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Obama's Foreign Policy Picks Rally the Home Team

United Nations Security Council Holds Meeting On North Korea's Latest Nuclear Test

President Obama is shaking up his national security team: Tom Donilon is out, Susan Rice and Samantha Power are in. Mark Landler has a good story in the Times; we have four points in particular to note about this development.

First, President Obama is now playing the national security game with his people. In his first term he was cautious: he kept officials from the Bush administration like Defense Secretary Gates and appointed his main campaign rival Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State. Now, however, he has his loyalists: Susan Rice, an early and very key Obama backer, as National Security Advisor, and Samantha Power, another campaign associate, at the United Nations.

Second, these picks are a political signal. Appointing Susan Rice to the post of national security advisor was a defiant gesture toward Republicans, a clear sign that the Administration isn’t going to let fallout from the Benghazi debacle get in its way. But it also suggests a deepening rift between the Obama wing of the Democratic Party and Team Clinton. Hillary is known to be cool on Rice. As Aaron Blake wrote for the Post in December, Rice “once worked in Bill Clinton’s administration, but she was one of the first former Clinton aides to jump ship to Obama’s campaign when he ran in 2008 and was highly critical of Hillary Clinton’s positions on Iraq and Iran. And as we’ve written before, nobody keeps score like the Clintons.”

Third, with the Rice/Power appointments there’s a huge gap between personnel and policy. As the administration watches Syria burn and washes its hands of the biggest global bloodbath since Rwanda, it appoints two powerful supporters of humanitarian intervention to senior posts. Do the appointments signal a tougher, more interventionist policy—or are Rice and Power on board for continued inaction in the face of the increasingly bitter war threatening to engulf the land from Basra to Beirut?

Finally, this looks like yet another step concentrating foreign policy in the hands of the President and his closest staffers. The NSC, at least in the second term of the Obama administration, will be in the driver’s seat. The State Department, the intelligence agencies, and even the Pentagon will execute policy that is made in the West Wing.

[Susan Rice photo courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • jeburke

    Power is a flake, and exile to the cushy UN post is probably a good thing. Rice has had a bad break due to loyally reciting the Benghazi fantasy, but she is no flake or fool. Tough minded and smart, as well as loyal to her patron, Rice likely will give the President better advice than most.

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