Rice Pick Signals Obama's Tough Side

National security aide has enemies on Capitol Hill.

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(Charles Dharapak/AP)
President Barack Obama stands with UN Ambassador Susan Rice, his choice to be his next National Security Adviser, as current National Security Adviser.

Naming a national security adviser is a big event for any president, and Barack Obama's choice of Susan Rice for this crucial job provides important insights into the commander in chief, what he values and how he will operate for the rest of his second term.

Rice is currently U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and she has wide experience in international affairs, but she has become a lightning rod for criticism on Capitol Hill.

[READ: Susan Rice to Serve as 'New Point Guard' for Obama's Home Stretch]

Here are some takeaways from the appointment:

1. Obama may not seem to have a harsh, sharp-edged side because he controls his temper and frequently calls for conciliation. But he can get tough. Choosing Rice is an in-your-face move designed to defy congressional Republicans who have blasted Rice for her misleading remarks about the reasons for a terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, last year. The attack killed four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador.

Rice says she made public the best information available at the time. But opposition to her was so strong that she withdrew from consideration as secretary of state rather than undergo arduous confirmation hearings and submit herself to a vote in the Senate. Former Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts got the job at State, replacing Hillary Clinton.

[READ: Susan Rice to Replace Tom Donilon as National Security Adviser]

The national security adviser's position doesn't require Senate confirmation so the post is now assured for Rice. But her relationship with Republican critics on Capitol Hill, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, remains rocky.


And her advocacy for humanitarian interventions by the United States and its allies in trouble spots abroad may signal a more aggressive approach for Obama than that taken by her predecessor, Tom Donilon.

2. Diversity remains one of Obama's chief goals in filling key posts in his government. His naming of Rice, an African-American, was coupled with the naming of foreign-policy expert Samantha Power as the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Obama, the first African-American president, has now named two high-profile women to the highest levels of his administration.

It should quiet many advocates of diversity who haven't been satisfied with Obama's appointments up to now. Obama supporters point out that long-time Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett, also an African-American, remains his senior counselor at the White House, and no one is closer to the president and first lady than Jarrett.

[PHOTOS: Obama Behind the Scenes]

3. Obama, like most presidents, wants strong loyalists in his inner circle. That's what he is getting with Rice and Power. Both have been loyal soldiers for Obama in the past. This is also true of other members of his inner circle, including White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

There is a down side, however. It could add to presidential isolation if the aides close Obama off from the influence of people outside his immediate orbit, as I point out in my new book, "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership."

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  • Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and followed on Facebook and Twitter.