Most of the attention this week was on the fiscal cliff negotiations. But whether it is Benghazi, the vote on the Palestinians’ status at the United Nations, Gaza, Syria or defense sequestration cuts, foreign policy challenges abound. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has chosen, as Hillary Clinton did, to put her nose to the grindstone and develop expertise in national security as a freshman. Last week she made the transition from junior senator to one of the three “amigos” along with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), who will remain the most influential and experienced national security leaders on Capitol Hill. 

Appearing at the Foreign Policy Initiative conference and answering press questions this week, Ayotte expressed grave concern about Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, setting out the case for putting a hold on the confirmation until the administration gives a comprehensive account of the events leading up to, during and after the attack in Libya and murder of four Americans.

Whether on Rice or on defense sequestration or in moderating retiring Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman’s lunchtime talk, she spoke with confidence, in measured and calm tones. Not only does she add much needed diversity and youth to the Senate Republicans’ line-up, but she also presents toughness without unreasonableness when it comes to fiscal matters. (Yes, she says, on more revenue; no on tax rate hikes; absolutely yes on entitlement reform.) Moreover, she is a rare commodity — a Republican who enjoys and is adept at talking to the national media. Unlike too many Republicans, she is not a gloom-and-doomer, nor a grumpy pol. In that regard she is, like the late Hubert Humphrey, a happy warrior.

No one “replaces” Joe Lieberman when it comes to national security, but Ayotte showed that she is fully capable of following in the Senate tradition of foreign policy heavyweights including Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Georgia), Sen. Scoop Jackson (D-Wash.) and her two amigos (who tend to a vital concern that earns them few, if any, brownie points with their constituents).

Well done, senator.