US President Barack Obama, defying Republican critics, has named outspoken diplomat Susan Rice as his national security adviser, giving her a larger voice in US foreign policy despite accusations that she misled the nation in the aftermath of the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
The appointment on Wednesday, along with the nomination of human rights advocate Samantha Power to replace Rice as US ambassador to the UN, signals a shift by Obama toward advisers who favor more robust US intervention overseas for humanitarian purposes.
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 Republican criticism at the time, lauded his close friend on Wednesday as a “patriot who puts her country first.”
The 48-year-old Rice takes the influential national security post in the president’s inner circle from Tom Donilon, who is stepping down next month 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 US focus on the Asia-Pacific region and the tricky US relationship with Russia.
The shake-up at the top echelons of Obama’s team comes just as he starts tackling a heavy foreign policy agenda.
He is scheduled to hold an unusual summit in California with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) starting tomorrow, then travel to Europe and Africa later this month.
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 provided 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.
However, because Rice’s new job does not require Senate confirmation, some of the Republican lawmakers who doled out the most aggressive attacks appeared resigned to her promotion through the ranks of Obama’s national security team.
Senator John McCain, one of Rice’s harshest critics, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that he disagreed with her appointment, but would “make every effort” to work with her on important matters.
In an ironic twist for her Republican adversaries, Rice may end up wielding more authority in US foreign policy from within the White House than she would have as head of the US Department of State. Under Obama, the White House, not the Department of State or other agencies, has become the power center for the administration foreign policy decision-making.
Standing alongside Obama in a White House Rose Garden, Rice said she looked forward to working with lawmakers from both parties “to protect the US, advance our global leadership and promote the values Americans hold dear.”
Rice first started working for Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign and already has a close friendship with the president as well as the trust of many of his advisers. She has been a strong advocate at the UN for stricter sanctions against Iran and North Korea, and also pushed for the US and allies to use military force to help Libyan rebels oust former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Rice previously served in various national security positions in former US president Bill Clinton’s administration, including key roles on peacekeeping and African affairs.
Her world view is said to have been shaped by Clinton’s decision to not intervene in the Rwandan genocide, a move Rice said later deeply affected her.
Power, a human rights advocate and genocide expert, was among the fiercest critics of Clinton officials, including Rice, who kept the US out of Rwanda.
Power served as an informal adviser to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, but resigned after calling then-rival Hillary Rodham Clinton a “monster.”
She later joined Obama’s national security staff at the White House, overseeing the human rights portfolio.
Despite their reputations as interventionists on humanitarian grounds, neither Rice nor Power has staked out a public position on Syria that differs from the president’s.