It's always difficult to discern just where President Obama stands on the topic of national security. From his reluctance to say that acts of terrorism were committed by, well, terrorists, to his condemnation of the conditions at Guantanamo Bay while far exceeding President Bush's use of drones (including strikes against U.S. citizens), and up to his association with actual terrorists (Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn), his position is, at best, a hard read. But his appointment of Susan Rice to the post of National Security Adviser is a good indicator that national security is not a top priority.
Susan Rice became a household name last September when she appeared on the Sunday morning talk shows to sell a bill of goods to the American people. Asked about the roots of the attack on an American consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans -- including an ambassador -- dead on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, she told Bob Schieffer, "What our assessment is as of the present is in fact ... it began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where of course as you know there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video." Yes, that's right Ambassador Rice, YouTube was to blame.
Well, we later learned that the White House knew within hours of the attack that the assault in Benghazi was a terrorist attack against the United States without any connection to the "hateful video" that Rice cited. It's clear now that the Obama Administration did not want to risk fallout on its reelection efforts just weeks before the voters went to the polls in November.
Rice likely accepted the role with the hope that she would be rewarded with a nomination to head the State Department after Hillary Clinton's imminent departure. All signals pointed in that direction, but her obvious and now famous prevarications on national television about so important a topic led to intense pressure on the president to remove her from consideration for Foggy Bottom. So again, Rice fell on her sword and withdrew her own name from consideration.
But the day has finally arrived for payback, and it comes in the form of her nomination to the post of National Security Adviser. This, the president believes, is the perfect way to reward her. The vacancy was created by the resignation of outgoing NSA and former lobbyist Tom Donilon, by far the least qualified person to hold the post of any NSA in the last 20 years.
Donilon's October 2010 appointment came at the heels of the departure of Gen. James Jones. Jones tenure as National Security Adviser was brief, having begun his service in this once vital role in January 2009. Gen. Jones brought impeccable credentials to the position of national security adviser. Raised for much of his formative years in France, he attended Georgetown where he was enrolled in its foreign service program. His 40-year military career was nothing short of remarkable: Commander of the U.S. European Command; Supreme Allied Commander for Europe; Commandant of the Marine Corps. One would be hard-pressed to craft even a fictitious resume for someone with better qualifications for the job. Despite this background, or maybe because of it, Jones didn't last in the Obama administration.
In the fall of 2010, Bob Woodward published Obama's Wars, in which he wrote that Donilon, whose previous experience included a stint as VP with Fannie Mae but precious little by way of national security, was once disparaged by his predecessor, who criticized Donilon's lack of overseas experience. Jones told directly, "You have no credibility with the military." Worse, according to Woodward, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates became so offended by remarks made by Donilon that he nearly walked out of a meeting and later predicted that Donilon would be a "disaster" as Obama's NSA.
It seems that despite a recent uptick in terrorist attacks against American interests, President Obama still doesn't view the job of National Security Adviser to be one requiring any sort of credibility, least of all when it comes to, ironically, maintaining the security of the nation. If Rice doesn't last in the role -- and with the fog of Benghazi still very much casting a pall over the White House this is a real possibility -- it will be interesting to see who Obama picks next. Maybe Lois Lerner will be interested.