Rice on security: Obama chooses a close aide with much experience

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President Barack Obama's appointment Wednesday of Ambassador to the United Nations Susan E. Rice to succeed Thomas E. Donilon as national security adviser reflects a sensible and predictable decision.

The person in that position is the official closest to the president in determining the nation's security policy. Ms. Rice has been one of Mr. Obama's primary advisers in that regard since his 2008 campaign for president.

At the United Nations, she has performed with considerable distinction in terms of helping U.S. positions to prevail in discussions on key controversies. She has a reputation for using both charm and sometimes rougher tactics to win the day on contentious issues. She tripped up, probably not her own fault, and lost the possibility of being named secretary of state in Mr. Obama's second term, over her response on Sunday morning television interviews last September to the disaster in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four U.S. diplomats.

Ms. Rice used talking points from the administration that said the attack in Libya was probably spontaneous and due to street protests over an anti-Muslim video. Republicans criticized the amount of security for the diplomats, challenged her response and charged the administration with trying to sweep the incident under the rug due to Mr. Obama's re-election campaign.

Fortunately, Ms. Rice's appointment as national security adviser is not subject to Senate confirmation, so Republican senators will not be able to block the president's choice.

Beyond Ms. Rice's rich experience as ambassador to the U.N. and as an assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Bill Clinton administration, the principal asset that she will bring to the position will be her longstanding, close relationship with the president. That will be particularly useful since one of her key functions will be to coordinate policies in which both the Department of Defense and the Department of State -- not always in harmony -- are key players. Ms. Rice should be able to get them to row in the same direction, through her own abilities backed by her easy access to the president.

With John Kerry as secretary of state, Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense and Susan Rice as national security adviser, Mr. Obama and the country may have the strongest forward line in national security affairs in decades.



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