Why attacks on Rice are misguided
November 27th, 2012
02:59 PM ET

Why attacks on Rice are misguided

By Michael O’Hanlon, Special to CNN

Michael O’Hanlon is senior fellow at Brookings and author of The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity. The views expressed are his own.

Three senior Republican lawmakers may have come away "concerned" from their meeting with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. But beyond the specific debate about the Benghazi incident, and the continued concerns of critics including Senator John McCain, there looms a larger issue of whether she would be an appropriate choice as secretary of state in the second Obama term.

Nearly 100 House Republicans have now come out against her, joining several prominent GOP senators.  They criticize her as either untrustworthy or incompetent, with insinuations that she is too much of a partisan to represent the country as a whole on the international stage. President Obama’s unwillingness to back down in the face of their criticisms, meanwhile, risks creating a new and unnecessary partisan wedge in Washington at just the moment the country needs its leaders to work together.
Yet, as a former colleague and friend of Susan Rice (though also a veteran of political battles against her, as I supported Hillary in 2007 while she co-led the Obama foreign policy team, and I supported the surge in Iraq while she opposed it) I would ask Republican friends to relent. To be sure, there is a valid debate as to whether Rice, Senator John Kerry, or someone else should succeed Hillary Clinton as the nation's next top diplomat (Admiral Mike Mullen and another Clinton come to mind). Every candidate has his or her respective strengths and limitations for a job that is inherently more complex and challenging than anyone can truly be fully prepared to undertake. But Rice is a solid candidate and would be a fine secretary.

More from CNN: Poll says public doesn't believe White House misled over Benghazi

For those who see Rice as somehow untried, untested, too young, or too much of a predictably partisan Obama loyalist rather than an independent thinker, they should review the track record of her work over the years. After serving on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council and State Department, she was at Brookings, where I am now a senior fellow, from 2002 through 2008 and her record of published work is still available there. It shows that she was creative, forceful, and in fact ahead of either party in many of her views. For example:

– Rice called for much more attention to weak and failed states than either party was typically prepared to provide, in terms of foreign assistance and support for peace operations.

– But her concern for such states was not limited to the softer tools of diplomacy and aid. For example, she had a long and consistent track record of proposing much tougher sanctions, or more, against the genocidal Sudanese regime during the Darfur tragedies of the mid-2000 decade.

– In 2004 and early 2005, long before then-Senator Barack Obama made it a centerpiece of his foreign policy vision, she wrote important opinion pieces calling for direct talks with extremist regimes like Iran or North Korea. Anyone who believes this reflected a naïveté in her thinking about how to address such rogue states, however, need only witness the way she has orchestrated campaigns of pressure and sanctions against both in her current job. Meanwhile, she disagreed with President Bush’s construct of an axis of evil and sought ways to handle these dangerous actors more productively.

It is also important to put Benghazi in broader perspective. Rice did make some mistakes on the now infamous September 16 Sunday talk shows about the issue. But they were surely not intentional or malevolent, and need to be seen in perspective. The Libya debacle was a tragedy, but in the scheme of modern world history, a relatively minor one. The challenges in Libya remain largely as they were before the killings of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans; the importance of Libya to the broader Middle East remains limited in scale in any case. This is not the issue on which the region or the world will turn in the months and years ahead.

Contrast that situation with another impressive young leader named Rice, the former secretary of state under President Bush. When Condi’s name was put forward to the Congress in 2005, Democrats could have complained that she had, as national security advisor, led a broken policy process that left a huge mess in Iraq and disqualified her from cabinet-level rank, and also been part of a faulty public presentation of intelligence as well, this time concerning Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

It was not simply that the Iraq war may have, in some eyes, been a mistake. But the country had no clear single policy, as it embarked on that campaign, of what political endstate we sought after Saddam’s demise or of what tools we were prepared to employ in the field to achieve it. Talk of bringing (most) troops home by the fall of 2003 echoed uncannily what European policymakers had said at the outset of World War I in 1914 – and was proven equally wrong.  We had no real plan or capacity to stabilize the country after Saddam's downfall, and chaos as well as insurrection ensued.

The poor political and military planning for the Iraq war was due primarily to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his supporters. But Condoleezza Rice’s job as national security advisor was to be sure that inconsistencies were identified and competing views somehow reconciled.  She failed to do this, with much weightier consequences for the country than Benghazi will ever cause.  Yet the Senate rightly confirmed her, recognizing that many others shared the blame for these problems, and giving her a chance to learn from her mistakes and improve – which in fact she did in the next post.

The lesson here is clear:  if President Obama decides he so wishes it, this Rice deserves a promotion, too, and the Senate should confirm.


soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Bridge

    Dude, she lied to Americans. About 4 murdered camrades. Intentionally for political purposes. How or why you didn't address that is beyond me but it crushes any credence to your argument.

    November 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply
    • Dooer

      There was not and never has been any LIES associated with Rices comments. She accurately and truthfully gave the information she was given by the intelligence agencies. Those agencies, the administration and she herself have since admitted that the talking points she was given were not accurate, but Rice did not have in her possession more accurate data at the time she spoke. That's all ther is to this issue.

      November 27, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
      • merlinsscience

        Not one thing Rice said was accurate and it has come from the deputy national security director's own lips that she was aware of the fact that she was giving inaccurate information while she was giving it.

        You Obama zombie would support him and his cronies even if he murdered someone on national television; your refusal to follow the facts and see the truth is appalling.

        November 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Susan Rice should have thought carefully, before she spoke out. The attack on the US-mission in Benghazi was so easily identified, that it could only have been an act of terror, which required some degree of precision planning.

        November 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thomas Merton

      Dude, Secretary of State Powell lied for the Bush Administration and thousands of Americans are dead and tens of thousands wounded, widowed or orphaned so get off your racist horse you bigot.

      November 27, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • JRMikla

      The following excerpt from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence clearly states that the initial assessment was that the attack began spontaneously following protests. In addition, Petraeus mentioned during his testimony according to the NYTimes that the talking points were changed to not tip off the terrorists while the investigation was still in progress. His testimony should have been televised on C-Span to allow the public to see what was actually said.

      Excerpt from the Office of Director of National Intelligence press release – Sept. 28, 2012

      "As the Intelligence Community collects and analyzes more information related to the attack, our understanding of the event continues to evolve. In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo. We provided that initial assessment to Executive Branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to
      emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving."

      http://www.dni.gov/index.php/newsroom/press-releases/96-press-releases-2012/731-statement-by-the-odni-s-director-of-public-affairs-on-intelligence-related-to-the-terrorist-attack-on-the-u-s-consulate-in-benghazi?highlight=YToxOntpOjA7czo4OiJiZW5naGF6aSI7fQ==

      November 27, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  2. Willooma

    Dear John, Lindsey & House Republicans,

    You are not the "brightest" trying to lynch the messenger for political reasons. We might listen to you if you FIRST direct your manufactured outrage towards:

    2002 U.S. Consulate in Pakistan – 10 killed. 2004 U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan – 2 killed. 2004 U.S. Consulate Saudi Arabia – 8 killed. 2006 – U.S. Embassy in Syria – 1 killed. 20008 U.S. Embassy in Yemin – 10 killed. Nothing like that has ever happened on the GOP's watch has it? And most of all to Bush/Cheney's made up war based on WMD lies that killed & maimed thousands of OUR very own children.

    Thank you,

    We The People Of The UNITED States of America

    November 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  3. Ben

    I have lost any respect for John McCain. Give it up, nobody except wimpering Romney-ites care about your cause.

    November 27, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  4. Robert

    The reality is rather simple, she (Rice) belongs to the "mutual admiration society", known as the Obama camp. Where, as usual it does not matter if you are right or wrong because as a liberal you can define what is right and what is wrong and if someones opinion differs, they are a racist bigot or just plain ignorant. Four people died for no good reason and yet no one seems to be responsible or willing to take responsibility.

    November 27, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
    • Blau

      The reality IS rather simple. Republicans live in a bubble of misinformation. The same bubble that had Romney "winning by a landslide"

      November 27, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
      • robert

        And what is your source of information? MSNBC? The President himself? I've found that most liberals are just brainwashed, bandwagoners who have no real grasp on what is really going on. No convictions, no love of country, just oblivious leeches on society.

        November 27, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • robert

      Couldn't have said it better myself! This race card garbage that the lefties are playing has to stop. Condoleeza Rice, a black woman, was a Republican appointed Secretary of State, for Christsakes!

      November 27, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Reply
      • Blau

        And Condi Rice took us into a war under false pretenses. You Cons are so lacking in self-awareness it's ridiculous.

        November 27, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
  5. John

    Isn't John McCain the same guy thay brought us Sarah Palin?????

    November 27, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Reply
  6. robert

    Holy crap! That is the very first picture I've ever seen of this woman smiling!

    That being said, I believe this meeting was less about about Rice and more about getting to the core of what really happened before, during, and after the Benghazi attack.

    As a Republican, I really hope she is chosen as Sec of State...The alternative is John Kerry...Now that would be a disaster!

    November 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  7. Anthony

    Republicans jumped on Susan Rice, convinced that there was a coverup on the Benghazi attack. Rice was reading from CIA talking points. The CIA later confirmed that what she said reflected what they knew at the time. This is just like Romney in the second debate. Romney, getting his news from right-wing media, claimed that Obama did not call the Benghazi attack an act of terror for two weeks. He was wrong. Romney lost his momentum and his campaign never recovered. Republicans are heading down the same path again. Some people never learn.

    November 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  8. william s

    Does anyone else ever consider that all of the president's critics are called racists? Even conservatives were critical of some of Bush's policies . Maybe those that blindly support/defend Obama are the true racists ?

    November 27, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  9. Hahahahahaha

    Misguided? Why sure!!!!! They're republicans aren't they!!!!!!!! Hahahahahahahahahaha

    November 28, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
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  11. Enoch Fauth

    John McCain followed his father and grandfather, both four-star admirals, into the United States Navy, graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. He became a naval aviator, flying ground-attack aircraft from aircraft carriers. During the Vietnam War, he was almost killed in the 1967 USS Forrestal fire. In October 1967, while on a bombing mission over Hanoi, he was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese. He was a prisoner of war until 1973. McCain experienced episodes of torture, and refused an out-of-sequence early repatriation offer. His war wounds left him with lifelong physical limitations.^....^

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    May 21, 2013 at 12:44 pm | Reply

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