A Rice staffer superimposed Churkin’s face on the cartoon body of the Grinch — the one who stole Christmas. Rice loved it. This, she had to share. And so the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations decided to plop the doctored image onto the big screen in the Security Council’s consultation room for all to see.
But first, a bit of diplomacy. She showed it privately to Churkin. The “huge bear laugh” that staffers heard through the closed door signaled that this wouldn’t become a nuclear incident. Eventually, the Russians backed off their objections.
Still, Rice’s prank in December 2010 annoyed some in this ever-cautious, often-cryptic, inscrutably-polite-yet-clandestinely-rude ministerial universe. Was she being undiplomatically inappropriate or unconventionally charming?
Every little thing about the 48-year-old Rice matters now that she’s the presumptive front-runner to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. Every question large and small demands answers. This child of Washington finds herself in the capital’s vise, a pressure point between Congress and the White House.
She got here by pinch-hitting for Clinton one tightly scheduled Sunday morning in September, five days after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Racing through five Sunday talk shows in a matter of hours, she parroted intelligence-community talking points that the attack was a spontaneous response to a film that mocked the Muslim prophet Muhammad; a group of Republican senators and conservative commentators accuses her of intentionally misleading the public to hide intelligence assessments that it was a terrorist attack.
Senators crowd before microphones to condemn her. President Obama talks tough, saying her critics should come after him — not her. At times, the whirling drama takes on elements of a theater of the absurd. Read the cable news chyron! “Sticky Rice.” Read the reporters trade quippy headlines on Twitter! “McCain throws Rice in the cooker.” “Rice on Ice.” “Obama wants Benghazi, Rice on Back Burner.”
It’s Susan Rice’s home town in its fullest flower, a swirling drama for the woman who described herself in an interview Thursday as “a D.C. girl through and through.”
She grew up minutes from the nexus of her present-day political saga, in Shepherd Park in Northwest Washington. Her father, Emmett Rice, was an economist who in 1979 became the second African American appointed to the Federal Reserve Board. Her mother, Lois Dickson Rice, was a corporate executive and a longtime member of the College Board. Rice’s parents divorced when she was 10.