Another Perspective

Why Attack Susan Rice?

Do Republicans have foreign policy proposals or political agendas?

By 12.6.12

Send to Kindle

Why should Susan Rice not be nominated to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State? The president trusts and admires her. Why should Republicans make an issue of her? Do they want to remind the American people once again they are sore losers?

The president has every reason to choose his own cabinet. What is he supposed to do -- favor his opponents? Policy-making is inherently political, it grows out of political choices that voters approve or reject. So what is the problem? We get the government we deserve through a free and fair process that we claim other nations should emulate.

The opposition to Susan Rice is based on her alleged participation in the way the Administration handled the Benghazi affair. Are Republicans afraid to attack the president and his secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton? They would then have to explain what they think might have been done differently. Whose idea was it to bring a democratic revolution into the umma? Judging from the recent campaign, however, the Republicans are as clueless as the rest of us regarding what is going on in the dar al islam and what, if anything, we can do about it. So they take out their frustrations on an ambitious young lady who reportedly is smart (Oxford PhD), fast (basketball point guard), and rich as a one-percent person (personal fortune larger than some nations' GNP.).

Unless we want to ax the entire foreign policy high command every time there is a debacle overseas, it is difficult to see why some mistakes of interpretation, which she has since retracted, should stymie Mrs. Rice's career, particularly since all she did was to repeat was she was told to say. The president explained that she had nothing to do with what happened in Benghazi and could not have known, on her own, what went wrong.

Ours is not a parliamentary democracy and ministers -- secretaries -- do not resign the way they do in many other countries, as fall guys when something goes badly wrong. In certain cases the entire government falls because the failure is so egregious the parliament loses all confidence in its ability to govern. By attacking Mrs. Rice, do Republicans really think they are demonstrating wisdom and virtue in matters of governance greater than the Democrats'?

We sometimes accept the practice of asking secretaries or other high officials to resign because their conduct of policy or their personal behavior is so shabby that their mere presence in the stratosphere of government becomes a demoralizing liability. Mrs. Rice is no Sumner Welles or Walter Jenkins, though surely it says something about the times we live in that, diversity obligé, a Welles or a Jenkins today would not be forced to resign, though the same indulgence is not shown a David Petraeus. Well, who is better at the top of things in defending our Republic -- David Petraeus or Susan Rice? If the Republicans cannot say, the bullying of Susan Rice makes them appear a bunch of sissies and prudes.

By various accounts, Amb. Rice, who was on the staff of the National Security Council in the first Clinton administration and served as Asst. Secretary of State for African Affairs in the second, in 1994 recommended against calling the mass murder of Tutsi in Rwanda a genocide because if it was in fact a genocide and the administration did not intervene, it would hurt the Democrats "in November." They took a hit in the mid-terms anyway, as voters recoiled from their economic policies including a proposed national health service designed largely by Mrs. Clinton.

The Republicans, then led by the ebullient idea-a-minute Newt Gingrich, did not make the Rwandan horror an issue during those midterms. Are they in a position to criticize the alleged cynicism of a young staffer and her boss, the macho Sandy Berger whose career crashed when he admitted to unauthorized possession of state secrets? What did the Republicans do for Rwanda? Should Condoleezza Rice have been blocked in her appointment as Secretary of State because when she was on the NSC staff she did not, as far as anyone knows, stick her neck out for the Kurds in the aftermath of the first Gulf War?

A couple years after the Rwanda hands-off policy, Susan Rice, according to contemporary and retrospective accounts, argued against putting pressure on the government of Omar el-Bashir in Sudan to turn over their alleged guest, Osama Bin Laden, already known in international security circles as a bankroller and mastermind of revolutionary war against Western nations and allegedly apostate Arab regimes. Notwithstanding her vow to "go down in flames" to prevent another genocide, she seems to have come down against intervention in Sudan, and it fell to Mr. Clinton's successor, G. W. Bush, to help extricate the south Sudanese from the depredations of the Khartoum regime by brokering the deal opening the way to an independent south. The Obama administration did not follow up with particularly notable efforts to help the fledgling country, apart from providing some military advisory missions growing out of long-term plans that were already in place. Nor did it make any progress, notwithstanding Mrs. Rice's high position in the administration's councils on Africa, in the rolling massacres in Darfur, Sudan's western province, or eastern Congo.

This may be viewed as poor judgment. Why take out Moammar Gaddafi, as the Obama administration chose to do in 2011, reportedly with Susan Rice's encouragement, but not Bashir? However, the Republicans did not say it was poor judgment.

Possibly Mrs. Rice, notwithstanding the lessons she drew from the Rwanda civil war, did not anticipate the consequences of enabling the Anglo-French in their campaign against the Tripolitan pirate. Perhaps knocking him off was worth the consequences; opinion was divided, with some Republicans and conservatives expressing reservations about the campaign and others, such as the latter-day Lydell Hart Max Boot, saying it would be easy (echoing the "cakewalk" comment on going into Iraq in 2003). But if memory serves, no one, pro or con, gave any thought to Mali and its neighbors.

If the Republicans have a problem with the President's foreign policy, they should say so forthrightly and call him to accounts. During the campaign, they chose not make Mr. Obama's foreign policy a campaign issue. The failure to anticipate the attack on our consulate at Benghazi, the incoherent explanations of what happened, the apparently total disregard for the consequences of our Libya policy on the countries of the Sahel, notably Mali -- half of which was conquered by rebels assisted by jihadists who had recovered Gaddafi's arsenals -- all these questions and many more could have been raised in the wake of the failure at Benghazi.

The Republicans did not raise them, however. They have tried to raise issues of intellectual (or even moral) judgment, as Bret Stephens does, relying heavily on a critical examination of her Clinton period by Columbia professor Peter Rosenblum. He quotes Prof. Rosenblum to the effect that "Susan Rice seems not to have convinced colleagues that her real interest was Africa, or even foreign policy." This is surely interesting, but, even if it is so, how does it disqualify her?

Instead of getting serious about foreign policy, Republicans are now complaining about Mrs. Rice's investments in the oil industry. Are they envious that she is a true one percent lady, with a personal fortune between $23 million and $43 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a liberal think thank. If they think it is wrong to invest in the energy sector, why did they not mention it during the campaign? If they think it is okay, they could have criticized the president for campaigning against "the rich" while taking the advice of one of them in political and policy matters.

In the great lakes region of east Africa, it is said that when elephants fight, the grass is crushed. When Republicans are incoherent and flail about at the wrong targets, the American people are not well served. 

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author

Roger Kaplan, a Washington-based writer, covers the Middle East and Africa (and tennis) for The American Spectator.