Correction: A previous version of this column suggested that Johnnie Carson, the assistant of secretary of state for African affairs, oversees U.S. relations with Libya. In fact, though Libya is part of Africa, the country falls under the diplomatic umbrella of the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The following text has been corrected.
A variety of insults have been deployed in opposition to Susan Rice’s likely nomination for secretary of state: She is not qualified; she’s too aggressive; she “misled” the public following the lethal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.
Upon closer examination, however, the real reason may be less complicated. She’s not a member of the most elite club in America, the U.S. Senate. Also, she appears to be President Obama’s first choice.
As anyone with a television knows, Rice has come under fire by the new, revised Tres Amigos — Republican Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Kelly Ayotte, plus Susan Collins of Maine. All have expressed concerns about Rice’s role in delivering the administration’s explanation following the Benghazi attack, which initially was blamed on street protests over an anti-Muhammad video but later was confirmed as a terrorist attack.
While Collins, who previously supported Rice, says she still has unanswered questions, McCain — whose understanding of qualified women candidates is legendary — has promised to block Rice’s nomination. Graham, who most certainly will be “primaried” in the next election by South Carolinians who doubt his commitment to hard-right lunacy, followed suit, as did Ayotte.
Off somewhere letting her hair grow, Hillary Clinton knitted her brow and noted that Rice has been an excellent U.N. ambassador. Which is to say, she didn’t exactly go to the mat for her female colleague, who had the audacity to support Obama for president rather than the former first lady.
In Ganglandia, it’s the New Kids vs. the Clinton Machine. How dare Rice, once a Clinton administration appointee, defect?
Clinton, a McCain buddy from their years together in the Senate, reportedly prefers another Senate pal, John Kerry, as her successor. So does McCain & Co. So, needless to say, does Kerry, whose chiseled jaw alone constitutes a diplomatic arsenal. There’s clearly no profit in Clinton, a likely presidential candidate in 2016, alienating allies and devaluing her own currency for Rice.
Even so, the opposition’s arguments are weak, chief among them that Rice isn’t qualified. This from McCain, whose vetting history includes about 80 minutes of conversation with Sarah Palin before selecting her as his running mate in 2008. McCain’s opinion about Rice’s qualifications is only slightly less compelling than his thoughts on Playtex vs. Spanx.
For the record, Rice is a graduate of Stanford University and a Rhodes scholar, who served as the assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Even this is troubling to Collins, who said that the Benghazi attack “in many ways echoes the attacks on [U.S. embassies in Africa] in 1998 when Susan Rice was head of the African region.”
Everybody brave enough to enter the public arena gets a few free passes when they utter something short of brilliant, but most of the criticisms aimed at Rice seem ungrounded in reality. To blame Rice for representing the administration’s position as provided to her at the time is missing the target, which is properly the White House.
Does Rice have an aggressive personality, as some have said? And does this pose a risk in nominating her? Yes and yes. She notoriously once flipped the bird to diplomat Richard Holbrooke during a State Department meeting.
Such an impulsive act is no recommendation, but is it emblematic or merely anecdotal? Aggression — and even occasional rudeness — is rarely considered a flaw in men. And even aggressive men learn to temper their impulses as circumstances warrant. Thank goodness Rice didn’t tell Holbrooke to go do that which one cannot do to oneself, as Dick Cheney once suggested to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. Or, heaven forbid, insist that we invade another country based on bad intelligence, as another Rice, who became secretary of state, once did.
The investigation into what transpired in Benghazi — bad things sometimes happen in dangerous places — is certainly appropriate. The administration’s incoherent handling of information deserves scrutiny. But Rice, barring something we don’t know, clearly has the qualifications for secretary of state.
And thoughtful Republicans might reconsider the image of white men ganging up on a highly qualified black woman as they ponder the reasons for their collapsing tent. The road to redemption ain’t thataway.