The late Nebraska senator Roman Hruska will be remembered forever for his underwhelming defense of Richard’s Nixon’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Harrold Carswell. Democrats opposed Judge Carswell as “mediocre.” “Even if he were mediocre,” Mr. Hruska proclaimed, “there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”
A photograph of Senator Hruska's proud moment. Ain't the Internet grand?
Which, as you might guess, brings us to the mostly-manufactured kerfuffle, brouhaha, and ballyhoo about Susan Rice.
Having lost this bellowing point in the presidential elections, the Republicans are now opposing Dr. Rice for Secretary of State by trying to gin up a case that she lied to the American people about the attack in Benghazi. President Obama is sticking to his guns, broad-brushing the Benghazi issue, maintaining that Rice is an “extraordinary” diplomat and puffing that her critics should “go after me.”
My take? Susan Rice is not extraordinary. Neither did she lie to the American people. What she is, based on her handling of the Benghazi matter, is not ready to be Secretary of State. She is President Obama’s Harrold Carswell.
Dr. Rice is certainly well-credentialed. After her Rhodes scholarship and Oxford Ph.D., she joined up with the Clinton White House as an expert on African diplomacy. She waited out the Bush years at the Brookings Institution before joining the Obama campaign as foreign-policy advisor and then being nominated as United Nations Ambassador by the new President.
Yet, she never came across as a buttoned-down type of diplomat. She brought her infant son, whom she was still breast-feeding, to her confirmation hearing. She notoriously punctuated a disagreement with the late and masterful diplomat Richard Holbrooke by giving him the finger. Classy. She is know for insulting and shouting at colleagues. She was removed for a time as the foreign-policy spokesperson for the Obama campaign after “getting out ahead of her skis” criticizing the Bush policy of not negotiating with Iran until it suspended its nuclear program – though this policy had in fact been developed by our European allies. And, although tough-negotiating women have always been judged more harshly than tough-negotiating men, it is significant that Russia is opposing her confirmation because they see her as too “ambitious and aggressive” to deal with successfully.
And so, to Benghazi.
Republican critics are foaming at the mouth that Dr. Rice intentionally concealed the truth about the Benghazi attacks, concealing Al Qaeda’s involvement in the attack so as not to undermine the President’s campaign-season claim that Al Qaeda has been largely neutralized. The more strategically-minded cynics among us suspect that the true Republican motive is to scuttle Rice’s nomination so that the second choice, John Kerry, will be nominated and his Senate seat will be taken by the newly-unemployed calendar boy Scott Brown.
OK, this nudity is not strictly necessary, but why miss the opportunity? Indeed, why miss THIS:
Like Republicans’ surrealistic theories about global warming or Alaskan oil drilling, it would be pretty to think so. But, we now know it ain’t true. It turns out that references to Al Qaeda or organized terrorism were deleted from the talking points by some shadowy hand in the Executive branch. (David Petreaus, who we now know had a few other things on his mind at the time of the attack, testified that the CIA did not make the changes; the White House says it was someone in the Executive, but they won’t say who).
So, why is it that, after the November 27 meeting that was supposed to lead to perestroika, Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte reported that they had more reservations than before the meeting, and were considering blocking the confirmation? Here, I think, is why.
Susan Rice knew, before her appearances on the September 16 talk shows, that the Benghazi attacks were premeditated acts of terrorism. The FBI had interviewed most of the survivors of the attack by then. Libya had arrested more than 50 Al Qaeda sympathizers or affiliates in connection with the murders. Rice testified recently that she had received memoranda on all of these facts before she went on television. And yet, she stated in those interviews that the the attack was part of a spontaneous protest by “a small number of people” that came about “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video” (the silly and inept Innocence of Muslims trailer), despite “a substantial security presence there with our personnel.”
The basic “spontaneous protest” story, we now know, was direct from the White House talking points memo. Dr. Rice was told to mouth those talking points. But, she knew they were untrue. Knowing this, she should have firmly pushed back against being asked to parrot them. In this instance, she was a good soldier, but not a good potential General…or potential Secretary of State.
Other of her statements, including the “small number of people” and the “substantial security presence,” which were also untrue (the “security presence” apparently was a reference to the two ex-SEALS who were on assignment about a mile away, and had no responsibility for protecting the Ambassador), apparently were not part of the talking points. These misstatements were apparently Rice’s own creations. In that regard, she is at best sloppy with facts, which does not augur well for a diplomat.
Imagine Susan Rice as the Secretary of State going head-t0-head with Hamas, Pakistan, or I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket at the next Missile Crisis, or holding the hand of David Cameron or Bibi Netanyahu. Heck, imagine how difficult it is just to juggle the alliances, sensitivities, and internal politics of scores of nations worldwide. This is a job for a remarkable statesperson, like Hillary Clinton, Dean Acheson, or Henry Kissinger. It is not a job for a political friend of the President. Susan Rice is not a liar, but she is not extraordinary; and she is not ready for prime time.