U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is set to go straight from misleading the country about a matter of national security to a promotion.
A top candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Rice famously purveyed erroneous information about the Benghazi terror attack on five Sunday shows a few days after the deadly incident.
But, hey, these things happen. The conventional wisdom says Republicans should get over it and concentrate their energies on more useful pursuits like caving to President Barack Obama on taxes. We are supposed to believe that Rice’s performance was one of a series of innocent mistakes that coincidentally minimized a terror attack in the weeks before a close-fought presidential election.
Rice assured everyone that Benghazi was a “spontaneous reaction” to an anti-Muhammad video. It was then exploited by “opportunistic extremist elements.” And they happened to have “heavy weapons, which unfortunately are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya.”
It didn’t take a degree in international relations, or even in a stint at the Model U.N. as a teenager, to recognize this as transparent nonsense. On “Face the Nation” that very morning, the president of Libya directly contradicted Rice in saying that the attack was an al-Qaida-linked preplanned act of terror. But Mohamed Magariaf didn’t have the benefit of the best work of the U.S. intelligence community.
Rice hewed to talking points provided to her that were grievously wrong. How they got so wrong is now one of the great mysteries of the Benghazi controversy. Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers said on “Meet the Press” over the weekend that “the intelligence community had it right, and they had it right early.”
Susan Rice’s allies make two defenses of her. One is her hackish susceptibility to inherently implausible talking points. This is a version of the defense the president made of her at his press conference last week, chivalrously insisting that she “had nothing to do with Benghazi.”
The other is that attacks on her are racist and sexist because she’s an African-American woman. Richard Wolffe of MSNBC explained all on “Hardball” the other night. According to Wolffe, Susan Rice is a hard-nosed foreign-policy hawk just like John McCain is on Iran and Libya, so he concludes there can only be one reason the Arizona senator is gunning for her.
You can probably guess what it is. “You’re saying that McCain’s being driven by racial prejudice here?” Chris Matthews said. Wolffe replied, “There is no other way to look at this.” No other way.
Yes, because we all know that the Republican Party could never abide a black woman as secretary of state. Across the last 20 years of our national life, only one party has had lily white secretaries of state. If she were nominated and confirmed, Susan Rice would make history — as the Democrats’ first black secretary of state.
As it happens, the mouthpiece defense probably has a lot to it. Rice was aiming to please the White House in a high-profile audition. If she’s nominated, Republicans shouldn’t let the ritualistic cries of racism scare them off of holding her accountable. On the other hand, they shouldn’t get distracted from more important questions involving the president himself.
Was he apprised of prior attacks on the consulate, and what did he do with that information? When did he get the accurate account of the attack from the intelligence agencies? What did he do when he learned of the hours-long attack, and what orders did he give to help the besieged Americans?
We know in great detail the president’s involvement in the Osama bin Laden raid. But Benghazi has been a closed book. If the White House had a good story to tell, presumably The New York Times already would have reported the details in a 5,000-word front-page article built on leaks by anonymous administration officials.
Say this for Susan Rice: She would be a secretary of state worthy of this administration.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.