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June 05, 2013

Obama Announces New National Security Team

by Meredith Buel

U.S. President Barack Obama has announced a major shakeup in his national security and foreign policy team, selecting U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice as his new national security adviser. 

President Obama announced that Susan Rice will move from her current post and replace Tom Donilon as his next national security adviser, one of the most powerful posts in Washington.

Rice has been a controversial figure, but Obama said she understands there is no substitute for American leadership.

“So Susan is the consummate public servant, a patriot who puts her country first, she is fearless, she is tough," said Obama. "She has a great tennis game and a pretty good basketball game.”

Rice has been a key adviser to Obama and became his U.N. ambassador in 2009.

She served on the National Security Council as a staff member for Africa when then-President Bill Clinton decided not to intervene in the 1994 Rwandan genocide.   Clinton later apologized for the inaction.

That experience is said to have influenced Rice on decisions about future military interventions.   

Rice was one of the chief advocates for creating a no-fly zone over Libya, an intervention that eventually helped overthrow Moammar Gadhafi.

Rice came under severe criticism from Republicans in Congress for televised remarks following the deadly attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya.
The uproar caused her to withdraw as a potential candidate for secretary of state.  

Her appointment as national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation and she looked ahead during her remarks.

"As you have outlined, we have vital opportunities to seize, and ongoing challenges to confront," Rice said. "We have much still to accomplish on behalf of the American people.”

Watch related video by VOA's Margaret Besheer

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To replace Rice at the U.N., President Obama nominated Samantha Power, who has held key government positions dealing with democracy and human rights.  He urged quick Senate confirmation.

“She knows the U.N.’s strengths, she knows its weaknesses, she knows that America’s interests are advanced when we can rally the world to our side, and she knows that we have to stand up for the things we believe in,” Obama stated.

It is unclear whether the changes signal a significant shift in Obama’s foreign policy, particularly in Syria.

Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the new team is more likely to favor arming the rebels. “I think it does increase the chances of us crossing the threshold to get to more lethal or lethal aid, we don’t give any lethal aid right now,” he said.

Rice is not expected to fully take over her new job until after President Obama’s upcoming trips to Europe and Africa.