Obama’s foreign-policy team needs help. National security adviser Susan Rice still suffers from unfair attacks over the Benghazi affair. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was similarly tarnished by a rough confirmation hearing. Secretary of State John Kerry has been a tireless advocate for Obama’s policies, but there’s inevitable tension between a strong secretary and a centralizing White House. CIA Director John Brennan is an experienced Arabist who can frame Middle East strategy, but he was wounded by an unfortunate fight with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the intelligence committee.
Overseeing this team is chief of staff Denis McDonough. His great virtue is his closeness to the president, but this can be a vice, too. He understands Washington as a longtime congressional staffer but lacks the management experience of running a company or a federal agency. A final key aide is senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, whose role in policy decisions is mysterious but clearly important. Her status as “first friend” may be reassuring for Obama but can fuzz lines of authority.