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Date set for NSC’s Rudman to join Mitchell team

When the National Security Council was coming together during the end of the presidential transition, it contained two of Barack Obama’s closest foreign-policy advisors, former Senate aides Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert, coming in as director of strategic communications and chief of staff, respectively. It also had veteran Democratic party operative and lawyer Thomas Donilon ...

585898_090512_rudman2.jpg
585898_090512_rudman2.jpg

When the National Security Council was coming together during the end of the presidential transition, it contained two of Barack Obama's closest foreign-policy advisors, former Senate aides Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert, coming in as director of strategic communications and chief of staff, respectively. It also had veteran Democratic party operative and lawyer Thomas Donilon coming in as deputy national security advisor and retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones (ret.) as national security advisor. Despite the new team's range of experience and competencies, what it conspicuously lacked among the top tier was anyone who had worked in an NSC before.

So McDonough and Lippert recruited Clinton-era NSC veteran Mara Rudman, then one of the top NSC advisors to the transition team, to come in as the NSC executive secretary. A former NSC chief of staff and deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton, Rudman was asked to help the new team get set up and started, structured right, and help find the right people. She agreed, on the proviso that the assignment would be temporary. With some overlap in responsibilities to the chief of staff job she already had done for the Clinton NSC and now being performed by Lippert, the ExecSec job, described as the council's chief operating officer, involves a lot of high level administrative tasks, managing paper flow and reviewing memos for the national security advisor, and she wanted to get back to policy work on the Middle East.

With the NSC now humming along with more than 200 people, Rudman is moving to become a deputy to Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, with whom she has already traveled twice to the region. A date has been set for her to join Mitchell's team at the end of the month if all goes as planned, sources at the NSC and State Department said. Her successor as NSC executive secretary is yet to be named, but is said to be someone who is already working there.

When the National Security Council was coming together during the end of the presidential transition, it contained two of Barack Obama’s closest foreign-policy advisors, former Senate aides Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert, coming in as director of strategic communications and chief of staff, respectively. It also had veteran Democratic party operative and lawyer Thomas Donilon coming in as deputy national security advisor and retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones (ret.) as national security advisor. Despite the new team’s range of experience and competencies, what it conspicuously lacked among the top tier was anyone who had worked in an NSC before.

So McDonough and Lippert recruited Clinton-era NSC veteran Mara Rudman, then one of the top NSC advisors to the transition team, to come in as the NSC executive secretary. A former NSC chief of staff and deputy national security advisor to President Bill Clinton, Rudman was asked to help the new team get set up and started, structured right, and help find the right people. She agreed, on the proviso that the assignment would be temporary. With some overlap in responsibilities to the chief of staff job she already had done for the Clinton NSC and now being performed by Lippert, the ExecSec job, described as the council’s chief operating officer, involves a lot of high level administrative tasks, managing paper flow and reviewing memos for the national security advisor, and she wanted to get back to policy work on the Middle East.

With the NSC now humming along with more than 200 people, Rudman is moving to become a deputy to Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell, with whom she has already traveled twice to the region. A date has been set for her to join Mitchell’s team at the end of the month if all goes as planned, sources at the NSC and State Department said. Her successor as NSC executive secretary is yet to be named, but is said to be someone who is already working there.

Though asked to stay on at the NSC by Donilon and Lippert, and offered the possibility to be “dual-hatted” working for both the NSC and Mitchell, Rudman is said by associates to have wanted to move full time over to Mitchell’s shop. The former Senate majority leader and his current deputy, Frederick Hof, are said to be fans. Rudman is expected to have a deputy title, but to serve as the de facto chief of staff for the Mitchell team.

“It was always her and the administration’s plan for her time as NSC ExecSec to be short-term to get [it] through the startup (based on her previous NSC experience) and then to transition into a Middle East policy position,” an administration associate said on condition of anonymity. “Exactly as was mapped out during the transition.”

“Her knowledge of how the interagency works is unrivalled and she has a deep understanding of the Palestinian economy and the obstacles (political and otherwise) to its development,” a State Department official said on condition of anonymity. “We’re all looking forward to her arrival. The NSC will miss her I’m sure.”

(Since the move has not been publicly announced, neither NSC nor State Department officials were willing to speak on the record about it.)

From 1997-2001, when Rudman was deputy national security advisor and NSC chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, she was closely involved in the Middle East peace process as well as the budget processes. From 1993-1997, she served as the chief counsel to the House Foreign Affairs committee under Lee Hamilton. As such, she worked with and hired some of the former Hamilton aides who have since risen to prominence in Obama’s foreign-policy team, including McDonough, NSC senior director for the Middle East and North Africa Dan Shapiro and NSC senior director for Latin America Dan Restrepo. During the George W. Bush years, Rudman was a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

Rudman declined to comment. But associates say she was attracted to joining Mitchell’s team in part because she thought he would be a great teacher, given his experience as a negotiator of the Irish peace accords and his understanding as a former senator of the importance of bringing the Hill along as well as of the broader domestic politics of foreign peace processes. Described as a straightforward (if occasionally brusque) pragmatist, Rudman is “all about dealing with the facts on the ground” as they are.

Compared with other Obama envoys, Mitchell has a relatively small team that includes Hof and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs David Hale, a former ambassador to Jordan who is expected to head out to be based in Jerusalem full time for Mitchell at the end of the summer. Mitchell has also asked Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who for the past three years has been trying to bolster the capacities of the Palestinian security forces as a U.S. security advisor in Jerusalem, to stay on for two more years. Rudman will work primarily out of Washington, but also travel frequently to the region.

In a 2007 interview with Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, Rudman described the ingredients necessary for making the efforts of a Middle East peace envoy more than a fruitless exercise. Past envoys employed by the Bush and Clinton administrations, she said, “cannot be compared with someone at the level of a former head of state, granted necessary scope, authority, and autonomy to work with the parties in a sustained and consistent manner and on a full time basis… What is required now for the Middle East is someone of this stature, with a mandate that extends more broadly to cover the entire region, not only the Arab-Israeli conflict, who can roll up his or her sleeves, understands the politics, policies, and processes of all the players on the ground and in the international community, can bring the weight of the United States to the table when and as needed, and has the wisdom and perspective to know how to manage these various elements. That envoy cannot be used a substitute for smart and sustained policy by the United States, and sound national security processes to develop it.”

Associates say Rudman believes that Mitchell has the necessary stature and has been empowered with those broad authorities, which have been matched as well by the Obama White House’s sustained and high-level commitment to the peace process.

Such commitment from Washington aside, veteran U.S. Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller says he remains pessimistic the efforts can succeed. “Whether or not they can really get from A to B — that is the real problem here,” Miller told Foreign Policy. “Their commitment, rhetoric, change of tone, [and] the Mitchell appointment, are all fine and [are] what they need to be perceived to be taken seriously. The hard question is: What do you do, how to set up negotiations, let alone bridge gaps on the issues of borders, security, and refugees.”

Laura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.

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