5 reasons why Obama's promotion of Susan Rice is a major move

ANALYSIS - President Obama's decision to promote United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to National Security Adviser, while not a surprise, is a move with major implications. Here's why...

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President Obama’s decision to promote United Nations ambassador Susan Rice to National Security Adviser, while not a surprise, is a move with major implications. Here’s why…

1. It illustrates a president willing to stand up for his allies

For much of his first term, President Obama quickly dumped officials, from Van Jones to Shirley Sherrod,  who drew intense opposition from conservatives. His decision to opt against nominating Susan Rice for secretary of state last year fit this pattern as well, with the president conceding defeat in the face of Republicans casting Rice as the face of the administration’s initially inaccurate portrayal of the Benghazi attacks.

But Obama not only didn’t jettison Rice, he promoted her very early in his second term. And while the NSA post has less symbolic power than secretary of state and does not require Senate confirmation, Rice will have more direct contact with Obama and arguably more influence as his top aide in the White House on national security issues.

Obama’s decision with Rice suggests, with his reelection already behind him, he will stand with other top administration officials under fire from Republicans, particularly Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

2. It will quiet critics of the diversity of Obama’s team

The initial critique, even from some Democrats, was that Obama’s second-term team was too dominated by white males, particularly on foreign policy.  But Obama now has not only appointed Rice as his principal foreign policy adviser, but selected another woman, Samantha Power, as his United Nations Ambassador.

The president still has lots of white males in top advisory roles, but his deputy chief of staff for policy (Rob Nabors), top domestic policy adviser (Cecelia Munoz) national security adviser, and all-everything adviser (Valerie Jarrett) are women or people of color.

3. It suggests Republicans have gained all they can politically from the fallout of the Benghazi attacks

Republicans seem eager to link Hillary Clinton to the Benghazi attacks in order to limit her ability to run for president in 2016. But the release last month of e-mails related to the White House response to the attacks there showed something closer to warring agencies trying to avoid blame than a coverup.

Those e-mails weakened the GOP case against Rice, who played little except appearing on television.

And if Benghazi can’t stop the ascension of Susan Rice in 2013, it’s hard to imagine it would torpedo Clinton three years from now.

4. Africa could hold a higher place on Obama’s agenda

Rice has views within the mainstream of the Democratic Party on national security issues and is unlikely to lead a huge shift in Obama’s positions on foreign policy. But when I asked a former administration official if there would be any big changes with Rice replacing Tom Donilon, he noted that while Donilon had a major interest in Asia, Rice previously served as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Clinton administration and could put more priority on issues affecting that region.

5. It shows Obama wants a team of allies in his second term

In his first term, Obama opted to pick the most well-known people possible for key jobs in the administration, even if he was not personally close to them. This worked in some cases (Hillary Clinton) but not in others (James Jones, Obama’s first national security adviser, was pushed out.)

Obama, according to aides, is good friends with Rice. Power was one of Obama’s aides when he first entered the Senate. Both of these picks fit Obama’s pattern for his second term, largely picking people with whom he has had long relationships instead of outsiders.

Critics of the president, including some Democrats, say this leads to insularity, while White House officials say that it makes sense, particularly in a second term, to select people with whom the president is already familiar.

Follow Perry Bacon on Twitter at @perrybaconjr