Nick Rasmussen, a Quiet American Hero, Leaves White House

Yesterday, an American hero walked out of the White House after his last day on the job, with no pomp and circumstance, having ably served the President of the United States — and the nation — for nearly four years.

No, this wasn’t Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after a Mitt Romney victory, but Wednesday, May 30, an otherwise nondescript spring day.

Nick Rasmussen left his National Security Staff position — as special assistant to the President and senior director for Counterterrorism (functionally the deputy to John O. Brennan, the President’s chief counterterrorism advisor) — having been recruited to take over as Principal Deputy Director of the National Counterterrorism Center. After a long weekend off, Rasmussen will assume his new post.

The White House’s loss will be the NCTC’s gain, and the many counterterrorism and intelligence professionals Rasmussen will manage in his new role are lucky to have a new boss who has superb judgment and exudes modesty, unlike most folks in Washington who achieve even a modicum of success. The latter characteristic will surprise many of them, but they shouldn’t be fooled. Humility, in this case, reflects strength, expertise and confidence, not weakness. And with good reason.

Rasmussen and, perhaps, a few others like him quietly comprise the backbone of the nation’s planning and steely resolve against terrorists across the globe. But you’d never know it.

What this has translated to in practice is that he played a key role in the demise of Osama bin Laden. He not only rendered critical and, ultimately, correct advice to Brennan and President Obama in the months and days leading up to the Seal Team Six raid, but he provided continuity and institutional memory to the Obama national security team, holding over in the White House after serving as the No. 2 to the Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism during the second term of President George W. Bush.

Rasmussen’s ability to remain in close proximity to two Presidents, while having served during the administrations of two others (Bush 41 and Clinton), is a tribute to his deep substantive knowledge, cool temperament, and the fact that he is not a politico but a reliable professional.

I had the serendipity of meeting Rasmussen nearly 24 years ago, on our first day of attending Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. The motto of the school is, not surprisingly, “In the Nation’s Service.” Though he advises Presidents from both parties and was a key player in arguably one of the greatest national security successes of our generation (the foundation for which was built during 10 years of hard work across two administrations, and culminated in the Seal raid), he remains the same person from all those years ago.

While I’m not always on the same page as the Obama administration, the President certainly was wise when he chose to follow the counsel of the national security advisors on his transition team and kept Rasmussen around the White House. That decision paid big dividends for him and for the nation.

I’d be willing to make a friendly wager that the next administration — whether it be a Romney White House or an Obama second term — will follow the same wise path and continue to give Rasmussen a lot of national security responsibility.

So, a rare public kudos today to Nick Rasmussen and the colleagues he’s worked closely with over the last decade. They deserve our thanks and best wishes, though they’ll never admit it.