The Asssociated Press hears from a White House source this morning that Barack Obama has finally made a move on his national-security team that has been the worst-kept secret in Washington. Tom Donilon, the national-security adviser for nearly three years, has resigned, and Obama will name a familiar face to replace him:
A White House official says Tom Donilon is resigning as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser and will be replaced by Susan Rice.
Rice is currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She has been harshly criticized by Republicans for her initial accounting of the attacks on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, which later proved to be incorrect.
This move has been rumored for so long that it almost doesn’t equate to news. After Susan Rice’s potential to succeed Hillary Clinton evaporated in the post-Benghazi narrative collapse, Barack Obama kept her as UN Ambassador just long enough to shift her into another position, and Donilon’s job was the only good fit. One big reason is that a presidential national-security adviser doesn’t require Senate confirmation, which means that Obama won’t have to provide Benghazi skeptics with another high-profile platform to ask embarrassing questions — or produce even more whistleblowers.
That still leaves Rice — and Obama — with a very large problem in terms of credibility. Even if Rice had no input into the process of generating the false and damaging talking points for her full Ginsburg on September 16th, her only defense is that someone handed her a sheet and told her to tell that story without having checked it out for herself. Does a national-security adviser normally just act as someone else’s mouthpiece? The very nature of that position requires an independent mind to test and, when necessary, oppose the conclusions coming from the intelligence community, and to dig into the intel herself to provide critical advice to the President. Rice’s claim that she didn’t know anything on her own on September 16th but still went on five different talk shows to push the State Department line has always been suspect, but taking her at her word on that presents a significant disqualifier for this specific office. (Nor is that the only issue that Rice has bumbled, either.)
Perhaps none of this matters to a President who thinks he knows more than anyone else in the room. I’d argue that an independent national-security adviser is even more critical in that circumstance and a yes-woman more dangerous. And while Obama may enjoy moving Rice up as a thumb in the eye of his opponents, he risks even more political damage if more whistleblowers come forward at State — or more e-mails are forced into the open — that starts eroding Rice’s I-just-did-what-I-was-told defense. This administration is already facing a credibility crisis, and this won’t help at all.