Susan Rice dropped out because she knew she didn’t have a chance, an Obama insider tells Michelle Cottle. Why a nasty election, fiscal-cliff mania, and John McCain did the ambassador in.
Susan Rice’s announcement that she was dropping out of consideration to succeed Hillary Clinton at State went off like a bomb in a Washington suffering post-election depression and bored with fiscal-cliff negotiations.
But while it launched a juicy new wave of buzz, the decision didn’t come as much of a shock to Beltway types, who say Rice didn’t really have many alternatives—and certainly no good ones.
“This wasn’t going to go away,” observes former State Department official P.J. Crowley, referring to the accusations that Rice misled the public regarding the Benghazi attack of September 11, 2012. “The coup de grace was probably Sen. McCain hinting he’d move over to the Foreign Relations Committee”—thus positioning himself to lead the evisceration of Rice during confirmation hearings.
“Susan is tough and a fighter, but also a realist. She wouldn't have given up if things weren't looking pretty bad,” says a former administration official. “Knowing her—and the POTUS—they must have thought they couldn't get the nomination through.”
“Susan made the right decision,” says another administration insider. “There’s nothing she could have done differently, since it’s always difficult to get too far out in front of the White House. The real problem was a White House that left her hanging out as a pseudo-nominee without any of the support a nominee would have had.”
Not that this insider really blames the president. “Obama was great,” the person insists. It’s just that “no one focused on this until it was too late.” By that point, the president simply didn’t have many options.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice on Capitol Hill, November 28, 2012. (Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Landov)
Crowley agrees that Rice was to some degree a victim of bad timing. It’s hard to know how hard to push back against such accusations in the midst of a tough presidential race without becoming a part of the campaign yourself, he notes.
Since Susan Rice dropped out.
Was this all part of a master plan by John Kerry? Now that Susan Rice has dropped out of the race to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is presumed to be the leading contender. Although there could be other candidates Obama is considering, observers have noted that Kerry and Obama have a strong bond. Kerry selected Obama to speak at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which launched Obama into the national spotlight. Kerry also endorsed Obama at a crucial moment in the 2008 campaign: just after he lost the New Hampshire primary to Hillary Clinton.
The ambassador built her career on catering to authority, even some of Africa’s most loathsome dictators. Why the Libya fiasco had nothing to do with the Beltway insider’s demise.
With her decision to withdraw from consideration as secretary of state, Susan Rice—and her greatest champion, President Obama—is finally bowing to the inevitable. Her supporters concocted any number of reasons to promote her ascension to the top floor of Foggy Bottom. She was, they said, being demonized by the right. She was being subjected to racism. She was just trying to please her superiors. And so on.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria in August in New York. (Stephen Chernin/AFP/Getty Images)
Don’t believe a word of it. The real problem is not that she bungled Libya. It’s that she should never have been ambassador to the United Nations in the first place—let alone become secretary of state.
Until recently, Rice was smoothly on track to become the Edmund Hillary of foreign-policy strivers. But unlike the legendary climber, she only glimpsed but never quite reached the summit. Her entire career has been based less on solid accomplishment than on her networking skills. In that regard, she exquisitely represents her generation, which largely consists of unwise men and women.
Even a cursory look at Rice’s résumé should induce some queasiness. Essentially, she was molded in Washington, D.C. She punched all the right tickets—National Cathedral School, Stanford, Rhodes scholarship, Brookings Institution. She is a perfect creature of the Beltway. But the downside is that there is scant evidence that she ever flourished outside the cozy ecosystem of the foreign-policy establishment.
It has not always been thus. Henry Kissinger produced serious books about international affairs. Further back, Dean Acheson was a successful lawyer. James Baker was both a shrewd lawyer and political operative whose wheeler-dealer skills translated well into dealing with foreign allies and adversaries. Now it’s not necessary to be all of these things at once. No one would claim that Hillary Clinton is a Kissingerian-style intellectual. But Clinton’s stature and political prowess allowed her to crack heads during the recent Gaza crisis.
What would Rice have brought to the State Department? The most she seems to have accomplished outside the foreign-policy world is to serve a stint as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. Otherwise, she has produced no memorable books or articles or even op-ed essays. The most interesting thing about Rice has been the kerfuffle over her move to become secretary of state.
Throughout, her most distinguishing trait seems to be an eagerness to please her superiors, which is entirely consistent with how she rode the escalator to success. Want to avoid declaring that genocide is taking place in Rwanda? Go to Rice. Want to fudge the facts in Libya? Rice is there again. Obama had it right when he observed that she “had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received.” But why, as Maureen Dowd asked, didn’t she question it? The answer is simple: because she rarely, if ever, questions authority. Instead she has made a career out of catering to it.
The controversial U.N. ambassador had not yet been nominated, but after Benghazi and a bad few days at the Senate, her chances were dropping like a rock. Eli Lake reports on the final days of Rice’s bid.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who came under fire after repeating inaccurate information about the Benghazi embassy attacks, withdrew her bid Thursday to be the next Secretary of State. In a letter to President Obama, who was expected to nominate her for the post Hillary Clinton is leaving after four years, Rice said she is convinced her confirmation process “would be lengthy, disruptive and costly,” a clear reference to Republican attacks on her regarding Benghazi. But there may have been other factors as well.
Pete Souza/Official White House Photo/Landov
Score at least one point for John McCain: After the Arizona senator (and 2008 election loser) loudly protested the prospect of Rice’s nomination, it looks like he won. A spokesman for McCain said the senator “thanks Ambassador Rice for her service to the country and wishes her well.”
The Benghazi issue was the largest of the several concerns Rice’s critics had about her fitness for the job. But there were plenty of others raised from across the political spectrum. On Nov. 28, On Earth, the magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, broke the news that Rice held stock in Canadian banks and companies that would stand to benefit from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States. The State Department nixed the deal in 2011 after environmental groups protested.
Around the same time stories were leaking out in various outlets depicting Rice as temperamentally unfit to be Secretary of State—specifically that she was too blunt and outspoken for a job that regularly requires a delicate and diplomatic hand.
Finally, it appeared likely that Rice’s record as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in the Clinton administration would come under renewed scrutiny—in particular her role in the U.S. response to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. As Samantha Power recounted in her book on the genocide, “A Problem From Hell,” Rice—who served on Clinton’s national-security council at the time—was concerned about the political ramifications for the upcoming midterm elections if the United States called the slaughter a genocide and then did nothing.
Since Rwanda, Rice embraced the tradition of liberal internationalism. When Muammar Gadhafi threatened in 2011 to wipe out Benghazi, Rice led the charge at the United Nations—and inside the Obama administration—for a U.S.-led air war to save Libya’s second city.
So it was somewhat ironic that events in Benghazi would end up costing Rice her shot at becoming America’s top diplomat. Slowly but surely, McCain picked up members of his own party to oppose Rice on the grounds that she had appeared on Sunday talk shows and mischaracterized the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi as the result of a spontaneous riot, rather than a terrorist attack executed by groups linked to al Qaeda. Earlier this month when Rice met with McCain and other senators, the back and forth had no effect. Her failure to win over Sen. Susan Collins, one of the most moderate Republican voices in Congress, was a particularly ominous sign.
Susan Rice just withdrew her name from consideration to be this country's next Secretary of State. There's a little twist here worth mentioning: Rice turned out to be an assiduously pro-Israel diplomat at the United Nations, a forum not exactly known for its warmness to the Jewish State. And by pro-Israel, in this context, I mean frequently defending the Israeli government and taking positions in line with America's right-leaning pro-Israel community. Neoconservatives also consider themselves to be vociferously pro-Israel in this way, and yet it was one of their standard bearers in the Senate, John McCain, who ended up spiking Rice's candidacy for the top State post. The closeness of liberal internationalism and neoconservatism seems self-evident: that the U.S. must police the world and engage, not infrequently, in the use of military force to do so. "The irony here is that so many neocons like Rice," a liberal D.C. foreign policy hand wrote to me today. "They think she shares a lot of their interventionist tendencies." Whichever potential nominee takes Rice's place at the top of the list could yet hold dear her values, but, with Rice, the cards were already very much on the table. Pro-Israel Washington had a sure friend in Susan Rice; by virtue of being as yet unknown, the next name's credentials are uncertain.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. UN Ambassador Susan Rice October 21, 2009 in Jerusalem. (Moshe Milner / GPO via Getty Images)
Some history: Rice faced some early opposition from right-leaning American pro-Israel groups, but she's since won (most of) them over to her side. The early battles over rejoining the U.N.'s rights council and objections to Israel's settlement policies faded in favor of her vigorous defenses of Israel and courting of Jewish groups. Some in the Jewish press, however, remained suspicious of a speech Rice gave as she vetoed a February 2011 Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. But the complaints from some neocons at the time ignored that Rice's speech—which lamented the "folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity"—was fully in line with not just the Obama administration, but previous administrations, including Republican ones (the vote itself was out of whack with the policy). Since then, Obama—and, accordingly, Rice—barely ever mention settlements, let alone criticize them. And recently, when the U.S. voted against the Palestinians' recent successful bid to upgrade their status at the U.N., there was no such confusion: an official from B'nai Brith International bragged, in Ron Kampeas's words, that Rice "incorporated many of the talking points conveyed to her by pro-Israel groups."
Because McCain can never admit that he's wrong about anything, he continued to pursue Rice's role as having been the diplomat assigned to convey the administration's talking points to the world after the deaths of Amb. Christopher Stevens and three others near the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. McCain carried this almost certainly politically-motivated election attack beyond the vote tally until eventually Rice and the administration buckled under pressure. Turns out McCain took the right-leaning pro-Israel world's sure-thing, and cast it aside. We all wait eagerly to see who the next nominee will be.
I just this second saw a tweet that NBC is breaking that Susan Rice is withdrawing her name from consideration for Secretary of State.
Well, I think that's sad. But it means, obviousy, that the White House was getting the signals that she didn't have the votes. No Senate, at least no modern Senate, has ever voted down a secretary of state choice. That Republicans were prepared to do that is just disgusting. Over a few sentences spoken on some television shows?
Rice had other issues, it should be noted in fairness. My colleague Lloyd Grove covered several today. She has plenty of critics at Foggy Bottom. So there are some Democrats out there who are happy about this tonight, too.
I still think it would be way too risky of Obama to name John Kerry. I can think of little excuse for taking a Democrat out of the Senate and risking handing his seat back to a Republican (Scott Brown). So to me, that leaves it wide open.
And as for Rice's future? Bear in mind that the position of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation. We've not heard the last of her, perhaps. And that's a position that can carry more insider influence than SecState.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg News says Chuck Hagel as the new defense secretary is "likely." Interesting and seemingly solid choice.
1. He's a Republican. Obama's last SecDef was a Democrat, Panetta, so I guess now he figures he needs to go back to a Republican. Not crazy.
2. He's an ornery cuss kind of Republican, extremely critical of Bush and Cheney back in the day.
After serving alongside Rice during the Clinton administration, John Prendergast finds the criticism of her now surreal.
As Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has emerged as a leading candidate to become secretary of State, she’s faced a barrage of attacks on her temperament and worldview. In one much discussed and recently reported anecdote, Rice, then an assistant secretary of State during the Clinton administration, wielded the middle finger during a particularly intense debate with the late Richard Holbrooke.
‘Susan Rice tells ABC’s ‘This Week’ that protests in the Middle East resulted from an internet video, not from terrorists.’
I was there, and what has not been reported is that she was arguing that the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Congo, with its billion-dollar-a-year price tag, should be mandated to disarm the worst human-rights-abusing militias in Congo’s war zone. She lost the argument.
A dozen years and 12 billion dollars later, literally millions of Congolese people have died in the deadliest war the world has known since World War II, mostly as a result of the destruction wrought by the very armed groups Rice was trying to counter.
So it seems surreal that a fusillade of criticism has been unleashed against Rice’s record on Congo. In the time I served in government during President Clinton’s second term, I saw a diplomat who relentlessly pursued a peace agreement in Congo. I accompanied her on grueling trips to all the countries that had sent troops into the Congo in what was dubbed “Africa’s First World War,” working assiduously on a ceasefire and withdrawal deal to remove the foreign elements from Congolese soil. I remember a particularly poignant moment when she went toe to toe with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, pressing him relentlessly to agree to a phased troop withdrawal. She didn’t win every round, but she never backed down when pursuing peace.
One current critique centers on her perceived support for Rwanda’s President Kagame and reluctance to call Rwanda out for its ongoing support for rebels in eastern Congo. Some of the analysis seems to accept the erroneous notion that Susan Rice, not President Obama, is deciding U.S. Africa policy. She is being singled out for a policy that many question. But the disconnect stems from a fundamental debate over what the current U.S. approach to Congolese peace should be. Some believe that quiet diplomacy with Rwanda will move the region closer to peace, while others contend that punitive measures against Rwanda would hasten a solution. Honorable people can disagree over strategy and tactics. But the implication that Ambassador Rice—who continues to work diligently on the Congo issue—is somehow motivated to protect President Kagame because of guilt over the genocide or other theories is insulting.
I personally may disagree with aspects of current U.S. policy, but I certainly don’t question whether our ambassador to the United Nations is doing everything she can to support a path to peace in Congo that she believes is the right one.
Now to Sudan. I’ll never forget a dozen years ago when Ambassador Rice decided to go to rebel-controlled areas of southern Sudan despite dire warnings about our security and safety. Rice and our small team spent days traveling through the bush, meeting with survivors of villages that had been burned to the ground, with recently freed slaves, with women subjected to systematic rape, with people who had almost no food because the Khartoum regime was using starvation as a weapon of war. Her heart broke repeatedly but her resolve deepened to help end the world’s second deadliest war since World War II.
Brusque. Aggressive. Undiplomatic. The adjectives used to describe the ambassador aren’t kind. Lloyd Grove on Susan Rice’s polarizing temperament—and why that may matter more than Benghazi.
Susan Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and President Obama’s most visible candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, is being subjected to an immutable law of the Washington power grid: in the rough and tumble of political combat, personality trumps policy.
Government policy, especially foreign policy, is rife with nuance and complication. But personality is easier to grasp and harder to shed.
Recent critiques of Rice’s influence on U.S. diplomacy in Rwanda, Sudan, and Eritrea over the past two decades are endlessly debatable among think-tank elites. Republican Sen. John McCain’s threat to block her (hypothetical) confirmation because she relied on faulty intelligence to mischaracterize the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya—a warning joined by fellow GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.)—seems emptier by the day. Rice, after all, is African-American and female—two demographics that the Republican Party is not especially anxious to alienate further.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, talks to reporters at United Nations headquarters in New York, May 30, 2012. (Justin Lane / EPA / Landov)
“It is a fact that Susan had no role in determining the security footprint in Benghazi or gathering or assessing the intelligence of what happened before, during, or after,” says National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor. “She simply went on TV and gave interviews.”
But Rice’s personality—or “temperament,” in the parlance of her Beltway critics—is increasingly front and center. She is frequently described in the press with such adjectives as “brusque,” “aggressive,” and “undiplomatic in the extreme.”
It is highly unusual for someone who hasn’t even been nominated to be targeted in such wounding terms by enemies and detractors. But personality quirks can loom large in the process, says the Senate’s official historian, Donald Ritchie. Presidential nominations have foundered on smaller factors than Rice’s alleged foibles.
Loose-lipped playwright Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Time magazine founder Henry Luce, was confirmed as President Eisenhower’s ambassador to Brazil over the objection of Oregon senator Wayne Morse, but was forced to resign before taking her post when she quipped that Morse’s opposition was because he’d been “kicked in the head by a horse.”
Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, Eisenhower’s nominee to be secretary of Commerce, “had a personality like a barbed-wire fence,” says Ritchie. “He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.” New Mexico senator Clinton Anderson, who had tangled with Strauss over the Los Alamos National Laboratory, “made it a personal crusade to defeat the nomination,” Ritchie says—and in June 1959 succeeded.
It has nothing to do with Benghazi—and everything to do with her muddled position on Iraq.
The debate about Susan Rice’s fitness to be secretary of state revolves largely around an interview she conducted in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Republicans say she downplayed al Qaeda’s role. Democrats say she reflected the intelligence community’s assessment at the time. Who cares? The Benghazi controversy tells us almost nothing about how Susan Rice sees America’s role in the world.
Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice speaks to media reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, on Nov. 21, 2012. (Shen Hong / Xinhua / Landov)
To understand what’s at stake in Rice’s potential nomination, it’s more useful to listen to a different set of interviews, conducted roughly a decade ago. Between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003, NPR’s Tavis Smiley interviewed Rice four times about the Bush administration’s looming war with Iraq. I’ve spent the better part of an afternoon listening to those interviews and I still can’t tell whether Susan Rice supported the war or opposed it. That’s the real scandal, and it says a lot more about Susan Rice, and the entire Democratic foreign-policy class, than anything that happened in Benghazi.
A little context. Barack Obama, you may recall, won the Democratic primary in 2008 in significant measure because as an obscure state senator he had had the wisdom—or dumb luck—to publicly oppose a war supported by Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and all the other major Democratic contenders for president. To distinguish himself from his competitors, Obama emphasized that the Iraq War was a product not only of Republican recklessness but of Democratic timidity. As his adviser Samantha Power wrote in a famous August 2007 memo, “The rush to invade Iraq was a position advocated by not only the Bush administration, but also by editorial pages, the foreign-policy establishment of both parties, and majorities in both houses of Congress. Those who opposed the war were often labeled weak, inexperienced, and even naïve.” Power went on to argue that Obama’s promise to talk without preconditions to the leaders of Iran—a position Hillary Clinton labeled “naïve”—represented an extension of Obama’s bold break with his own party’s foreign-policy establishment.
After becoming president, however—and making Hillary Clinton his secretary of state—Obama reconciled with the establishment he had run against. And it shows. Although Obama’s foreign policy has been sound in many ways, it has not fulfilled his promise to break with the caution that led many Democrats to support the war in Iraq. That failure was evident in Obama’s inability to close Guantanamo Bay. It has been evident in his insistence that a nuclear Iran can be neither contained nor deterred. And most obviously, it was evident on Afghanistan, where, according to Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars, Obama disliked the military’s plans for a troop surge but found himself boxed in by his own advisers.
Now, freed from having to seek reelection and having broken the GOP’s decades-old advantage on foreign affairs, Obama has the chance to finally make good on the promise of foreign-policy boldness on which he ran in 2008, if he surrounds himself with the right people. Which brings us to Susan Rice.
It’s not true, as some left-wing websites claim, that Rice “was a cheerleader for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.” But if, as Rice herself claims, she supported Obama in 2008 because on Iraq he made “the same unpopular choice I had made,” the evidence is hard to find. In fact, what’s striking about the four NPR interviews Rice did in the run-up to war was her capacity to avoid taking a clear position one way or another. At times, Rice does indeed sound skeptical of military action. In November 2002, she warned that there are “many people who think that we haven’t finished the war against al Qaeda and our ability to do these simultaneously is in doubt.” In December, she urged a “more honest assessment of what the costs will be of the actual conflict, as well as the aftermath.” And the following February, she said that “there are many who fear that going to war against Iraq may in fact in the short term make us less secure rather than more secure.”
But at others times, Rice sounded more hawkish, declaring on Dec. 20, 2002 that “it’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully and that’s the path we’re on and hopefully we’ll bring as many countries as possible with us … even as we move forward as we must on the military side.”
The New York Times questions likely Secretary of State nominee Susan Rice's handling of violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and examines her relationship with Rwandan dictator Paul Kagame:
While President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have taken some of the blame, critics of the Obama administration’s Africa policy have focused on the role of Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and a leading contender to succeed Mrs. Clinton, in the administration’s failure to take action against the country they see as a major cause of the Congolese crisis, Rwanda.
Specifically, these critics — who include officials of human rights organizations and United Nations diplomats — say the administration has not put enough pressure on Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, to end his support for the rebel movement whose recent capture of the strategic city of Goma in Congo set off a national crisis in a country that has already lost more than three million people in more than a decade of fighting. Rwanda’s support is seen as vital to the rebel group, known as M23.
Support for Mr. Kagame and the Rwandan government has been a matter of American foreign policy since he led the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front to victory over the incumbent government in July 1994, effectively ending the Rwandan genocide. But according to rights organizations and diplomats at the United Nations, Ms. Rice has been at the forefront of trying to shield the Rwandan government, and Mr. Kagame in particular, from international censure, even as several United Nations reports have laid the blame for the violence in Congo at Mr. Kagame’s door.
Amid all the partisan accusations about Susan Rice’s statements after the murder of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi, we easily forget her indispensable role in bringing down Gaddafi.
The scene is a conversation in Washington between Sen. John McCain and myself at the 2012 Foreign Policy Initiative Forum.
Rice at the U.N. this week. (Henny Ray Abram / AFP-Getty Images)
McCain is an affable man. Deliberate.
With his distinguished military record, his style, his proud bearing—the way he seems unable to conceive of conducting politics without reference to principles and values—he makes a nice change from Mitt Romney, embodying the best that the Republican Party has to offer.
The debate was going pretty well up to the moment when, in response to a remark by McCain to the effect that it was France, not the United States, that had taken the lead in dealing with Syria, Mali, and, of course, Libya, I responded (courteously but firmly) that nothing would have been possible without France’s fraternal alliance with the United States. Then I added a small phrase that cast a strange pall over the proceedings. “In Libya,” I said, “three women saved the day: Obama’s adviser, Samantha Power; his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton; and his ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.”
I was unaware at that moment that McCain had just left a meeting where, together with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, he had been grilling Rice—and that in the course of that meeting he had rejected the possibility of supporting her nomination as secretary of state to succeed Clinton.
It was also true (I was a little more aware of this than of the preceding fact) that our discussion was taking place at a moment when a growing number of observers (including an unsigned editorial in The Wall Street Journal on Nov. 16) were attempting to sow doubt not only about the success but also about the wisdom of the just war waged in Libya by our two countries with support from the United Kingdom and the Arab League.
On the first point—that is, the reproach leveled against Rice for having knowingly withheld information about the terrorist nature of the attack on Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi—I may not have all the information. But I cannot help but wonder about the origin of this conspiracy theory. I find rather ridiculous the idea that the Obama administration acted as it did to avoid alarming the public on the eve of a close election. Was it not possible that Rice may not yet have had all the facts? Is it not possible that the CIA’s own analysis was still evolving? And is it not possible that in reproaching Rice for her caution in handling hot information that no government releases carelessly or totally transparently, the nominee is being given a hasty trial or—what amounts to the same thing—a baldly partisan trial in anticipation of the 2016 election, with Clinton as the real target?
You can disagree with Susan Rice, but our U.N. ambassador is not an incompetent liar, as conservatives have implied. Sophia Nelson on the old stereotypes at play in the GOP’s attacks.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was the summer of 2008 again, when the angry white men of Fox News and conservative talk radio were attacking an accomplished, smart, well-educated black woman for not being “patriotic” and “loving her country.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice talks on her cell phone prior to the speech of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, and before the General Assembly voted on a resolution to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority to a nonmember observer state on November 29, 2012 at UN headquarters in New York. (Henny Ray Abram, AFP / Getty Images)
Only this time, the punching bag is not First Lady Michelle Obama. It’s U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. For weeks now, we have watched GOP senators from John McCain to Lindsey Graham to Susan Collins go after Rice like she is some kind of rabid apologist for Muslim extremists, or on the side of those who intentionally set out to kill our Libyan ambassador and several U.S. military and State Department personnel in Benghazi.
Ambassador Rice is a well-credentialed, experienced, senior-ranking diplomat in the United States government. Last month, she was called upon by her commander in chief and her Secretary of state to go on the Sunday talk shows and give the best explanation of the intelligence that had been reported to the White House up to that point about the “possible causes” of the uprising in Benghazi, which resulted in the murder of four United States citizens. She did her duty within the limitations of what she knew and the intel that was provided by our CIA.
So the question is: why has the GOP’s bloodlust been aimed so tightly at Susan Rice and her comments of that day? Why must she be labeled a liar, or a conspirator, the one to answer for the terrible tragedy in Libya? Why not go after the proper person in the chain of command, Hilary Rodham Clinton? (In my opinion, I have always been a bit annoyed at the fact that Clinton did not herself make the rounds on the Sunday shows that weekend—or better yet, why not Vice President Joe Biden?) Why all this anger and investigation now into Ambassador Rice’s every decision, dating back to 1998 when she was assistant secretary of State under President Bill Clinton? Did I miss a memo? Has she been nominated for a new job yet in the second Obama administration?
Sorry folks, it just doesn’t add up.
I have a plausible explanation for all of this rancor, but many of you won’t like it. The fact is that stereotypes die hard, particularly when they are about accomplished black women in America. Ambassador Rice, like Michelle Obama and millions of other well-educated professional black women, catch hell everyday in corporate America, whether they be in industry, government, entertainment, journalism, or academia. It is a fact borne out in countless studies, surveys, books (mine included), and reports: black women are the hardest demographic to retain and advance, and the most likely to file EEOC complaints or allege other problems of race and gender bias.
Opposition could force president’s hand on Hillary successor.
Could President Obama be forced to name Susan Rice as his secretary of State, now that she’s under fire by Republican lawmakers?
“I wonder how this boxes Obama in,” Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker’s Washington correspondent, told me in a video interview. “Does he now have to nominate her?”
Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, among others, have denounced the U.N. ambassador for delivering false information about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lizza says. “She has launched a political campaign to save her reputation, to woo senators, before she’s even been nominated.”
Lizza says he wrote about Rice’s performance on Africa issues during the Clinton administration and that “she did not like it at all.” He believes that issue could resurface if she is nominated.
Lizza plays down the recent chatter by some GOP lawmakers about agreeing to raising taxes, saying they don’t represent the whole party. “They’re the guys who have been saying it for a long time, they’re just finally brave enough to say it loudly,” Lizza argues.
As for life at The New Yorker, he says the magazine’s legendary fact checkers “are like your parachute. I can’t imagine how many crises would erupt if my copy just went in the magazine.
The senator has blasted Susan Rice for misleading Americans about the Benghazi attack. On Tuesday, the two will meet to hash it out. Eli Lake reports.
Three weeks after losing the presidential election, Republicans are still pursuing questions on Benghazi, the scandal they hoped would undermine President Obama’s claims to be strong on national security.
Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice addressing reporters earlier this year. ( Spencer Platt / Getty Images ; Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Now, one of their targets could soon be off the hook. On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain says he’ll sit down face to face in a secure room at the Capital with Susan Rice, the woman he had previously vowed to oppose if she’s nominated as the next secretary of state. In an interview, McCain told The Daily Beast that Rice herself requested the meeting after McCain made several statements suggesting she misled the American people about the Benghazi attacks when she went on several Sunday talk shows on September 16, five days after the assault. On those shows, Rice said U.S. intelligence believed the Benghazi attack was not a planned act of terror, but instead a demonstration that got out of hand.
“If someone wants to come and see me, it would be improper for me to say, ‘No, I won’t meet with you,’” McCain said in an interview. “I will meet with you and hear your version of events why you went out and told the American people false information.’”
Rice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Regarding her initial statements about the attack, Rice has said she was relying “solely and squarely” on unclassified talking points prepared by the U.S. intelligence community. Those talking points didn’t include references to groups with al Qaeda links, even though such groups were mentioned in classified intelligence at the time. McCain said he plans to ask Rice if she had seen the classified intelligence before she went on the September 16 talk shows.
The fate of Rice has become a political touchstone. In his first press conference following the election, Obama told McCain and fellow Republican senator Lindsey Graham that if they have criticisms about Benghazi, they should direct their fire at Obama and not Rice.
McCain echoed that sentiment Monday. He said what Rice said was a “problem,” but “the biggest problem is the president of the United States. As late as September 25th [Obama] was talking to the United Nations about hateful videos.”
McCain isn’t the only Republican pursuing the Benghazi line. In a letter sent Monday and reviewed by The Daily Beast, Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the Oversight Committee’s subcommittee on National Security, asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to explain why it took so long to send U.S. military assistance to Libya after the attacks began.
A new report appears to exonerate Susan Rice for public statements following the Benghazi attack. Will John McCain apologize for his reckless crusade against her? Don’t bet on it.
We don’t yet really know as a society what a person has to do to completely and utterly cancel out a record of war heroism, but we may be about to find out. If this CBS News report is even close to accurate, John McCain’s arguments of the last few weeks about Susan Rice are thrashingly demolished. He has, or should have, zero credibility now on this issue. It will be fascinating to see if he emerges from the holiday weekend subtly chastened, attempting to shift gears a bit, or whether he keeps the pedal to the paranoid metal. He’s getting toward the sunset of what was once a reasonably distinguished career, a career (if we count his time in Vietnam) that began in the highest honor and has now descended into the darkest farce.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) speaks to reporters after a hearing on the Benghazi attack before the Select Committee on Intelligence on November 16, 2012, in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)
The CBS report found the following. It was the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that took the words “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” out of Rice’s talking points for those Sept. 16 talk shows. It found also that both the CIA and the FBI approved of these edits, following standard operating procedure. The report states emphatically: “The White House or State Department did not make those changes.” One source told the network’s Margaret Brennan that the controversy over the word choice employed by Rice has come to the intel world as “a bit of a surprise.” Another source said that there were “legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.”
There’s one bit of irony introduced to the saga by all these details, which is that this report crystallizes the fact that Rice did indeed hide some information from the public on Sept. 16—but it’s the kind of information that has always been concealed from public consumption, for the kinds of national-security-related reasons that the Washington establishment has always agreed upon. Historically, of course, if any person or persons have objected to this kind of filtering, they’ve typically been on the left. Think Daniel Ellsberg first and foremost. The right always defended this practice, on the grounds that making possibly sensitive information public too soon without the proper running of all the intelligence traps could only provide aid and comfort to the commies or the terrorists, as the case may be.
McCain certainly comes from this school. But this, you see, was different. Different from what, and different how, are both good questions. Different from those dozen or so attacks on American embassies while George W. Bush was president? It’s true that no Americans died in those raids, let alone an ambassador, and that obviously does raise the stakes. But it hardly means that our intelligence agencies should alter their procedures to meet the political demands of one party, or one senator, or one cable “news” channel. If anything, it means dramatically the opposite, and one has no trouble at all picturing, if Benghazi had happened in the heat of a presidential campaign in which a Republican president was seeking reelection, an unctuous McCain standing before the cameras and lambasting Democrats in highly moralistic language for politicizing such a sensitive tragedy.
Well, live by the moral sword, die by it. In the same way conservatives couldn’t see that Mitt Romney was going to lose because they believed only themselves and their own self-reinforcing propaganda, I think McCain probably isn’t aware right now of what a joke he’s becoming. He probably only goes to constituent meetings where they cheer on his desperate antics. I notice from cruising the Arizona papers that they’re not really laying into him yet—just a few guarded criticisms and expressions of disappointment in the letter columns and such. Most importantly of all, establishment Washington has adored him. As long as those shields are there, he can ignore people like me and the MSNBC crowd.
But how long will they be there? McCain, because of what he endured 45 years ago, is permitted more than three strikes. But how many more? In 2008, he foisted Sarah Palin upon an unsuspecting nation. After losing that race, he then turned his back on legislating as he faced a primary challenge from his right in 2010, switching from being one of the few senators who actually took his work seriously enough to try to be a leader on compromise to becoming one of the body’s chief obstructionists and windbags across a range of issues. And now, 2012, has found him slandering his country’s ambassador to the United Nations on the basis of no evidence, creating circumstances that have forced U.S. intelligence agencies to defend their usually private methods in public, and of course laid the groundwork for future and wholly spurious impeachment proceedings. So this last one alone is three strikes, plus probably a couple others I’m not remembering.
McCain is maybe entitled to four or five strikes. But not six or seven. Will he stand down now from this embarrassing crusade? A McCain of a few years ago might have been capable of acknowledging error and saying that if Rice is nominated to be secretary of state, he is now prepared to confirm her, provided she addresses certain concerns to his satisfaction at her hearings. Can today’s McCain do any such thing?
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