Major shake-up of US foreign policy team as Barack Obama appoints Susan Rice as national security adviser

Appointment seen as a
resounding vote of confidence from the President after US ambassador to UN was lambasted by Republicans for her role in the Benghazi controversy

In a major shake-up of his foreign policy team, President Barack Obama made Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, his new national security adviser, and named Samantha Power, the human rights expert, author and former White House official to replace Ms Rice in New York.

Ms Rice will succeed Tom Donilon, who has resigned after heading the National Security Council since October 2010. But her appointment will also be seen as a resounding vote of confidence from the President, after the battering she received from Republicans over the White House’s handling of the aftermath of the fatal attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, last September.

Though Ms Rice had no responsibility for security at the mission, where four Americans were killed, Republicans seized on the explanation she gave of the attacks on national TV, accusing the administration of mounting a cover-up – aimed at avoiding embarrassment for Mr Obama in the final weeks of his 2012 election battle with Mitt Romney.

Ms Rice had been the favourite to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in the second Obama term. But faced with the certainty of stormy confirmation hearings, she withdrew her name from consideration in December. The job eventually went to John Kerry.

Her new post however requires no confirmation by the Senate, and Republican reaction last night to her appointment was muted. Tennessee’s Bob Corker, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said merely that he “looked forward” to working with Ms Rice.

But she could have a hard act to follow. The low-key Mr Donilon is widely considered to have been a notable success, not only for his part in shaping counter-terrorism policy and the adminstration’s shift in focus to Asia, but also for securing smooth relations between the State Department and the Pentagon, often rivals in the foreign policy arena.

Ms Rice’s talents are not in dispute and, having worked for Mr Obama during the 2008 election campaign, she is personally very close to the president – a vital requirement for the job. But her more outspoken and forthright style could cause problems, some observers warn.

Ms Power, an academic and writer who specialises in human  rights issues and also worked for three years at the NSC, is also no stranger to controversy. A close foreign policy adviser during the 2008 Obama campaign, she was forced to resign after publicly describing Ms Clinton, Mr Obama’s rival for the Democratic nomination, as “a monster.”

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