WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama on Wednesday named Susan Rice as his new national security advisor, defying Republican fury over her role in the Benghazi affair and calling her an “exemplary public servant.”
Rice, 48, currently US ambassador to the United Nations, will take over from Tom Donilon in July. Obama nominated Irish-born genocide expert and Pulitzer prize-winning author Samantha Power, 42, as the next envoy to the world body.
The shake-up in Obama’s national security team marks a swift rebound for Rice, who was forced to pull out of the running to be secretary of state, after being caught up in a row over the attack on the US mission in Benghazi.
Republicans accused her of misleading Americans over the true nature of the attack in Libya, which killed four Americans, after she said on television it was a spontaneous assault rather than a planned terrorist operation.
Obama vigorously defended her at the time, and it was an open secret in Washington that he would select Rice when Donilon, who has been in the job for three years, decided to retire this year.
The president Wednesday lauded Rice as an “exemplary public servant” who is “passionate and pragmatic” and a champion for justice and human dignity.
“Put simply, Susan exemplifies the finest tradition of American diplomacy and leadership,” Obama said in a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
Obama’s staff shuffle again puts two women in the trio of top foreign policy jobs, alongside Secretary of State John Kerry, and confirms Obama’s penchant from promoting within his tight political inner circle.
It also elevates two people who have wrestled with the question of when the United States should intervene in foreign conflicts to protect civilians, just as Obama faces pressure to get more involved in the Syria crisis.
Rice was part of the Clinton administration team that failed to respond to halt genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s.
Power won the Pulitzer Prize for her book “The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide” which focuses on Rwanda and other mass killings, including in Cambodia and Bosnia.
Donilon was at the centre of the decision to pull US troops out of Iraq, to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year and the killing of al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
He is a key figure in China policy, masterminding Obama’s diplomatic ‘pivot’ to Asia, and recently traveled to Beijing to prepare the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to California this week.
“I would like to thank you for this rare opportunity to be outside and experience the natural light,” quipped the workaholic Donilon at the ceremony, before going on to laud Obama as a leader of rare skill and grace.
An uncharacteristically emotive Obama called him one of the greatest national security advisors ever.
Rice, who served as an assistant secretary of state for Africa in the Clinton administration, has long been one of Obama’s closest foreign policy aides, dating back to his 2008 campaign.
Some Republicans however still raised concerns. – afp