Susan E. Rice, named by Obama Wednesday to succeed Thomas E. Donilon as national security adviser, and Samantha Power, nominated to follow Rice as U.N. ambassador, will have the opportunity to provide an answer as the administration reviews its policy in Syria, winds down the war in Afghanistan and seeks to stop Iran’s nuclear-enrichment program.
In a Rose Garden announcement, Obama called Rice, who does not need Senate confirmation, a “a fierce champion for justice and human dignity.”
“But she’s also mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately,” Obama said. He also praised Power as “a relentless advocate for American interests and values,” urging the Senate to approve her nomination as quickly as possible.
The changes come as Obama struggles for political momentum in his second term, a period when U.S. presidents have traditionally focused first on domestic issues before turning more of their attention overseas.
At home, some of Obama’s most important domestic policy initiatives have faced obstacles in a divided Congress, where Power’s nomination was greeted warmly by members of both parties. In a statement, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Power is “well-qualified for this important position” and hoped “the Senate will move forward on her nomination as soon as possible.”
Obama’s second-term foreign policy has so far been more reactive than ambitious, as he manages the U.S. endgame in Afghanistan and considers whether to do more on behalf of Syria’s armed opposition amid a worsening civil war.
The elevation of Rice and Power could quickly change the tenor of the administration’s foreign policy debate, much of it centered in the White House, where Donilon and his deputies have concentrated policy-making authority.
Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the shuffling “brings in two women the president has worked closely with and seems to like personally, even if their temperaments clash with the mantra of ‘no drama Obama.’”
He added, “I would think the challenge for both of them is to figure out how much room for maneuver they have.”
The departure of Donilon, a lawyer by training who has played a key role in shaping Obama’s pragmatic approach to foreign policy, has been openly discussed within the White House for months, though some believed he would stay until fall.
Donilon has been the administration’s biggest champion for reorienting U.S. foreign policy toward the fast-growing economies of Asia, an initiative typified by this weekend’s summit meeting between Obama and the new Chinese president, Xi Jinping.