So Susan Rice gets the last laugh after all – as well she should, after having run the gauntlet of Republican lies.
Last autumn and winter, while serving as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Rice was the GOP’s designated scapegoat for Benghazi. Supposedly, she was a core conspirator – “an essential player,” according to GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham – in an Obama re-election campaign plot to conceal the truth about terrorist participation at the American diplomatic mission. And because of her supposedly core role in the supposed plot, Republicans on Capitol Hill put the kibosh on her ascent to Secretary of State.
But as the recent release of 100 pages of White House emails conclusively proved, (a) there was no White House political plot, and (b) Rice had virtually no role in what was, in reality, a garden-variety Washington turf war between the CIA and the State Department – with the CIA, led by Republican hero David Petraeus, taking the lead. Yeah, her Sunday TV talking points were mushy and (especially in hindsight) misleading, but they were a product of that turf war.
Even though Rice was vindicated weeks ago, the Republicans have never apologized for their smears. No matter, because now they’re just bystanders. Yesterday, Obama stuck a thumb in their eye and announced that Rice would serve as his new national security adviser – a pivotal post, higher on the flow chart than Secretary of State, that does not require Senate confirmation. (No word yet on whether Darrell Issa thinks that Obama’s move is an impeachable offense.)
Graham, as recently as two weeks ago, was still prattling about how Rice had supposedly exhibited “a willingness on her part, seven weeks before the election, to sell a political narrative,” but it’s far more revealing that when Issa conducted May hearings on Benghazi, he didn’t even bother to summon Rice to testify. He and his scandal-hunters knew darn well, even though they wouldn’t admit it, that Rice had no role in the writing, editing, and tweaking of those initial talking points.
As Middle East expert Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in May, “Her crime was simply to lean on a document that was produced in a chaotic atmosphere by bureaucrats working with imperfect information and perhaps some turf to protect.”
Turf to protect, indeed. One of the most overlooked aspects of the Benghazi episode is the key role played by Petraeus. The whole turf fight began with him. The Benghazi outpost, ostensibly a diplomatic mission, was actually a CIA annex; therefore, Petraeus had a vested interest in characterizing the attack as spontaneous, because otherwise people might think the CIA had suffered an intelligence failure. As The Washington Post concluded, after having parsed the White House emails, Petraeus sought “to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency.” And when his proposed spin seemed to shift blame to the State Department, the State Department pushed back.
Where was Susan Rice in all this? Nowhere. And where’s the evidence of a White House-directed political whitewash, aimed at protecting Obama’s re-election bid? Good luck finding it.
Naturally, the various cogs in the GOP’s scandal machine haven’t seen fit to admit their errors. Late last month, when Sen. John McCain was asked whether he would apologize to Rice, he replied: “No, of course not.” Yesterday, in the wake of Rice’s ascent to national security adviser, Sen. Kelly Ayotte stuck with the old slime about how the U.N. ambassador “did a disservice to the nation,” and, as a bonus, renowned national security expert Mitt Romney resurfaced long enough to characterize Rice’s ascent as “disappointing.”
What really matters is not what Rice didn’t do nine months ago, but what she might do going forward. Rice is reputedly a vocal opponent of human rights abuses (as is her U.N. replacement, Samantha Power), and it’ll be interesting to see how she handles the crisis in Syria. Given the burgeoning human rights abuses in that civil war, will she mirror or dispute the administration’s reluctance to militarily intervene?
That’s an urgent issue where Republicans – especially interventionists like McCain – can conceivably weigh in. That would be a lot more productive than listening for Benghazi messages in their tooth fillings. But first they’ll have to accept the fact that Rice has been vindicated, and that she will be more powerful than before.
Granted, that’s a tough road. As Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist, fumed yesterday about her appointment, “Republicans see this as a slap in the face.”
Yes, it is. And they deserved it.
The big story overnight was the revelation that the National Security Agency, authorized by a secret court order in April, has been collecting the phone call logs of Verizon customers. Politically, let’s see how this plays out. For now, I’ll merely note that the latest NSA action (not the first of its kind) was conducted in accordance with Section 215 of the Patriot Act – which passed overwhelmingly in the wake of 9/11. If politicians on both sides spend today complaining about the infringement of civil liberties, I’ll simply say: You reap what you sow.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1