UPDATE at 3:05: In his press conference this afternoon, President Obama was quite forceful in his defense of Ambassador Rice:
“Let me say specifically about Susan Rice: She has done exemplary work she has represented the U.S. and our interests in the U.N. with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador? Who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? To besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
This is just stupid.
An increasingly petty and petulant Sen. John McCain has gone off the deep end again, announcing that if U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is nominated to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, he would attempt to filibuster her nomination.
Because Rice, serving as a foreign policy spokesperson for the Obama administration, went on Sunday talk shows shortly after the attacks in Benghazi to say the following, after noting that an investigation was still underway and the details were unclear:
“But our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.
We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to — or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in — in the wake of the revolution in Libya are — are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.
We’ll wait to see exactly what the investigation finally confirms, but that’s the best information we have at present.”
That version of events turned out to be incorrect in one relatively small detail. Subsequent investigation has determined that there had not been “a small number of people” protesting outside the consulate before a force of roughly 150 armed men rushed the facility, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. Three other Americans also died in the attacks.
Some conservatives have attempted to read great importance into that incorrect detail. In fact, McCain and others, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, wish to declare Rice unqualified to be secretary of State for having made that statement.
It is truly a ridiculous position to take, for two glaringly obvious reasons:
1.) Compare Rice’s statement to the best then-secret intelligence assessment of the CIA at the time she appeared on the Sunday talk shows:
“The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations. This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.”
Clearly, Rice’s statements on ABC and other stations that weekend accurately reflected the best intelligence available to her and others at the time. Trying to declare her unfit to be secretary of State on that basis is nonsense.
And McCain has every reason to know that it is nonsense, which brings us to …
2.) In 2005, at the start of his second term, President Bush nominated Condoleezza Rice to replace Colin Powell as secretary of State. And Rice, as you may recall, had her own rather extensive history of statements on Sunday talk shows that later turned out to be incorrect, with consequences that were far more profound and costly to this nation than the tragedy at Benghazi. More than 4,000 American men and women were to die in a war founded on those statements.
“We do know that he is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. We do know that there have been shipments going into Iran, for instance — into Iraq, for instance, of aluminum tubes that really are only suited to — high-quality aluminum tools that are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs. …we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”
By 2005, the whole world knew that statement by Rice, along with others by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others had been false. Saddam had no nuclear program; the aluminum tubes had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. Their explanation for those false statements was that they had merely relied on the best intelligence available from the CIA, and can’t be held accountable if those assessments were wrong. (There is considerable evidence that Rice, Bush, Cheney and others in fact cherry-picked the evidence to suit the case they wanted to build, but we’ll set that aside for the moment.)
Despite these false statements by Rice — again, statements with grave national consequences — Senate Democrats in 2005 did not launch a filibuster in an attempt to halt her confirmation. The vote to approve her was 85-13. Among those voting to confirm her were McCain and Graham.
Also voting to confirm Rice were Sen. Joe Biden. And Sen. Hillary Clinton. And yes, Sen. Barack Obama as well.
The parallels between the two cases are uncanny, right down to the gender, race and surname of the main character. But the differences in how the two cases are being handled is more startling still, and all too revealing of just how unhinged and hypocritical many of today’s Republicans have become.
If President Obama believes that Ambassador Rice is the best person to serve this country as secretary of State, he should not hesitate to nominate her. If McCain and others wish to make the case to the American people why Rice is unqualified, they should likewise not hesitate to do so.
But by doing so, they will be drawing more attention to their inadequacies than to those they imagine in Rice.
– Jay Bookman