“Very interesting … but stupid.” Steamed Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank (below) on Susan Rice’s “plausible deniability” foggy bottom prospects of succeeding Hillary at State.
Wash Post columnist Dana Milbank: McCain, even if wrong on the particulars, is right about Rice. She is ill-equipped to be the nation’s top diplomat for reasons that have little to do with Libya.
Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.
Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.
Among those she has insulted is the woman she would replace at State. Rice was one of the first former Clinton administration officials to defect to Obama’s primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Rice condemned Clinton’s Iraq and Iran positions, asking for an “explanation of how and why she got those critical judgments wrong.”
Clinton got a measure of revenge in 2010 after she worked out a deal with the Russian foreign minister on a package of Iran sanctions to be adopted by the U.N. Security Council. The White House wanted Rice to make the announcement (part of a campaign to increase her profile that included high-visibility foreign trips and TV appearances), but a Clinton aide got Kerry to ask Clinton about the matter during an unrelated Senate hearing.
Rice’s put-down of Clinton was tame compared with her portrayal of McCain during 2008, which no doubt contributes to McCain’s hostility toward her today. She mocked McCain’s trip to Iraq (“strolling around the market in a flak jacket”), called his policies “reckless” and said “his tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later. It’s dangerous.”
It was Rice’s own shoot-first tendency that caused her to be benched as a spokesman for the Obama campaign for a time in 2008. She unnerved European allies when she denounced as “counterproductive” and “self-defeating” the U.N. policy that Iran suspend its nuclear program before talks can begin. She criticized President George W. Bush and McCain because they “insisted” on it. But, as The Post’s Glenn Kessler pointed out at the time, European diplomats were rattled by such remarks because the precondition was their idea.
Rice’s pugilism provoked the Russians to weigh in this week in opposition to her nomination as secretary of state. The Russian business daily Kommersant quoted an anonymous Russian foreign ministry official as saying that Rice, who quarreled with Russia over Syria, is “too ambitious and aggressive,” and her appointment would make it “more difficult for Moscow to work with Washington.”
Compared with this, the flap over Libya is relatively minor — but revealing. It’s true that, in her much-criticized TV performance, she was reciting talking points given to her by the intelligence agencies. But that’s the trouble. Rice stuck with her points even though they had been contradicted by the president of the Libyan National Assembly, who, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” just before Rice, said there was “no doubt” that the attack on Americans in Benghazi “was preplanned.” Rice rebutted the Libyan official, arguing — falsely, it turned out — that there was no evidence of such planning.
True, Rice was following orders from the White House, which she does well. But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.
NYT columnist Maureen Dowd Is Rice Cooked?: OUR Rice is better than your Rice. That’s the argument Democrats are aggressively making against Republicans. And it’s true. Condi Rice sold her soul. Susan Rice merely rented hers on the talk shows one Sunday in September.
Ambitious to be secretary of state, Susan Rice wanted to prove she had the gravitas for the job and help out the White House. So the ambassador to the United Nations agreed to a National Security Council request to go on all five Sunday shows to talk about the attack on the American consulate in Libya.
“She saw this as a great opportunity to go out and close the stature gap,” said one administration official. “She was focused on the performance, not the content. People said, ‘It’s sad because it was one of her best performances.’ But it’s not a movie, it’s the news. Everyone in politics thinks, you just get your good talking points and learn them and reiterate them on camera. But what if they’re not good talking points? What if what you’re saying isn’t true, even if you’re saying it well?”
Some have wondered if Rice, who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation, is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job. But she would have been wise to be more bull-in-a-china-shop and vet her talking points, given that members of the intelligence and diplomatic communities and sources in news accounts considered it a terrorist attack days before Rice went on the shows. (The president and his spokesman also clung to the video story for too long.)
Rice should have been wary of a White House staff with a tendency to gild the lily, with her pal Valerie Jarrett and other staffers zealous about casting the president in a more flattering light, like national security officials filigreeing the story of the raid on Osama to say Bin Laden fought back.
An Africa expert, Rice should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.’s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie. She should have been savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.
The president’s fierce defense of Rice had virile flare. But he might have been better off leaving it to aides, so he did not end up going mano a mano with his nemesis John McCain on an appointment he hasn’t even made (though now Obama might feel compelled to, just to prove that he can’t be pushed around), and so he could focus on fiscal cliff bipartisanship.
His argument that Rice “had nothing to do with Benghazi,” raises the question: Then why was she the point person?
The president’s protecting a diplomatic damsel in distress made Rice look more vulnerable, when her reason for doing those shows in the first place was to look more venerable.