WASHINGTON: Defying Republican critics, President Barack Obama named outspoken diplomat Susan Rice as his national security adviser Wednesday, giving her a larger voice in U.S. foreign policy despite accusations that she misled the nation in the aftermath of the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
The appointment, along with the nomination of human rights advocate Samantha Power to replace Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, signals a shift by Obama toward advisers who favor more robust American intervention overseas for humanitarian purposes. But it’s unclear whether that philosophy will alter the president’s policies in Syria, where he has resisted pressure to use U.S. military force to stem that country’s civil war.
Rice’s appointment provides a measure of redemption after the contentious Benghazi investigations forced her from consideration as Obama’s second-term secretary of state. The president, who vigorously defended Rice from the GOP criticism at the time, lauded his close friend Wednesday as a “patriot who puts her country first.”
“Susan is a fierce champion for justice and human decency. But she’s also mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately,” Obama said in a White House Rose Garden ceremony.
The 48-year-old Rice takes the influential national security post in the president’s inner circle from Tom Donilon, who is stepping down in July after more than four years in the Obama White House. The president credited Donilon with having “shaped every single national security policy of my presidency,” including the renewed U.S. focus on the Asia-Pacific region and the tricky American relationship with Russia.
Wednesday’s announcements came as Obama seeks to regroup from three controversies that have emboldened Republicans and threatened to overshadow his agenda: the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups, the Justice Department’s seizure of phone records of Associated Press journalists and the resurgent investigation into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Rice became entangled in the Benghazi case after asserting in television interviews that the September attack was probably spontaneous, a statement that was later proven false. While Rice said she was relying on talking points crafted by the administration, she became a target for Republicans accusing the White House of trying to cover up a terror attack during the presidential election.
But because Rice’s new job does not require Senate confirmation, some of the GOP lawmakers who doled out the most aggressive attacks appeared resigned to her promotion through the ranks of Obama’s national security team.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of Rice’s harshest critics, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that he disagreed with her appointment but would “make every effort” to work with her on important matters.