In a Washington Post op-ed, Susan Rice says that she asked President Obama not to consider her for Secretary of State because “it became clear that [her] potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle” over her role in the administration’s response to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. But is that really the whole story?
As Seth Mandel notes over at Commentary, the controversy over Rice’s potential nomination wasn’t strictly partisan, and wasn’t all about Benghazi:
Republicans on the Hill had basically limited their critique of Rice to her misleading statements following the Benghazi attack. Liberals, on the other hand, made it personal. Dana Milbank suggested Rice had an attitude problem. Maureen Dowd said Rice was too ambitious and unprincipled for her own good–or the country’s. Yesterday at the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove launched a bizarre attack on Rice that accused her of having a personality disorder. The left has also been driving the less personal attacks as well. Howard French said Rice’s Africa legacy is the further empowerment of dictators. Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski knocked Rice for essentially enabling atrocities in Congo.
Meanwhile, it should not go unnoticed that Hillary Clinton made her opposition to Rice clear to officials in Washington, which may explain the avalanche of leaks and criticism and personal sniping that came from the left as soon as the battle commenced.
Rice says in her op-ed that she was speaking in good faith, based on the intelligence she’d seen, when she did her series of interviews the Sunday after the Benghazi attack. I believe her, but that’s hardly the crux of the matter. Why was she given incorrect information? We know that the intelligence community had info indicating that the attack was a planned operation by well-armed terrorist group, not a protest over a YouTube video that spontaneously turned violent. If the intelligence was ambiguous, why did they choose the latter, incorrect narrative rather than the former, correct one? Was the intelligence community’s judgment distorted by political considerations? And then there are other questions surrounding the attack: Why did the State Department deny a request for extra security? Why is the Libyan government too weak to provide reliable security itself, per its Vienna Convention obligations?
Most of these questions have little to do with Susan Rice herself. It may be that the administration is hoping to make the scandal go away by letting Rice fall on her sword; clearly Rice’s op-ed is an attempt to frame things that way. But that may not work — all of those questions remain — and if the administration wanted to fight for Rice, they could have easily made the case that Rice wasn’t responsible for the Benghazi affair. In fact, President Obama made that very case rather vigorously at a press conference last month when he responded to criticism of Rice: “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody,” he said testily, “they should go after me.”
Now Rice is out of the running. That’s a striking reversal, and I suspect that the attacks from the left play a bigger role than most observers are acknowledging. While the conventional wisdom sees McCain and Graham taking Rice’s scalp, it may well be that much of the credit actually belongs to Hillary Clinton.