In naming Susan Rice his next national security adviser Wednesday, President Barack Obama thumbed his nose at critics of her role in misleading the public after the deadly attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi.
On television in the days after the Sept. 11, 2012 attack, Rice delivered administration talking points that blamed a spontaneous demonstration-turned-violent for the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. While it's clear now that it was instead an organized attack by Islamic militants, acknowledging that at the time could have hurt Obama's re-election bid. The episode tarnished Rice's reputation and made her a lightning rod in the controversy.
Her elevation to national security adviser is sure to reanimate those convinced she lied to avoid undermining Obama's claimed successes in the war on terrorists. Congress is investigating the Benghazi imbroglio, so it could still become a distraction in the administration's dealings with Republicans on Capitol Hill.
But any president is entitled to the staff he wants, and it's important for the president to have a national security adviser he trusts implicitly. Rice obviously fills that bill. And she's qualified for the job. She's been Obama's United Nations ambassador since 2009, and before that served as assistant secretary of state for African affairs and as a member of President Bill Clinton's National Security Council staff.
Rice was seen as a possible secretary of state for Obama's second term, but the Benghazi controversy quashed that. She said at the time that if she were nominated, the fight to win Senate confirmation would be too long and disruptive. The national security adviser doesn't require confirmation, so that battle has been avoided. But this appointment is red meat for Republicans, and will likely become a distraction that makes it harder to get the public's business done.