordinate to a position that does not require congressional consent. Particularly when the GOPs have voiced no VALID objection to her.

    How about admitting Obama is conducting routine business routinely and crazy people will be crazy? How about admitting that if Obama appointed Condoleezza Rice the GOPs would have a fit?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  15. [...] Doug Mataconis: Meanwhile, it’s being reported that Samantha Power, who has long been a close Obama [...]

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  16. Sam Malone says:

    “…Well, Obama now fully owns the Benghazi coverup, as he’s rewarding the main propagandist for the spin story…”

    It is clear you are not intelligent enough to understand the meaning of that word…”cover-up”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 2

  17. legion says:

    @Jenos Idanian: Wow – reality never really does set in on you, does it? Just keep bangin’ that chicken, Jenos. It’ll call you back tomorrow, I promise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

  18. anjin-san says:

    defiant

    I’m betting he has natural rhythm to go along with the uppity thing…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  19. anjin-san says:

    Just keep bangin’ that chicken, Jenos. It’ll call you back tomorrow, I promise.

    And the quip o’ the day award goes to legion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  20. mrbill says:

    Well, this should go well….promote what is essentially one of the biggest dupes in government to NSAdvisor…and bring in the biggest critic of the US in Samantha Powers who has touted in her 2003 article that the US should get on bended knee and apologize to the world for its policies.

    Good pics ther O’man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 9

  21. [...] is concerning, for as Doug Mataconis points out, “Even though she’s been denied the Secretary of State position, she’s being put in what is [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  22. stonetools says:

    @anjin-san:

    I’m betting he has natural rhythm to go along with the uppity thing…

    I believe after the announcement, he and Rice did the charleston…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. [...] the President making the formal announcement this afternoon that he has selected U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to be his new National Security Adviser and longtime adviser Samantha [...]

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  24. Jenos Idanian says:

    Susan Rice… who pushed the Clinton administration to downplay the Rwandan genocide because of how it might hurt the Democrats in the 1994 elections.

    Susan Rice… who was essential in the decision to NOT accept Osama Bin Laden from the Sudanese government.

    Susan Rice… who pushed the US to get involved in the Libyan civil war.

    I just hope that the NSA’s IT team blocks YouTube from her office computer. The last thing we need is more crazy conspiracy theories from Rice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  25. anjin-san says:

    Susan Rice… who has been seen entering the lair of the notorious criminal “The Joker”…

    Susan Rice… some say she was involved in the Hindenburg disaster…

    Susan Rice… who checked out a copy of “The Little Engine that Could” at the school library in 1971… and never returned it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  26. Mikey says:

    @anjin-san: Jenos is correct on his first item. Susan Rice did indeed push against labeling the Rwandan genocide a genocide, saying “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November election?”

    Bystanders to Genocide | The Atlantic

    But that’s not the whole story–Rice has experienced a great deal of remorse for American inaction during the Rwandan genocide, and for her part in it. She has since stated, “I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required.”

    (A bit of amusing irony: the author of the linked Atlantic piece is…Samantha Power. Yes, that Samantha Power.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. anjin-san says:

    @ Mikey

    I am not claiming Rice has never screwed up. Most people at her level have a few doozies under their belts. I am saying that she is not a female version of Le Chiffre, cloaked in respectability by Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. G.A.Phillips says:

    More psychological warfare…. The President is just continuing the G.A.ing of the GOP. Soon they will all have the emotional equivalence of a 2 yr old.

    lol, ****** does it better then me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Mikey says:

    @anjin-san:

    I am saying that she is not a female version of Le Chiffre, cloaked in respectability by Obama.

    No, of course not. That’s Hillary.

    ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. legion says:

    @mrbill:

    promote what is essentially one of the biggest dupes in government to NSAdvisor

    Even if everything bad said about her is true, she’s still head & shoulders more competent than the last Rice to hold this position…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0