December 14 2012

Did President Pleasing Ultimately Do In Susan Rice?

Charlotte Hays

What does U. N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s withdrawal of her name for consideration for the job of Secretary of State—even though she hadn’t been nominated—mean?

For one thing it means that the Obama administration really, really doesn’t want to talk about Benghazi. Rice wasn’t involved in the woeful response to the attack on American diplomatic personnel, but she did go on TV peddling a false narrative of what happened.

Nevertheless Ms. Rice got very nice send-offs—one from President Obama, who praised her “limitless” abilities, and another from Susan Rice. Writing in the Washington Post, Rice praised Rice for her sterling character and love of country:  

On Thursday I asked that President Obama no longer consider me for the job of secretary of state. I made this decision because it is the right step for this country I love. I have never shied away from a fight for a cause I believe in. But, as it became clear that my potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle, I concluded that it would be wrong to allow this debate to continue distracting from urgent national priorities — creating jobs, growing our economy, addressing our deficit, reforming our immigration system and protecting our national security.

She resigned to create jobs? Well, that’ll be a first for this administration.

Since she wasn’t before a Senate confirmation hearing where she could be asked follow-up questions, Rice was willing to address Benghazi:

On Sept. 16, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unavailable after a grueling week, the White House asked me to appear on five Sunday talk shows to discuss a range of foreign policy issues: the protests against our diplomatic facilities around the world; the attack in Benghazi, Libya; and Iran’s nuclear program.

When discussing Benghazi, I relied on fully cleared, unclassified points provided by the intelligence community, which encapsulated their best current assessment. These unclassified points were consistent with the classified assessments I received as a senior policymaker. It would have been irresponsible for me to substitute any personal judgment for our government’s and wrong to reveal classified material. I made clear in each interview that the information I was providing was preliminary and that ongoing investigations would give us definitive answers. I have tremendous appreciation for our intelligence professionals, who work hard to provide their best assessments based on the information available. Long experience shows that our first accounts of terrorist attacks and other tragedies often evolve over time. The intelligence community did its job in good faith. And so did I.

I have never sought in any way, shape or form to mislead the American people. To do so would run counter to my character and my life of public service. But in recent weeks, new lines of attack have been raised to malign my character and my career. Even before I was nominated for any new position, a steady drip of manufactured charges painted a wholly false picture of me. This has interfered increasingly with my work on behalf of the United States at the United Nations and with America’s agenda.  

What Rice self-pitying calls a “steady drip of manufactured charges” might better be termed legitimate questions triggered by a terrorist attack. This doesn't exactly answer them. Needless to say, Ms. Rice would not get off this light in a confirmation hearing.

In breaking her arm to pat herself on the back for nobly withdrawing—or jumping, as it may be, at the president’s behest—Rice conveniently overlooks “a series of strikingly unsuccessful meetings on Capitol Hill in which she failed to impress even moderate Republicans such as Susan Collins of Maine” and questions about her temperament. She also pretends that the opposition to her was "partisan," whereas the left was also mounting a campaign against her. Seth Mandel has a good piece on this at the Commentary blog.

One of my questions is whether Rice went on TV and misled us to get a gold star from the president, the very man who gets to pick the next Secretary of State. Jennifer Rubin's portrait of the “limitlessly’ talented Rice as “a flunky to the end” makes me think that there is something to this line of reasoning:

Her undoing was her excessive eagerness to provide political cover to the president on a matter of grave national security. Whether she lied intentionally or merely agreed not to ask too many hard questions, it is a lesson for the ambitious in Washington: Credibility counts, at least sometimes.

[O]ne might see this as a sign the president did not want a major confrontation with the Senate. I’m dubious, given his war on the Republicans in the “fiscal-cliff” battle. More likely, he decided to cut his political losses. That is a fitting denouement to the Rice episode. A political flunky to the end, Rice dutifully limped away, well, after crawling out from under the bus.

Susan Rice, who seems overly fond of African dictators, made disastrous decisions (here and here) in previous diplomatic posts. Ironically, however, it may have been her eagerness to please the president, who didn't need a Benghazi scandal in the waning days of the election, that caused her downfall. Still, Rice may end up with the non-inconsiderable consolation prize of being appointed national security adviser. This job doesn't require senate confirmation.

One more note: I love it that she resigned from a job for which she had not been nominated. I suspect the White House had a hand it this, but it still prompted everybody (but Bob Beckel) on "The Five" yesterday to resign from all kinds of jobs they were unlikely to hold. This is a sign that Rice is enduring what is considered the worst possible fate that can befall a high-ranking member of Washington officialdom: People are laughing at her.

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