UN Ambassador Susan Rice went to Capitol Hill this week, presumably to patch things up with longtime Republican antagonists Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain as a possible prelude for her nomination as Secretary of State.
Both aging war hawks have been hammering Rice for appearances she made on the Sunday talk shows immediately after the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed.
On those shows, Rice said that the attacks were part of spontaneous protests throughout the Islamic world against a crude anti-Muslim video. Her account was based on intelligence reports which turned out to be false: It was a terrorist attack.
Rice’s appearances became a cause célèbre on Fox News, which unsuccessfully tried to elevate Benghazi into a major campaign issue. But Benghazi and Rice’s role in explaining it haven’t gone away.
That was clear after a closed-door meeting in which McCain, Graham and their new compadre, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), all said they were even more troubled by Rice’s explanations than they had been before.
But the real surprise was the response of moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who was also underwhelmed by Rice’s performance at that meeting.
Politico chronicled the disaster:
In just two quick meetings on Capitol Hill, Susan Rice may have blown up any goodwill she had with the very senators she’ll need for confirmation if she’s ever tapped as the next secretary of state…It’s not clear what Rice said behind closed doors to anger all these senators, but it’s obvious the meetings went badly and this was hardly a nominee-in-waiting charm offensive.
Indeed. President Obama has mounted a feisty defense of his ambassador, who is considered his first choice to succeed Hillary Clinton as the nation’s top diplomat. But here are three reasons he shouldn’t do it:
1.He has to conserve his political capital to do a budget deal. The last thing the president needs is a battle over a Cabinet appointment. Republicans would love to draw blood from the newly reelected president and the media would slather over the prospect of a true Beltway brouhaha. But it would only be a distraction from the real work on taxes and spending, where he could win a big victory.
2. Ambassador Rice isn’t, well, very diplomatic, as Dana Milbank in The Washington Post revealed:
Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies… 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.
3. Sen. John Kerry would do a better job. With foreign policy challenges shaping up as even bigger in the president’s second term, Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would bring a judicious, experienced hand to difficult challenges like China, North Korea, Russia, and most importantly, Israel and Iran.
And let’s be politically incorrect for a minute. Three out of the last four Secretaries of State have been women and two out of the four have been people of color (Condoleezza Rice and Gen. Colin Powell). So, President Obama would break little new ground by appointing Susan Rice to this job.
But he would if he named former Deputy Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy to the top post at the Pentagon, where there has never been a female Secretary.
Kerry at State and Flournoy at Defense would be a solid national security team for President Obama’s second term, and they would not likely face confirmation battles. Please consider it, Mr. President.