Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Rice Replaces Donilon as Obama’s Top Foreign Policy Adviser

Susan Rice, President Obama’s new National Security Adviser, and Samantha Power, the administration’s new nominee for UN ambassador, are both firmly committed to the principles of “humanitarian” intervention.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

 In a reshuffle of top foreign policy posts in his second term, U.S. President Barack Obama recently announced that his controversial and blunt-spoken U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, will replace Tom Donilon as his national security adviser.

He also announced that another longtime aide on the National Security Council staff who began working with Obama when he was still a freshman senator from Illinois, Samantha Power, will replace Rice as Washington’s U.N. envoy, a cabinet position.

The moves, which had been anticipated but whose precise timing was uncertain, are considered unlikely to signal major changes in U.S. policy, despite the fact that both Power and Rice have been associated with the more-interventionist tendencies within the Democratic Party.

“I don’t think this change in personnel marks a turning point in policy,” said Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“From the get-go, foreign policy under Obama has been run from the (White House) Oval Office, and Obama’s brain trust has included primarily a small inner circle of folks that cut their teeth on the (2008 presidential) campaign. Susan Rice and Samantha Power have been part of that inner circle all along.”

“I see the move as a confident second-term president promoting people who will be more visible,” noted Heather Hurlburt, director of the National Security Network (NSN), a think tank considered close to the administration.

“Donilon’s great strength was his managerial skill and willingness to work behind the scenes. Rice’s public persona is one of her great strengths, and I’m sure the White House will use it.

 “Power will be one of the people most knowledgeable about the UN that the U.S. has ever sent to represent us there, and that’s quite a statement about the U.S. commitment to that organisation’s potential,” she added, noting that Power’s knowledge is based on her years as a journalist and author covering the world body and some of its most controversial and difficult missions.

Late last year, Rice was considered Obama’s first choice to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state but withdrew from consideration after Republicans accused her of deliberately misleading the public about events surrounding the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other U.S. personnel in last September in Benghazi.

She will be Obama’s third national security adviser. Unlike secretary of state or U.N. ambassador, the national security adviser is not subject to Senate confirmation.

Unlike Rice, Donilon, or Power, the first national security, Gen. James Jones (ret.), was never close to Obama and tended to see his work primarily as coordinating the advice of the other top national-security officials, notably the secretaries of defence and state and the director of national intelligence.

After two years, Donilon, Jones’ deputy and a Democratic political heavyweight, replaced him, moving quickly to concentrate foreign policy making in the White House and greatly increasing the size and workload of the NSC staff.

A top aide to Secretary of State Warren Christopher during President Bill Clinton’s first term, Donilon is given credit for a number of major strategic initiatives – most recently, promoting an informal and potentially historic California summit between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping in early June.

Indeed, one prominent NSC historian, David Rothkopf, wrote on foreignpolicy.com that his “greatest contribution was his strategic mindset” that led to “a restoration of balance to the U.S. national security agenda, a move away from the conflict-dominated view of the years right after 9/11 to one that is more global and has room to consider opportunities, new alliances, and new challenges more effectively.”

If Donilon was more inclined to the more non-interventionist stance of his mentor, Christopher, Rice is best seen as the protégée of Clinton’s second-term and more-interventionist Madeleine Albright whom she has known since childhood and served as assistant secretary of state for African Affairs.

Haunted by Washington’s refusal to act during the 1994 Rwandan genocide (when she worked on Clinton’s NSC), Rice, as well as Power, has been a leading exponent of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the doctrine that the international community has a responsibility to intervene in order to prevent genocide or mass atrocities if the otherwise sovereign state is unwilling or unable to do so.

“Power and Rice are smart, tough, and experienced. But both are firmly in the interventionist consensus that has guided U.S. foreign policy for many years, and neither is going to go outside the mainstream on any controversial issues,” Stephen Walt, a prominent international-relations professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, told IPS in an email message.
Citing R2P, both Rice and Power reportedly played an important role in persuading Obama to intervene in the civil war in Libya, although, significantly, Rice sided with Donilon against other cabinet officials and CIA director Gen. David Petraeus who recommended a limited military intervention on behalf of rebels in the Syrian civil war late last year, according to numerous published reports.

“Everyone knows there have been disagreements on the team, and the person who resolves them is Barack Hussein Obama. People debate this as if Obama had no opinions on these issues,” noted Hurlburt. “But second-term presidents evolve and get more active (in foreign policy). If that happens, that will be primarily because Obama wants to go there.”

One area in which there could be a major difference is managerial. While concentrating power in the White House, Donilon, a high-priced lawyer outside government, consistently ensured that relevant cabinet secretaries were continually consulted and their policy recommendations presented to the president.

Known for driving his staff particularly hard and making little secret of his unhappiness if in his judgment they failed to perform, he also maintained a deliberately low profile and a carefully calculated demeanour.

While a loyal team player – and the graceful manner in which she withdrew from consideration as secretary of state gained wide admiration and no doubt clinched her claim to her new post – Rice is flamboyant and impulsive by comparison, particularly in her preference for blunt, if colourful — sometimes even scatological — language, a habit that many of her U.N. colleagues found off-putting or difficult to get used to.

“She can be quite charming and likeable, and she is awfully smart,” CFR’s emeritus president Leslie Gelb wrote in the Daily Beast Wednesday. “And unlike Donilon, she often rushes to judgment, and then digs in. She’ll have to learn to count to 100, I mean 1000, before making up her mind, and meantime, listen to different views carefully.” He also noted that “she has a temper that needs tempering.”

Indeed, some sources who asked not to be named predicted that she faced major challenges in working out collegial relationships with Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry – both of whom are also new to their jobs and would be expected to make life difficult for her if they felt she was hogging the media spotlight or failing to consult adequately with their departments in formulating options for the president.

 “No shrinking violet is she,” one insider told IPS.

In that respect, according to Rothkopf, she could be greatly aided by Donilon’s former deputy and Obama’s new chief of staff, Denis McDonough, a foreign policy wonk in his own right and one of the very few people who are considered as personally close to Obama as Rice herself.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), President Trump’s nominee for secretary of state to replace Rex Tillerson, is a “tea party” Republican who previously served as director of the CIA.

Richard Goldberg is a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who served as a foreign policy aide to former Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has been advocating regime change in Iran since even before 9/11.

John Hannah, Dick Cheney’s national security adviser, is now a leading advocate for regime change in both Iran and Syria based at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Dennis Ross, a U.S. diplomat who served in the Obama administration, is a fellow at the “pro-Israel” Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Sheldon Adelson is a wealthy casino magnate known for his large, influential political contributions, his efforts to impact U.S. foreign policy discourse particularly among Republicans, and his ownership and ideological direction of media outlets.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is known for his hawkish views on foreign policy and close ties to prominent neoconservatives.

For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

North Korea and Iran both understand the lesson of Libya: Muammar Qaddafi, a horrifyingly brutal dictator, gave up his nuclear weapons, was eventually ousted from power with large-scale US assistance, and was killed. However, while Iran has a long and bitter history with the United States, North Korea’s outlook is shaped by its near-total destruction by forces led by the United States in the Korean War.

Print Friendly

Europe loathes having to choose between Tehran and Washington, and thus it will spare no efforts to avoid the choice. It might therefore opt for a middle road, trying to please both parties by persuading Trump to retain the accord and Iran to limit missile ballistic programs and regional activities.

Print Friendly

Key members of Trump’s cabinet should recognize the realism behind encouraging a Saudi- and Iranian-backed regional security agreement because the success of such an agreement would not only serve long-term U.S. interests, it could also have a positive impact on numerous conflicts in the Middle East.

Print Friendly

Given that Israel failed to defeat Hezbollah in its war in Lebanon in 2006, it’s difficult to imagine Israel succeeding in a war against both Hezbollah and its newfound regional network of Shiite allies. And at the same time not only is Hezbollah’s missile arsenal a lot larger and more dangerous than it was in 2006, but it has also gained vast experience alongside its allies in offensive operations against IS and similar groups.

Print Friendly

Donald Trump should never be excused of responsibility for tearing down the respect for truth, but a foundation for his flagrant falsifying is the fact that many people would rather be entertained, no matter how false is the source of their entertainment, than to confront truth that is boring or unsatisfying or that requires effort to understand.

Print Friendly

It would be a welcome change in twenty-first-century America if the reckless decision to throw yet more unbelievable sums of money at a Pentagon already vastly overfunded sparked a serious discussion about America’s hyper-militarized foreign policy.

Print Friendly

President Trump and his advisers ought to ask themselves whether it is in the U.S. interest to run the risk of Iranian withdrawal from the nuclear agreement. Seen from the other side of the Atlantic, running that risk looks dumb.