An ugly political exercise of attempted personal destruction is playing out before us, juxtaposing a malignant assault on a highly-skilled professional diplomat and the tragic unwinding of an American hero.
Well before last month's presidential election, cable television's snarling darling Michelle Malkin and Fox News host Sean Hannity began a fresh anti-Obama hate campaign with charges that the administration was covering up alleged malfeasance surrounding the attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of Christopher Stephens, our ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans. Fox's obsession was conveniently adopted by a small group of demagogic Republican senators who are using it as an excuse to block the potential appointment of Susan Rice, our ambassador to the United Nations, to be Hillary Clinton's successor as Secretary of State.
Arizona's John McCain pledged to do everything in his power to deny confirmation. He was soon followed by North Carolina's Lindsey Graham and New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte. Their complaints are based on interviews Rice gave on Sunday talk shows in mid-September, a few days after the assault on the consulate. Information at the time was conflicting. The answers she gave on those shows were wrong. But they were wrong because they were what the intelligence community gave her in a briefing before the shows. Rice is not a policymaker. Her job is to convey policy constructed by higher-ups.
McCain, who graduated 894 out of 899 at the U.S. Naval Academy, called Rice "incompetent," "unqualified" and "not very bright." On the contrary, here's Rice's competency, qualifications and intelligence: Cornell University economics professor; valedictorian at National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C.; a bachelor's degree in history at Stanford University on a Truman Scholarship; elected to Phi Bata Kappa; Rhodes Scholar; Ph.D. at New College, Oxford. Her dissertation was honored as the United Kingdom's most distinguished in international relations by the Chatham House-British International Studies Association. She was a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution where her special interests were global policy and transnational threats to security.
It's particularly painful to witness American hero McCain's decency unravel as he leads others in this uncharacteristic cowardly attack on another devoted American servant who's been doing her job right. Susan Rice's service as an American diplomat is as noble as is the service of an American who wears the military uniform.
On Nov. 18, McCain told "Face the Nation" that he might soften his opposition if Rice acknowledged that she had given wrong information, and might clear the nomination if she met with lawmakers.
Last Monday, Rice, at her request, met with these three critics in order to explain those September television comments and acknowledged that they were wrong. But McCain reneged. Rice's candor was met with derision. After their meeting, the three senators went to the microphones to state strongly that they were more intent on stalling or blocking her confirmation despite Rice's acknowledgment.
The senators' statements carried no specific charge of malfeasance or improper conduct by Rice. None. Instead, full of inferences, they demonstrate that the ambassador is being made a scapegoat and that their project is a political hatchet job.
Sen. Kent Conrad, an Intelligence Committee member, said Thursday, "what is very clear is the intelligence community has said with great clarity that the talking points she used were ... provided to her by the intelligence community of the United States ... after consultation with all of the agencies, and they were the unclassified talking points, which is precisely what any ambassador, any representative of the United States should use, not the classified talking points that might reveal things critically important to national security... (They) were ... prepared by a request from the House Intelligence Committee... It is entirely appropriate for the ambassador to rely on the intelligence community for what she says in public. What was said in a classified report would have been totally inappropriate for her to talk about."
Worse yet, with Maine's Sen. Susan Collins and Tennessee's Sen. Bob Corker having joined the small scapegoating chorus, McCain and Ayotte are now threatening to place a "hold" on any nomination for Secretary of State unless the administration provides the answers they want on the Benghazi attacks, the compromising of classified intelligence notwithstanding. Their machinations are pure political obstructionism that holds national security hostage at a critical time of Middle East instability. This nonsense needs to stop. President Obama should have his choice for Secretary of State confirmed, consistent with centuries-old congressional protocol.
- Michael Zucker is a resident of South Lake Tahoe and a stockbroker with Regal Securities. The views expressed in this column are his alone and do not represent those of Regal.