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Polarizing pick: Obama tabs Rice for top security post; Samantha Power to U.N.
In a move sure to provoke congressional Republicans, President Obama appointed embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice on Wednesday to serve as his national security adviser.
To replace Mrs. Rice as U.N. ambassador, Mr. Obama also nominated former aide Samantha Power, who once referred to Hillary Rodham Clinton as a "monster" during the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries and analogized U.S. foreign policy to that of Nazi Germany in calling for a "mea culpa" approach to foreign policy.
Mrs. Rice, criticized roundly for portraying the deadly terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, as a mob protest, is to replace National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon, who is retiring after more than four years in the job.
During an event in the White House Rose Garden, the president called Mrs. Rice "the consummate public servant, a patriot who puts her country first."
"I'm absolutely thrilled that she'll be back at my side and leading my national security team in my second term," Mr. Obama said. "Susan exemplifies the finest tradition of American diplomacy and leadership."
With Mr. Donilon, Mrs. Rice and Ms. Power at his side, the president proclaimed, "They have made America safer."
Mrs. Rice told the president she was "deeply grateful for your enduring confidence in me."
"I look forward to continuing to serve on your national security team to keep our nation strong and safe," she said.
The post of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation, although it is certain to raise the ire of congressional Republicans, with whom the president has been engaged in a "charm offensive."
Mrs. Rice became a target of Republicans in the wake of the September terrorist attacks on a diplomatic post that led to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens. In the midst of Mr. Obama's re-election campaign, Mrs. Rice went on a series of TV talk shows to describe the attacks as a spontaneous protest against an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S.
Subsequent investigations have shown that the attack was a deliberate assault carried out by groups affiliated with al Qaeda. Administration emails obtained by congressional investigators show that the State Department and other administration officials were involved in scrubbing references to terrorism in the "talking points" that were used by Mrs. Rice and others in the days immediately after the assault.
James Carafano, a national-security analyst at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, said the choice of Mrs. Rice is proof that Mr. Obama wants to continue his foreign-policy doctrine of "soft power."
"You're getting a personification of the Obama doctrine — we're going to rely on 'soft power,' we're going to talk to our enemies, we're going to outsource everything to the U.N.," Mr. Carafano said. "This is just a reaffirmation of 'we're going to do more of that.' What's disturbing about this most of all is much larger than Susan Rice's person, because she's just really emblematic of all that."
Mr. Obama last fall was considering Mrs. Rice as a possible replacement for former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina warned that they would block her appointment.
The Republicans' opposition drew an angry response from Mr. Obama after his re-election, when he came to Mrs. Rice's defense.
"She made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her," Mr. Obama said at a news conference in November. "If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous."
Mr. McCain responded to the news of Mrs. Rice's pending appointment on his Twitter account Wednesday.
"Obviously I disagree w/ POTUS appointment of Susan Rice as Nat'l Security Adviser, but I'll make every effort to work w/ her on imp't issues," he wrote.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican and a harsh critic of the administration on the Benghazi attacks, wrote on Twitter: "Judgement is key to national security matters. That alone should disqualify Susan Rice from her appointment. #benghazi #BadChoice."
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, praised Mrs. Rice for having "led the charge to restore American credibility and influence at the United Nations, in turn improving our national security and effectively protecting the interests of the United States and its allies."
Charles Stith, a professor at Boston University who served with Mrs. Rice in the Clinton administration, called her "an excellent choice."
"It keeps one of our most able diplomats involved at one of the most critical junctures in our country's history," said Mr. Stith, who was U.S. ambassador to Tanzania. "Her insight into the types of challenges we face in this era of terrorism is as keen as anyone in the foreign policy establishment."
The appointments of Mrs. Rice and Ms. Power places two women in Mr. Obama's inner circle after he faced criticism for compiling a nearly all-male leadership team for his second term.
Both women have emphasized human rights as a focus of their work. In spite of that, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama will not change his policy toward Syria, where the government of President Bashar Assad has killed tens of thousands of civilians and there has been pressure on Mr. Obama to take a more active role in stopping the slaughter.
The selection of Mrs. Rice for the crucial national-security post is the second time in two days that Mr. Obama has made confrontational moves toward congressional Republicans. On Monday, the president nominated three candidates for vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, an influential court that some Republican senators are trying to strip of three judgeships.
Ms. Power is a longtime Obama adviser who worked on his 2008 presidential campaign and ran the human rights office in the White House. She left the administration in February, but was considered the favorite to replace Mrs. Rice at the U.N.
She said the question of what the U.N. can accomplish "remains a pressing one."
"I have seen U.N. aid workers enduring shell fire to deliver food to the people of Sudan, yet I've also seen U.N. peacekeepers fail to protect the people of Bosnia," Ms. Power said. "As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time. It can do so only with American leadership."
In March 2008, during the Democratic presidential primary in which Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton were competing, Ms. Power said in an interview that Mrs. Clinton "is a monster."
"She is stooping to anything ... if you are poor and she is telling you some story about how Obama is going to take your job away, maybe it will be more effective. The amount of deceit she has put forward is really unattractive," she said. She later apologized for her remarks and resigned from her unpaid position with the Obama campaign.
Ms. Power also endorsed what she called a "mea culpa" approach to foreign policy.
In a 2003 essay in the New Republic, Ms. Power said anti-Americanism in foreign countries is a response to "the role U.S. political, economic, and military power has played in denying such freedoms to others." She also called for a total "overhauling" of U.S. foreign policy and a "historical reckoning with crimes committed, sponsored, or permitted by the United States" that she analogized to post-Nazism West Germany.
"Instituting a doctrine of the mea culpa would enhance our credibility by showing that American decision-makers do not endorse the sins of their predecessors. When [West German Chancellor Willy] Brandt went down on one knee in the Warsaw ghetto [in 1970], his gesture was gratifying to World War II survivors, but it was also ennobling and cathartic for Germany. Would such an approach be futile for the United States?" she wrote.
Ms. Power formerly served on Mr. Obama's national security council with a focus on human rights. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for her book "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."
She also has drawn criticism for appearing to have contemplated a U.S. invasion of Israel to protect the Palestinians from a human-rights situation she said was nearing a genocide. Ms. Power contemplated during a 2002 interview sending a "mammoth protection force" even if it would be an imperfect "imposition of a solution on unwilling parties." She later repudiated those remarks.
That same New Republic essay also talked lightly of reducing U.S. sovereignty in the name of strengthening international institutions.
"Besides, giving up a pinch of sovereignty will not deprive the United States of the tremendous military and economic leverage it has at its disposal as a last resort," she wrote.
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About the Author
Dave Boyer is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times. A native of Allentown, Pa., Boyer worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 2002 to 2011 and also has covered Congress for the Times. He is a graduate of Penn State University. Boyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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