Can President Obama actually be considering nominating Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State? Some are reporting that Rice is his choice, and at a press conference yesterday he forcefully defended her against criticism by John McCain and other Senators. The President said Rice has done “exemplary” work at the UN and that if he decides she would be the best choice, he will go ahead and nominate her.
It seems inconceivable that Rice would be on the President’s short list for the most visible position in the Cabinet. For many Americans, she is the face and voice of what they consider to be an unconscionable attempt to mislead and cover up the truth about the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. When Rice went on the Sunday talk shows and attempted to blame the Benghazi attacks on a YouTube video, she was presenting a false narrative that, increasingly, has been shown to be at odds with the facts known to many in the Administration — that the Benghazi incident was a planned and carefully executed terrorist attack, not a a spontaneous mob reaction to an incendiary video. As a result, many angry Americans view Rice as either a know-nothing shill who was out of the loop but faithfully presented the phony talking points given to her or a knowing participant in an effort to deceive the American people. Either way, she has little credibility with them.
If the President nominates Rice, he will be guaranteeing a bruising confirmation fight and extended hearings into what Rice and others knew about the attack. Why run that risk? Rice may be capable — although I’m not sure what has been “exemplary” about her service at the UN — but there undoubtedly are hundreds of people who also could capably serve as Secretary of State. Can’t the President pick someone who won’t serve as a lightning rod for criticism about an ugly, poorly handled foreign policy disaster that involved the death of four Americans?
I cringed when I read the President’s statement that “[i]f Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.” We don’t need silly macho posturing right now. When the President won re-election, people wondered whether he would be more of a compromiser in his second term, or whether — freed from the need to ever again stand for election — he would demand that things be done his way, no matter what the opposition. If the President insists on nominating Rice, he will be indicating that he is following the latter course, which in turn will just harden the opposition and make compromises less likely. If the President shoots himself in the foot by sending Rice’s name to the Senate, we may be in for more long years of bickering, gridlock, and inability to tackle our debt, deficit, and entitlement problems. We can’t afford that possibility — and the President can’t either.