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ALEXANDRIA--Tom Donilon, President Obama's national security adviser, is out, and Susan Rice is in. Along with Samantha Power, who's taking over at the United Nations, the new Rice-Power axis will likely mean a much greater emphasis on human rights in foreign policy--which could vastly complicate U.S. relations with Russia, China, and Iran.
Serving in that post since October 2010, when he replaced former Gen. Jim Jones, Donilon has played a critical role in shaping Obama's foreign policy, usually joining Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the relatively "dovish," anti-interventionist side of the fence--often ranged against the Pentagon, the military brass, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the hawkish end.
Bob Gates, the Republican centrist-hawk who was Obama's secretary of defense--a carryover from the George W. Bush administration--famously said that Donilon would be a "disaster" if he were elevated to the post of national security adviser, because Donilon wasn't echoing the military's view about continually escalating the war in Afghanistan.
More recently, Donilon lined up with Obama and Biden in opposition to direct U.S. involvement in the civil war in Syria, and Donilon reportedly backed Obama's decision to speed the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan in 2013-14 and to minimize the U.S. presence there beyond 2014.
Among Donilon's recent important efforts have been his travels to Russia, where he tried to rebuild ties with Moscow, and China, where he helped to arrange the critical summit between Obama and President Xi Jinping of China this weekend in California.
Perhaps Donilon's biggest blunder--or at least, his worst move--was to bring Dennis Ross, a strongly pro-Israeli hawk and ally of neo-conservatives, into the White House. Several years ago, I listened to Donilon as he spoke to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Israel lobby's chief Washington think tank, as he praised Ross--who's now a WINEP official, once again--and boasted that he'd helped bring Ross into Obama's inner circle.
No wonder, perhaps, that the Israel-Palestine problem is where Obama has made the least progress in any of the foreign policy challenges he faces.
But now it's worrying, to say the least, that Susan Rice is taking over at the NSC. That's made worse by Obama naming Samantha Power to succeed Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.