Rice Drops Bid for Secretary of State, Citing Opposition
By MARK LANDLER
Published: December 13, 2012
WASHINGTON — Susan E. Rice, the Obama administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, has withdrawn her name from consideration for secretary of state, in the face of relentless opposition from Republicans in Congress over her role in the aftermath of the deadly attack on the American Mission in Benghazi, Libya.
Rice in Limbo as Nomination Remains Uncertain (December 8, 2012)
Rice Engages in Nomination Ritual — Without the Nomination (November 29, 2012)
Times Topic: Susan Rice
In a letter to President Obama, Ms. Rice said she concluded that “the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly — to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. The tradeoff is simply not worth it to our country.”
Mr. Obama, who spoke with Ms. Rice on Thursday, said he accepted her request with regret, describing her as “an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant.”
He said she “will continue to serve as our ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team.”
“While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first,” Mr. Obama’s statement said.
The president had steadfastly defended Ms. Rice from attacks that she misled the American public in televised appearances after the attack in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. And until Thursday, Mr. Obama seemed ready to face down Ms. Rice’s critics on Capitol Hill.
Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat who is often mentioned as another candidate to become secretary of state, was among the first to issue a statement reacting to Ms. Rice’s withdrawal.
“I’ve defended her publicly and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again because I know her character and I know her commitment,” Mr. Kerry said. “She’s an extraordinarily capable and dedicated public servant. Today’s announcement doesn’t change any of that. We should all be grateful that she will continue to serve and contribute at the highest level.
“As someone who has weathered my share of political attacks and understands on a personal level just how difficult politics can be, I’ve felt for her throughout these last difficult weeks, but I also know that she will continue to serve with great passion and distinction,” he added.
What Susan Rice can tell us about Obama’s second term
Posted by Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake on December 11, 2012 at 6:30 am
President Obama continues to mull whether to nominate Susan Rice to be Secretary of State. How he decides on that question will tell us a lot about how he plans to approach his second term in office.
Two things have become abundantly clear since the election: 1) Obama likes Rice quite a bit and seems inclined to pick her as the successor to outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and 2) Opposition to Rice on Capitol Hill is real and lasting. (Sen. John McCain’s move to the Foreign Relations committee makes that abundantly clear.)
Given those two realities, what does Obama do?
Down one path, he nominates Rice despite the fact that Republicans like McCain (Ariz.), Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and even Susan Collins (Maine) have made clear that doing so will mean a nasty confirmation fight, and in spite of the fact that many Democrats are (privately) leery of having to vote on a pick who has generated controversy even before she is nominated. (Remember that Senate Democrats have to defend 20 seats to 14 for Republicans in 2014, including those in hostile territory like Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota and West Virginia.)
That is best described as the damn-the-torpedos path — in two ways.
First, the Rice nomination would likely land right in the middle of the final fiscal cliff negotiations and could poison any good will built up with congressional Republicans. It would also make clear to Republicans that Obama the deal-cutter is gone, upping the ante even more on the fiscal cliff talks. Even if Obama does wait until early 2013 to pick a nominee, he would have to massage it around his inauguration in late January and the coming debt ceiling fight scheduled for late February. Either way, it wouldn’t be easy.
Second, it would put Senate Democrats out on a limb they have made abundantly clear they don’t want to be on. That would be a clear signal to his party that Obama is, first and foremost, all about Obama — something congressional Democrats have long suspected. If Obama does go forward with Rice, rallying his party to some of his preferred second-term initiatives could get very complicated. In short: The reservoir of good will would be drained very quickly.
Then there is the path of least resistance. In that scenario, Obama goes with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry as Secretary of State and finds another, less controversial post for Rice.
A nomination fight at the start of his second term is almost certainly dodged — people like Collins have relentlessly insisted that Kerry would be confirmed without any trouble — but Obama could (and likely would) be painted in some circles as toothless. A narrative would build — although it’s not clear whether it would be sustained — that Obama was giving in (again) to Republicans and we might even see a few “Is the liberal base abandoning Obama” stories.
After all, Obama is a month removed from a convincing reelection victory, and Republicans are in the midst of an examination of their party and its principles. Now is a time to be bold, not a time to capitulate to the threats of the likes of McCain, the argument from the left will go. (The Arizona senator remains a loathed figure by the Democratic base following his 2008 bid for president.)
It’s not clear how widespread that dissatisfaction might be. Bypassing Rice for Kerry is different than bypassing Rice for, say, McCain. Undoubtedly there would be some element of the liberal left unhappy, but how many “real people” would sour on Obama and his policies if he made the switch?
On the other hand, stepping back from the brink on Rice would also likely be taken as a signal that the ever-pragmatic Obama wants to spend his political capital on things like fixing the nation’s debt problem and reforming the country’s immigration system rather than on a Cabinet nominee — even one as prominent as Secretary of State.
White House insiders make clear that Obama remains genuinely undecided on who to nominate for Secretary of State. And understandably so given that how he picks could well set the philosophical tone for the next four years.
70 percent of Americans want Congress to compromise rather than stick to their principles on the “fiscal cliff.”
Obama goes after Republicans in Michigan who are pushing for a “right to work” law.
Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) was hospitalized Monday.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is noncommittal about supporting Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.
Rep. Tim Scott, Stephen Colbert and former state first lady Jenny Sanford top South Carolina voters’ wish lists for their appointed senator.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will chair the NRCC’s annual fundraising dinner.
Santa Claus: Democrat?
Humor aside, I am not sure Barack Obama is in a mood to nominate his second term cabinet. He has to make sure that John Boehner’s reluctance to raise taxes on the very rich and powerful top two percent people and corporations.
More likely, we would see a damned bottom than a bipartisan agreement. This would create a great tsunami of destruction of US economy followed by related impact on the world economy.
If Chris likes to offer couple of future scenarios, I can provide couple hundred.
Be serious, Chris, according to Mayan calendar, the world , as we know, is gonna end.
…and I am Sid Harth@mysistermarilynmonroe.org
On the other hand, it might be a useful bit of political theater to have a black woman being attacked by a bunch of old white Repus. Perhaps useful in the 2014 elections, in terms of energizing the Demo base?
On the other hand, there’s John Kerry, who I personally think is a good guy, knowledgible, willing to work with the Repu.
And then there’s Scott Brown. My guess is that the bloom is off that particular rose. He got elected running against M. Coakley, who ran a lousy campaign, and isn’t very likeable. Also, there is some evidence that the vote was rigged.
Nobody died because of anything Susan Rice said; can’t say the same for Condi, can we?
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- Sid Harth
- GLOBAL VIEW
- Updated December 11, 2012, 12:15 a.m. ET
The Other Susan Rice File
How to embrace psychotic murderers and alienate a continent.
By BRET STEPHENS
The trouble with a newspaper column lies in the word limit. Last week, I wrote about some of Susan Rice‘s diplomatic misadventures in Africa during her years in the Clinton administration: Rwanda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo. But there wasn’t enough space to get to them all.
And Sierra Leone deserves a column of its own.
On June 8, 1999, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ms. Rice, then the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, delivered testimony on a range of issues, and little Sierra Leone was high on the list. An elected civilian government led by a former British barrister named Ahmad Kabbah had been under siege for years by a rebel group known as the Revolutionary United Front, led by a Libyan-trained guerrilla named Foday Sankoh. Events were coming to a head.
Even by the standards of Africa in the 1990s, the RUF set a high bar for brutality. Its soldiers were mostly children, abducted from their parents, fed on a diet of cocaine and speed. Its funding came from blood diamonds. It was internationally famous for chopping off the limbs of its victims. Its military campaigns bore such names as “Operation No Living Thing.”
In January 1999, six months before Ms. Rice’s Senate testimony, the RUF laid siege to the capital city of Freetown. “The RUF burned down houses with their occupants still inside, hacked off limbs, gouged out eyes with knives, raped children, and gunned down scores of people in the street,” wrote Ryan Lizza in the New Republic. “In three weeks, the RUF killed some 6,000 people, mostly civilians.”
What to do with a group like this? The Clinton administration had an idea. Initiate a peace process.
It didn’t seem to matter that Sankoh was demonstrably evil and probably psychotic. It didn’t seem to matter, either, that he had violated previous agreements to end the war. “If you treat Sankoh like a statesman, he’ll be one,” was the operative theory at the State Department, according to one congressional staffer cited by Mr. Lizza. Instead of treating Sankoh as part of the problem, if not the problem itself, State would treat him as part of the solution. An RUF representative was invited to Washington for talks. Jesse Jackson was appointed to the position of President Clinton’s special envoy.
It would be tempting to blame Rev. Jackson for the debacle that would soon follow. But as Ms. Rice was keen to insist in her Senate testimony that June, it was the Africa hands at the State Department who were doing most of the heavy lifting.
“It’s been through active U.S. diplomacy behind the scenes,” she explained. “It hasn’t gotten a great deal of press coverage, that we and others saw the rebels and the government of Sierra Leone come to the negotiating table just a couple of weeks ago, in the context of a negotiated cease-fire, in which the United States played an important role.”
A month later, Ms. Rice got her wish with the signing of the Lomé Peace Accord. It was an extraordinary document. In the name of reconciliation, RUF fighters were given amnesty. Sankoh was made Sierra Leone’s vice president. To sweeten the deal, he was also put in charge of the commission overseeing the country’s diamond trade. All this was foisted on President Kabbah.
In September 1999, Ms. Rice praised the “hands-on efforts” of Rev. Jackson, U.S. Ambassador Joe Melrose “and many others” for helping bring about the Lomé agreement.
For months thereafter, Ms. Rice cheered the accords at every opportunity. Rev. Jackson, she said, had “played a particularly valuable role,” as had Howard Jeter, her deputy at State. In a Feb. 16, 2000, Q&A session with African journalists, she defended Sankoh’s participation in the government, noting that “there are many instances where peace agreements around the world have contemplated rebel movements converting themselves into political parties.”
What was more, the U.S. was even prepared to lend Sankoh a helping hand, provided he behaved himself. “Among the institutions of government that we are prepared to assist,” she said, “is of course the Commission on Resources which Mr. Sankoh heads.”
Three months later, the RUF took 500 U.N. peacekeepers as hostages and was again threatening Freetown. Lomé had become a dead letter. The State Department sought to send Rev. Jackson again to the region, but he was so detested that his trip had to be canceled. The U.N.’s Kofi Annan begged for Britain’s help. Tony Blair obliged him.
“Over a number of weeks,” Mr. Blair recalls in his memoirs, British troops “did indeed sort out the RUF. . . . The RUF leader Foday Sankoh was arrested, and during the following months there was a buildup of the international presence, a collapse of the rebels and over time a program of comprehensive disarmament. . . . The country’s democracy was saved.”
Today Mr. Blair is a national hero in Sierra Leone. As for Ms. Rice and the administration she represented, history will deliver its own verdict.
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Susan Rice’s Revolving-Door Problem
Susan Rice’s possible promotion from U.S. Ambassador to the UN to Secretary of State continues to come under fire, now over her apparent conflicts of interest with African clients from her days as a private consultant, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
By Paul R. Pillar
It is difficult to remember the last time a not-yet-and-maybe-never-secretary-designate of some cabinet department got as much preemptive opposition as Susan Rice has been getting regarding the job of Secretary of State.
One of the lines of criticism, highlighted by Helene Cooper in the New York Times, concerns Rice’s coziness with some African strongmen and in particular with Rwandan president Paul Kagame. A specific twist regarding Kagame is that he was Rice’s client when she worked between government stints at Intellibridge, a consulting firm that also provided other former Clinton administration officials with out-of-government employment.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice meets with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on March 10, 2009. (White House photo)
It is hard for an outsider to judge whether Rice’s handling of African issues at the United Nations since she came back into government has represented a compromise of integrity and, if so, how U.S. diplomacy may have suffered. There does seem to be a pattern of Rice wanting to go easy on Kagame, notwithstanding his government very likely being the principal backer of rebels who are causing the latest round of havoc in eastern Congo.
But Rice’s supporters argue that a behind-the-scenes approach is more likely than public castigation of Kagame’s government to ameliorate the mess in the Great Lakes region of Africa. The sorts of attributes of Rice and her record that Jacob Heilbrunn has identified are probably more important in assessing whether she is qualified to be Secretary of State.
The past dealings with the Rwandans are a legitimate issue, however, and illustrate a problem with appointees that goes far beyond Rice. A distinctive feature of the U.S. system of government is the installation, with the advent of each new presidential administration, of a huge number of political appointees — thousands of them, going far below the level of cabinet secretaries. This system has several problems.
Although usually rationalized in terms of helping to ensure that the president’s policies and preferences are implemented, the system instead injects the personal preferences of many other people who shape policies that are below the president’s radar.
The system entails great disruption and persistent vacancies with each change of administration. The system means that the staffing of much of the government is determined in large part by who happened to play most successfully during the primary campaign season the game of hitching one’s wagon to a rising star.
Rice’s attachment to Kagame’s government illustrates yet another problem, which is the baggage that in-and-outers may acquire during periods that they are out of government. Different types of jobs entail different degrees and types of baggage problems.
What is most often thought of are financial interests left over from some lucrative private-sector employment, although problems related to that can be ameliorated through arrangements such as blind trusts. Probably harder to deal with is the legacy of the kind of relationship Rice had with Kagame.
Consulting firms whose shingles feature former senior officials who recently left office are selling influence and access at least as much as they are selling expert advice. Relationships that are ones of advocacy, trust, and taking action on behalf of the client’s interests are not relationships that can be turned on and off like a light switch.
The political systems of most other advanced democracies avoid most of these problems. The top national layer in those systems is peopled by a small political class that includes ministers who sit in cabinets and who, to do so, must subject themselves to a vote of the electorate.
Below them is a professional bureaucracy, part of whose defining characteristic (Japan is a conspicuous exception) is a commitment to execute faithfully the policies of whichever political masters are currently in office. The bureaucrats do not try to inject their own policies — and they do not acquire baggage from stints outside government.
Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)
One comment on “Susan Rice’s Revolving-Door Problem”
Sorry, but I don’t understand your objections to Rice. Are there other objections you can’t tell us? Other than not being a lawyer, which I’m not sure makes a person qualified for a foreign-policy position anyway, what makes her different from Hillary Clinton or Condoleeza Rice? You think these two “questioned authority” or had no conflicts of interest in places like Africa or elsewhere? Your biggest criticism is that she works hard to please her bosses, or that John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Susan Ayotte were “confused” by their meeting? At least you and Heilbrunn agree the Benghazi affair is overblown political hackery. So unless you come up with more compelling reasons to be against her nomination, I won’t agree.
The Real Problem With Susan Rice
by Peter Beinart Dec 10, 2012 6:55 PM EST
It has nothing to do with Benghazi—and everything to do with her muddled position on Iraq.
The debate about Susan Rice’s fitness to be secretary of state revolves largely around an interview she conducted in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Republicans say she downplayed al Qaeda’s role. Democrats say she reflected the intelligence community’s assessment at the time. Who cares? The Benghazi controversy tells us almost nothing about how Susan Rice sees America’s role in the world.
Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice speaks to media reporters at the UN headquarters in New York, on Nov. 21, 2012. (Shen Hong / Xinhua / Landov)
To understand what’s at stake in Rice’s potential nomination, it’s more useful to listen to a different set of interviews, conducted roughly a decade ago. Between the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003, NPR’s Tavis Smiley interviewed Rice four times about the Bush administration’s looming war with Iraq. I’ve spent the better part of an afternoon listening to those interviews and I still can’t tell whether Susan Rice supported the war or opposed it. That’s the real scandal, and it says a lot more about Susan Rice, and the entire Democratic foreign-policy class, than anything that happened in Benghazi.
A little context. Barack Obama, you may recall, won the Democratic primary in 2008 in significant measure because as an obscure state senator he had had the wisdom—or dumb luck—to publicly oppose a war supported by Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and all the other major Democratic contenders for president. To distinguish himself from his competitors, Obama emphasized that the Iraq War was a product not only of Republican recklessness but of Democratic timidity. As his adviser Samantha Power wrote in a famous August 2007 memo, “The rush to invade Iraq was a position advocated by not only the Bush administration, but also by editorial pages, the foreign-policy establishment of both parties, and majorities in both houses of Congress. Those who opposed the war were often labeled weak, inexperienced, and even naïve.” Power went on to argue that Obama’s promise to talk without preconditions to the leaders of Iran—a position Hillary Clinton labeled “naïve”—represented an extension of Obama’s bold break with his own party’s foreign-policy establishment.
After becoming president, however—and making Hillary Clinton his secretary of state—Obama reconciled with the establishment he had run against. And it shows. Although Obama’s foreign policy has been sound in many ways, it has not fulfilled his promise to break with the caution that led many Democrats to support the war in Iraq. That failure was evident in Obama’s inability to close Guantanamo Bay. It has been evident in his insistence that a nuclear Iran can be neither contained nor deterred. And most obviously, it was evident on Afghanistan, where, according to Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars, Obama disliked the military’s plans for a troop surge but found himself boxed in by his own advisers.
Now, freed from having to seek reelection and having broken the GOP’s decades-old advantage on foreign affairs, Obama has the chance to finally make good on the promise of foreign-policy boldness on which he ran in 2008, if he surrounds himself with the right people. Which brings us to Susan Rice.
It’s not true, as some left-wing websites claim, that Rice “was a cheerleader for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.” But if, as Rice herself claims, she supported Obama in 2008 because on Iraq he made “the same unpopular choice I had made,” the evidence is hard to find. In fact, what’s striking about the four NPR interviews Rice did in the run-up to war was her capacity to avoid taking a clear position one way or another. At times, Rice does indeed sound skeptical of military action. In November 2002, she warned that there are “many people who think that we haven’t finished the war against al Qaeda and our ability to do these simultaneously is in doubt.” In December, she urged a “more honest assessment of what the costs will be of the actual conflict, as well as the aftermath.” And the following February, she said that “there are many who fear that going to war against Iraq may in fact in the short term make us less secure rather than more secure.”
Avoiding controversial positions is what Democratic foreign-policy elites do.
But at others times, Rice sounded more hawkish, declaring on Dec. 20, 2002 that “it’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully and that’s the path we’re on and hopefully we’ll bring as many countries as possible with us … even as we move forward as we must on the military side.”
Unable to decipher Rice’s view from these NPR interviews, I called two colleagues who worked with her at the Brookings Institution at the time. Neither was sure if she had supported the war or not.
How could a rising foreign-policy star like Susan Rice, faced with the most controversial foreign-policy issue of her career, avoid taking a clear position? Because avoiding controversial positions is what Democratic foreign-policy elites do. When the GOP holds the White House, and would-be Democratic foreign-policy appointees park themselves at places like Brookings or the Council on Foreign Relations, their primary imperative is to make sure they don’t say anything that would keep them from leaving those halfway houses when their party takes power again. That means bashing the other side as much as possible, but avoiding any public stance that could eventually become a liability. In the GOP, controversialists like John Bolton and Elliott Abrams get plum foreign-policy jobs. But in the Democratic Party, people who take contentious positions are weeded out. Take Rob Malley, the Clinton administration National Security Council staffer who argued that Yasir Arafat didn’t deserve all the blame for the failure of the Camp David Summit in 2000, and thus incurred the wrath of the American Jewish establishment. Or Michael O’Hanlon, who publicly supported the Bush administration’s troop surge in Iraq in 2006, and thus incurred the wrath of lefty bloggers. What both have in common is that they didn’t get Obama administration jobs.
Susan Rice isn’t the problem. She’s a symptom of the problem. The caution that Obama ran against in 2008 remains endemic to Democratic foreign policy. And if Obama succumbs to it in his second-term appointments, he’ll likely find himself again hemmed in by advisers who restrict rather than expand his vision. It’s funny that so many media reports now describe Susan Rice as controversial. If only. The real pity is that she’s not controversial enough.
John McCain has been one of the harshest critics of Susan Rice.
PoliticsIn the Loop’s morning roundup, tea leaves on Rice; Clinton’s flu; and Sen. Snowe’s parting words.
Emily Heil, The Washington Post 11:06 AM ET
EuropeDUBLIN — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is defending U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice as a “stalwart colleague.”
Associated Press, AP DEC 6
The Washington Post DEC 7
What happens to Susan Rice is big part of the equation of who goes where at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Al Kamen, The Washington Post DEC 6
THINK TANKED | The morning’s think tanked news: The Republican “fiscal cliff” counterproposal, Susan Rice and race, what’s next at the CIA and more.
Allen McDuffee, The Washington Post DEC 4
She is not the issue, it’s the foreign policy she represents.
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post DEC 3
Repeat: Fox News guy praises Susan Rice
Erik Wemple, The Washington Post DEC 2
WASHINGTON — The partisan political divide over the potential nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to be secretary of state intensified Sunday with Republicans questioning her fitness for the job and Democrats defending her.
Associated Press, AP DEC 2
The real reason she is being targeted is not very complicated.
Kathleen Parker, The Washington Post DEC 4
Other interesting stories in The Washington Post.
The Reliable Source, The Washington Post NOV 30
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