While no one was looking, did Washington become engaged in a confirmation fight over U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s selection to be Secretary of State? The last I checked, she hadn’t even been nominated; but regardless, it appears that lines are being drawn and people are choosing teams. Either President Obama is neglecting Rice or letting her fight. No one knows for sure, but it would be easy for the White House to clear up the confusion. Is she his choice or not? If Obama didn’t want Ambassador Rice to be secretary of State, he could have already said so and ended this farce. It’s not flattering for her — or for him.
The politics of this fight are wildly different for Republicans than for President Obama. Carter is right but understated when he suggests it might not be flattering for Republicans to block Susan Rice’s nomination because of the perceived gender and racial undertones of such opposition. For Obama, it will be a defeat if he doesn’t get his way.
One thing that’s for certain is that many foreign leaders and a lot of the bipartisan national security establishment are not for Susan Rice. Yet everyone is afraid to oppose an Obama favorite. Republicans especially are conflicted. Do they oppose her because foreign policy leaders say she is unqualified in both experience and temperament and take the hit that will surely come from Democrats waving the bloody shirt of racism and gender bias? Or do they roll over, shrug, let an unqualified nominee proceed and hope the damage is minimal?
I’m shocked that Rice couldn’t pull off meetings with some of the more bipartisan and thoughtful Republican members of the Senate, each of whom have a history of extending the hand of bipartisanship and supporting the opposing party’s nominees. There must be something that Rice can’t answer in the meetings she has had this week on Benghazi, Libya. Or maybe it’s something about her demeanor that makes these senators question her credibility. By Washington standards, it’s malpractice to call for a meeting if you’re not certain it will end in a polite, all-smiles, “the past is behind us” conclusion. And those meetings are usually pretty easy to orchestrate.
The fight over Rice seems to be escalating, and, as I said, she hasn’t even been nominated. It’s bewildering. If Obama wins the Rice fight, he has a lousy secretary of State who would enter office scuffed-up and limping. If the Republicans win, it will be viewed as a slamming of the door on a black female nominee. This is a fight that isn’t good for anybody. Obama can end it in one second. Washington doesn’t need a distraction and the world doesn’t need the worry. The president should say what he wants.