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Rice helping Obama juggle foreign policy crises

Saturday - 5/31/2014, 11:34pm  ET

FILE - This June 5, 2013 file photo shows President Barack Obama standing with then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, his choice to be his next National Security Adviser, as current National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, right, applauds in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington. Once seemingly destined to become secretary of state, Rice now holds a lower profile job at the White House, juggling one global crises after another for Obama and trying to insure that his broad list of foreign policy priorities doesn’t fall by the wayside in the widening storm of problems overseas. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

JULIE PACE
AP White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Once seemingly destined to become secretary of state, Susan Rice now holds a lower-profile job at the White House, juggling global crises for the president and trying to ensure his foreign policy priorities don't fall by the wayside in a storm of overseas problems.

She shows no bitterness about the turn of events that short circuited her diplomatic trajectory. As President Barack Obama's national security adviser, she commands a suite of offices steps from the Oval Office and has more daily access to him than does Secretary of State John Kerry.

Kerry travels the world and gets the headlines. Rice quietly orchestrates the foreign policy issues put on Obama's desk.

These days, Rice has been keeping a list of issues at risk of being ignored: a trade agreement with Asia-Pacific nations, development projects in Africa, protecting gay rights overseas.

She's sent the list around to some of those on the 400-person National Security Council staff she oversees. She holds weekend meetings when necessary to keep tabs on issues that may have gotten overshadowed by Mideast instability or Russia's threatening moves in Ukraine.

The approach shows the degree to which Rice, who's nearing the end of her first year in the White House, sees herself as the point guard in a game rapidly nearing the final buzzer.

"It is a very important part of my job, particularly at this stage in the president's tenure, to not just be fighting fires and the headlines, which to some extent is unavoidable, but to make sure that the things he cares about -- his legacy interests, issues, accomplishments -- are nurtured and carried into the end zone," Rice said in an interview. "We are trying to put points on the board."

Yet the fires have come fast and furious, even on the day Obama announced he was shifting Rice from United Nations ambassador to national security adviser.

Hours after the Rose Garden ceremony, the first leaks from Edward Snowden were published online, sparking a months-long review of the government's spy practices and angering U.S. allies caught up in the sweeping surveillance operations.

There's been little respite since, often throwing the White House into a reactive posture.

The week Rice officially took over as national security adviser, Egypt's military ousted the country's first democratically elected president. That crisis was quickly overshadowed by a Syrian chemical weapons attack and the White House's rush toward a military strike that ultimately was scuttled.

Now it's the instability in Ukraine that has consumed much of the foreign policy focus in the White House.

"I don't have the luxury of saying, I'm going to do these three things and I'm going to put most of my eggs in these baskets," Rice said, adding that when it comes to the foreign policy decision-making process, "I've got to run the whole show."

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For many, Rice remains best known for her role in the controversy surrounding the deadly 2012 attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.

Days after the assault, she was dispatched to five Sunday talk shows to make the case that the onslaught on a U.S. compound was spontaneous and spurred by anger over an anti-Islam video -- a CIA-crafted talking point that turned out to be wrong.

Rice quickly became the prime target for Republicans who accused the Obama administration of covering up the truth about the attack in order to protect the president's re-election prospects.

People close to Rice say the experience was a searing one for the hard-charging diplomat who had led the push for the international bombing campaign that led to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's ouster.

A year before the attack on the U.S. compound, Rice had received a hero's welcome during a visit to the Libyan city, where crowds held signs that read "Thank You Susan Rice" and a huge banner flew in the city's Freedom Square bearing a photograph of Rice voting in favor of the bombing campaign at the United Nations.

Rice's success in securing support for the Libya mission had helped put her on a glide path toward a nomination for Obama's second-term secretary of state. But the Benghazi attack derailed those plans. GOP senators threatened to block her nomination and Rice eventually withdrew her name from consideration.

Rice's consolation prize was an appointment as national security adviser, a job that doesn't require Senate confirmation but still carries enormous influence.

The 49-year-old is at the helm of the administration's foreign policy decision-making, overseeing meetings with Cabinet secretaries and other top officials, then winnowing down which recommendations land on the president's desk.

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