The Pros and Cons of Picking Susan Rice for State

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has emerged as a high-risk, high-reward contender for the role of Secretary of State in President Obama's second term

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Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., speaks to the media on April 13, 2012, in New York City

One of the first significant decisions of President Obama’s second term is whether to name U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. White House officials are whispering to the New York Times and other news outlets that Rice is currently Obama’s favorite to fill the top cabinet slot, despite growing GOP opposition in the Senate. Thus far five Republican Senators have come out against Rice, citing her statements about the Sept. 11 Benghazi attacks. But Obama didn’t leave himself much wiggle room with his impassioned defense of Rice at a press conference last week. “When they go after the U.N. ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me,” Obama said. “And should I choose, if I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her.”

Obama has other candidates he may consider, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and Bill Burns, the current No. 2 at the State Department, who would be the first second* career diplomat to lead the department if appointed. But Obama and Rice have a close personal relationship, and sometimes trust trumps all. Still, for all the high rewards Obama might perceive in nominating Rice, there are also high risks. Here are some of the pros and cons Obama may be considering as he weighs whether to pick Rice:

The Cons:
Both Senator John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, and Senator Lindsey Graham have vowed they would filibuster Rice’s nomination. On Sunday, ABC’s Jonathan Karl said on This Week that he thought Rice’s nomination would take three weeks to push through. That timeline is ambitious; it would more likely take months.

(VIDEO: 10 Questions for Susan Rice)

Several congressional committees have already said they want to hear Rice’s side of the Benghazi story. If she gives testimony, it would have to be done before any confirmation hearings. And all of these sessions would surely rehash whether or not there was a protest that masked the terrorist attack in Benghazi that took the life of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. In other words, whether Obama dropped the ball in Benghazi and made Americans less safe, and whether Rice and others tried to cover up the missteps by blaming it on a protest that spiraled out of control.

Republicans clearly want a scalp for what happened in Benghazi. Former CIA director David Petraeus doesn’t fit the bill. Nor does White House spokesman Jay Carney, who went even further than Rice in labeling the attack a simple protest in the days following the tragedy. (Spokesmen are paid liars.) Clinton, who took responsibility in Peru a week after the attack, has yet to actually testify before Congress — she’s slated to do so in coming weeks — but she’s an intensely popular outgoing stateswoman the GOP was loath to attack before the election. Obama has said repeatedly that the buck stops with him, and he should be the subject of their vitriol. But he also just won a significant re-election victory, and Republicans can’t go after him without looking foolish. Which leaves Rice. As long as she’s around, this story has legs, and the higher up she’s elevated, the more Republicans will use her to blast Obama. “Susan Rice is a bit player here,” Graham told Meet the Press on Sunday. “Was [Obama] informed of the June attack on our consulate where they blew a hole where 40 people could go through? Was he aware of the Aug. 15 cable where Stevens was saying we couldn’t withstand a coordinated al-Qaeda attack? There are 10 militia groups all over Benghazi. I blame the President.”

Rice also might be too blunt to be Secretary of State. She can be harsh — she famously flipped Richard Holbrooke the bird in a meeting years ago — and she’s known to have sharp elbows. In the political world these are assets. In the world of diplomacy, they can be problematic. As the New York Times noted in a Sunday profile, when China and Russia blocked a resolution to intervene in Syria, Rice once tweeted, “Disgusted that Russia and China prevented the U.N. Security Council from fulfilling its sole purpose.”

(MORE: Susan Rice: A Voice for Intervention)

Finally, as Obama noted in his press conference, the people re-elected him to work with the other side, not get mired in partisan fights. “I won’t pretend that figuring out everything else will be easy, but I’m confident we can do it — and I know we have to,” Obama said. “I know that that’s what the American people want us to do. That was the very clear message from the election last week.” As he’s trying to make nice with Republicans on the fiscal cliff, does he want to be provoking them by nominating a partisan to become fourth in line to the Oval Office?

The Pros:
Republicans just lost a bruising election because they lost minorities’ and women’s votes. Do they really want the image of old white guys hectoring an African-American woman? If this is the fight Republicans want to pick, the optics favor the White House.

Pushing Rice’s nomination will be popular with the Democratic base. Obama is ready to disappoint his base with whatever grand bargain he may strike to solve the fiscal cliff. That outrage might be blunted by a bloody confirmation brawl with Republicans over a woman the base loves. Even if Republicans filibuster Rice, she almost certainly would still get the 60 votes needed to overcome such a bloc; she was confirmed by unanimous consent to become U.N. ambassador.

Though she wouldn’t be the first African-American woman elevated to the job — Condoleezza Rice was — she would bring a measure of youth to a building that, under Clinton, only just learned of the existence of Twitter. Susan Rice is just 48. She’s savvy about social media and understands how to cut through the Washington bureaucracy. And she’s learning, even if it’s a trial by fire, to deal with the press.

(PHOTOS: Condoleezza Rice)

Obama, meanwhile, would get to work with a woman he clearly respects and enjoys. Rice is a Rhodes scholar with degrees from Stanford and Oxford. She and her husband recently were invited to the White House for an intimate celebratory dinner with Obama and the First Lady. On the campaign trail in 2008, where Rice served as one of his top foreign policy advisers, they established a great rapport. For a man who has trouble delegating, elevating someone he can trust is no small matter.

Clinton has said she aims to stay in office until the next Secretary is confirmed. But if the process drags out until June, she may leave the State Department in the care of an acting Secretary. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is also reportedly champing at the bit to return home to California, which makes the Pentagon a priority as well and potentially crunches the timeline to fill the post at the State Department. As does Petraeus’ resignation, which created the sudden need for a new CIA director.

With a high-risk, high-reward nomination like Rice, Obama must ask himself if he’s willing to spend the political capital. Is she worth it? These are questions only he can answer.

*Correction: As several smart people have pointed out to me, Lawrence Eagleburger, who served as secretary of state from Dec. 8, 1992 to Jan. 20, 1993, was the first career foreign service officer to be named secretary of state.

98 comments
crazyworld
crazyworld

The hate-laced and angry comments that have no basis in fact point out clearly why this Nation is so divided.  If the writers represent a microcosm of our society (I believe it does), this country is in real serious trouble. 

WhitneyAhn
WhitneyAhn

Rice would be third in line, not fourth.

OunceOflogic
OunceOflogic

With Rice o'bama gets to promote his racist agenda, continue his policy of putting incompetent people in high places, AND accuse Republicans (who object to this unqualified Liar) of being women-hating racists. Win-Win. Where's the risk?

JohnBreithaupt
JohnBreithaupt

Yes, it's worth the risk. Doing right is what finally matters, and it would not be right to allow the demagogues and word-twisters of the right to prevent a distinguished public servant from assuming a role that she is manifestly qualified to assume.  A stand has to be made, not only for the sake of justice to Susan Rice, but to show the Republicans that this sort spiteful, pointless, destructive partisanship will not prevail.

ironyman2
ironyman2

No. Like her boss when he was elected, she does not have the credentials. But O. was elected. Her appointment would be called into question whatever she does, good or bad. Let's face it - she's not a Hillary, Colin, Condoleeza, Madlyn, etc. Oh yeah - Henry Kissinger.

RickFischer
RickFischer

The Democrats blocked Ambassador Bolton's nomination for far less reason than Republican's have for blocking Ambassador Rice. 

CarolOttinger
CarolOttinger

John McCain acts like he did during the banking crisis when he rushed to Washington to walk around the halls getting photo-ops. He attended no meetings and was not invited to any. He got his photo taken and talked to reporters. He tries to stay relevant but the more he tries, the more UN-relevant he becomes.  All this noise about Susan Rice because he didn't like her "talkingpoint"? He is more concerned with that than with Rep Issa posting "secure" information on his webpage that including names of peoplehelping us. 

He calls this highly intelligent woman "dumb" when she is very educated, very smart and held very good jobs for 20 years. JohnMcCain, on the other hand, graduated from the Academy 4th from the last out of a class of over 830. Took no orders from commanding officers and crashed at least 4 planes (some reports are 5) being a jerk and a show off.  And to prove how smart he is, he picks Sarah Palin as his running mate. 

John McCain, if anyone, should know what an investigation entails. After all, he was investigated himself for his part in Iran-Contra Affairs. He sat on the Advisory Board but when investigated, he claims he had retired from that position although no one else remembered him retiring from that job.

publius327
publius327

There are no downsides in this for Obama. The ingredients required are not there.

1. A press corps that is willing to hold Obama to a presidential standard is required. That does not exist.

2. If we had "#1" we would also need to have a public that cares about such things. The last three years represent solid evidence that we do not.

Stories like this represent a make believe world of the past. The real world of the present is "protect Obama at all costs regardless of what he does. Protect him as he routinely runs in fear of the truth."

It is time for us to stop lying to ourselves, and it is "Time" for journalists to stop writing as if we live in some universe in which the president would ever be subjected to a basic level of accountability.

Stop pretending.

bragg916
bragg916

Note in the Pro portion of the column the writer points out the optics of making Rice an issue.  What is the issue really?  Rice was sent out five days after an event the security agencies could watch in real time with a story that was lame.  Yet we are to believe the administration line because the optics of picking on a defenseless little black lady shows a real callousness by the republicans.  The poor little girl was just doing as she was told after all.  She couldn't be expected to bother her pretty little head about the fact the ambassador was in Libya which she said was to dangerous a place to put our military on the ground.  She couldn't be expected to know there had been requests for greater protection in a place she deemed to dangerous for military personnel.  She couldn't be held responsible for encouraging the president not to put sufficient military force available in case LIBYA might turn dangerous.  Not in her job description.  

stormeagle
stormeagle

Here's a neat idea. How about picking CONDOLEEZA RICE instead?  (the Republicans would have a fit)

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

There's no "there" there in the Benghazi story, and it will eventually collapse like all the other GOP-created "scandals," like Fast and Furious and Solyndra. (Hey, Beltway press: Has anybody counted the number of subpoenas Darrel Issa has sent to the executive branch on fishing expeditions? I bet it's a staggering number, which alone would be worth a story.)

In the meantime, can we stop seeing bitter, mean-spirited, vicious old John McCain on the Sunday news shows, please? There's no longer any reason to give him the attention he craves, given his obvious -- and juvenile -- vendetta against Obama. 

Further, what is it with Republicans and people of color in the Obama Administration? Van Jones, Shirley Sherrod, Eric Holder, Susan Rice, Obama himself -- the GOP has gone after all of the above, and I can't think of a single white member of the Obama Administration that they've gone after with such frothing-at-the-mouth zeal. Now, I'm not saying it's racism, but if it walks like a duck ...

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

She trotted out there and lied through her teeth. Telling a story that a child could see was absurd.

curt3rd
curt3rd

Shes not any good at her current job.  Why would she be promoted?

MrObvious
MrObvious

This reminds me of Brown and Warren, Bolton and now Rice.

GOP want loud mouths and pretty faces - that either hate the institution they're appointed to or do nothing once there. The vilify people who know their stuff over minute things and eventually voters see the do-nuthings as losers and goes for the brainy one.

Warren had the 'stigma' of the Indian princess title - something Browns campaign tried to use when it was clear that the do-nuthing legacy of Brown didn't appeal to voters.

And Bolton entered clown comic villain territory and a horrible representative of our diplomatic outreach to other nations.

That's what GOP do - they just don't care about governing nor representing the very best we have in the field they serve. GOP believe in proving to every nation and citizen that US Gov sucks then complain about how it sux and that we should privatize it all. 

I hope Rice prevails because if this elections shows anything is that Benghazi is a tragedy people just don't care about; not because of the people killed but because they don't find it to implicate Obama for any type of failure.

And that's why it's very nice that GOP and righties continue to marginalize themselves in Media and in front of common sense voters and illustrate how completely broken the philosophical idea republicanism is.

outsider
outsider

Shockingly, old white male senators are attacking a woman of color in a powerful position. The men in question are Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain. And the woman they’re attacking is U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. John “I’m still bitter about losing to Obama” McCain said Rice is “not qualified” to become secretary of state and described her comments on Benghazi as “not being very bright.” Lindsey “Republicans are not generating enough angry white guys“ Graham said he was “dead-set on making sure” Rice doesn’t become secretary of state and called her response “so disconnected to reality I don’t trust her … And the reason I don’t trust her is because I think she knew better, and if she didn’t know better she shouldn’t be the voice of America.”

But some brave congresswomen came to Rice’s defense and called out Graham and McCain at a news conference on Friday led by Reps. Gwen Moore (Wis.), Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio), Karen Bass (Calif.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (Del-District of Columbia) and Terri Sewell (Ala.). Rep Holmes Norton opened the conference:

We do not intend to stand by while Ambassador Susan Rice, who had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack and its aftermath, is made the scapegoat of the tragedy because she relayed to the public the only official intelligence that was available to the administration at the time. The rush to judgment against the Ambassador is particularly unprofessional and reckless, considering that the intelligence irrefutably documents her public remarks. We will not allow a brilliant public servant’s record to be mugged, to cut off her consideration to become secretary of state.

Rep. Marcia Fudge, the next chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, ”[A]ll of the things they have disliked about things that have gone on in the administration, they have never called a male unqualified, not bright, not trustworthy … There is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments being made by unfortunately Sen. McCain and others.” Fudge doesn’t deny anyone their right to disagree with Rice. She finds the personal and belittling attacks problematic, and rightly so: “How do you say a person like Susan Rice is not qualified? You may not like her, you may not like the administration, but don’t say she’s not qualified. She is the most qualified person I’m sure that any of you know, that these senators know … It is a shame that any time anything goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities.”

Rep. Gwen Moore added, “[t]o batter this woman because they don’t feel they have the ability to batter President Obama is something we the women are not going to stand by and watch … Their feckless and reckless speculation is unworthy of their offices as senators.”

http://www.salon.com/2012/11/19/mccains_obscene_hypocrisy/

crazyworld
crazyworld

@OunceOflogic  It is amazing how you could even write this comment.  Your comment actually clarifies your racist underpinnings. Vilification of the President and Ambassador Rice does not reduce their intelligence and capabilities.  So please get over it.  Ounce of logic-- Really?

bragg916
bragg916

@CarolOttinger  The issue is McCain or Rice?  Did she know what she was talking about?  Was she there when they watched in real time and still came out five days later with a lame story?

bragg916
bragg916

@PerryWhite1  No here?  Ms. Rice said Libya was to dangerous because of the number of weapons to put boots on the ground in the lead up to the Libya incursion.  The administration chose to put these people in LIBYA without a plan to get them out if necessary.  Ms. Rice did not come out a couple hours after the event it was five full days and they pretend not to have recognized a  significant attack on an American facility they watched in real time.

What sort of thinking has it that republicans are somehow against people of color because they are democrat?  People of color who are republican are more white?

JohnBreithaupt
JohnBreithaupt

@BillPearlman She said it looks like the work of a mob, or of extremist elements within the mob, but that the administration may modify this view as it obtains further information.   Further information became available, and the administration modified its view.  Its words were cautious and qualified until it felt that it had enough information to arrive at reasonably solid conclusions.  I don't know what your definition of a lie is, but this isn't anywhere close to my definition.

curt3rd
curt3rd

@DonQuixoticWhat a great arguement!  You convinced me.! I think Susan Rice is the best person for the job!  Moron

curt3rd
curt3rd

Flipping people the finger is very professional.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@curt3rd 

She is and because we value professionalism over chest beating morons like Bolton. By 'we' I'm talking about people with common sense.

bragg916
bragg916

@MrObvious Warren would be making decisions as to how much racial preferences should play in government.  There are Supreme Court cases to be decided and legislation she may determine necessary as a result should have been a consideration.

Governing is best represented by sending Americans into an area deemed to dangerous for having boots on the ground without an exit strategy?  

Right this represents common sense from the left.

 Why should it be considered an administrative failure to have four Americans killed when they are put in the position by the administration?  Why shouldn't the woman who said it would be 'to dangerous to put boots on the ground in Libya'  not be allowed more responsibility?

sueboss3
sueboss3

What a bunch of claptrap.  She went on TV and lied for her leader.  She could have refused to go out there and do it, as I suppose Hillary did, but in her arrogance she did it anyway.  She could have said almost anything, like "information is still being collected" or "intel is still sketchy at this point" or almost anything but a bald faced lie.  She chose to carry that lie to the public.  She believes the president will pull her through, and she just might be right.  She is being called on the carpet because of what she did, not because of who she is.  This whole racism, sexism accusation stinks.

bragg916
bragg916

@outsider2011   What are you talking about?  Who is trying to hold her responsible for the event?  She is being held responsible for what she said five days after an event the Whitehouse could see in real time.  

Real curious how the left want to portray Ms. Rice as no more than being a black woman.  Does the left really mean to say that because she is a black woman we should understand it is alright for her to come out five days after the fact to say something stupidly wrong?

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@outsider2011 So John McCain, 894th in a USNA class of 899 thinks that Susan Rice, Phi Beta Kappa Stanford and Rhodes scholar, isn't qualified to be Secretary of State, but that Sarah Palin was qualified to be President? Clearly he's deluded.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@outsider2011 

I think you hit the nail on the head last week with your article detailing about how McCain just wants to use this to head another committee, plus a bit of bitterness he still carries over 2008.

curt3rd
curt3rd

I mentioned the finger in regards to your comment that she is professional. Do you flip people off at your job? I said shes not good at her job because she is inacpable of accomplishing anything in the UN. We were at one time a major influence in the UN but now thanks to the likes of Susan Rice and others we have taken a backseat but we always seems we are still footing the bill for everything.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@curt3rd 

DonQuixoticWhat a great arguement! You convinced me.! I think Susan Rice is the best person for the job! Moron

She's not good at her job because she flipped the bird - she's good for everything else she's doing. I've flipped people the bird many times; sometimes warranted and others not. But what I do and do very well have very little to do with my ability (or inability) to be rude.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd 

Why should I come up with a good counter-argument for "she is not good at her job"?  How would you know?  Do you work in the State Department?  Do you know anything she's worked out besides disseminating Benghazi information?

MrObvious
MrObvious

@curt3rd 

That's been the righties meme for 4 years - aren't you being a lil' hypocritical now?

bobell
bobell

Are you sure this isn't just swift-boating? It's all pretty thin.  I certainly wouldn't consider that quantum of evidence enough to change my opinion of John Kerry's service (if it was about Kerry rather than McCain), and I'll need a lot more before I question John Mccain's.

McCain these days manages somehow to be pathetic and obnoxious simultaneously, but it'll take more than some third-rate innuendo to get me to doubt his heroisn in Vietnam.  His wounds vouch for him, and I don't understand anyone to doubt that he refused offers by his captors to let him leave if he would turn on his country.

Let him grouch away for a few more years.  He's annoying but harmless.  Enough of this sort of thing.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@DonQuixotic

McCain showed after the 2000 primary what an incredible prick he can be. He sure holds a grudge like no one else.

outsider
outsider

no, i am saying conservatives didnt have an issue with someone who was so bad at her job 911 happened - but now are complaining about susan rice.

how about you list the accomplishments of any un ambassador since you seem to think rice does not have any - you can pick whomever you want - but it was your point, so back it up with fact, rather than a talking point.

curt3rd
curt3rd

There you go again, Condi is not up for the job but Susan is.  Youre saying its okay to put someone incompetent up for the job because it happened in the past. 

outsider
outsider

@curt3rd I like how conservatives always exhibit a double standard.

Boltons accomplishments were what, exactly?

Attacking rice is just a cowardly way to attack the president.

What were condi rice's accomplishments again?

Oh right - she ignored the warning. About 9/11.

THAT was something to reward, surely..

curt3rd
curt3rd

I love how you libs like to bring up everything except what the conversation actually is about. I was talking about Susan Rice, not McCain nor Hillary Clinton.  Her inactions in the UN outnumber anathing she may have accomplish.  Whether the issue is Sudan, Egypt, North Korea, Israel or Rwanda, Rice has been either missing in action or unable to deliver a quick and effective resolution.  Lets not even start with the Youtube video she consistently lie about.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@curt3rd 

"I said shes not good at her job because she is inacpable of accomplishing anything in the UN."

What do you base that on besides pure opinion?  Also, if flipping the bird at someone is a dis-qualifier  why is Hillary the Secretary of State or why is McCain a Senator?  Both are known to be absolute terrors to their staff and fairly difficult to work with.

"We were at one time a major influence in the UN but now thanks to the likes of Susan Rice and others we have taken a backseat but we always seems we are still footing the bill for everything."

Huh?  This sounds like a lame attempt at a Lybian war jab.  Boo hoo, somebody besides us won a war.

bragg916
bragg916

@MrObvious @curt3rd  Rice was all for using some force in Rawanda  yet not in Syria?  Rice said it was to dangerous to put boots on the ground in Libya because everyone had a weapon but supported leaving four people without exit?

outsider
outsider

Not to mention cheneys f u to sanders on the senate floor..@MrObvious @curt3rd

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@bobell There was a very long series (12 part as I recall) from one of the AZ newspapers during his campaign for President. It had a lot of details about his Vietnam experience. As part of a whole it made me reconsider my opinion of him. Alas, the link is on my computer at home and I can't access it. If the subject comes up again after I get home, I'll post the link.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@bobell 

I disrespect John McCain with the way he's handled himself as a Senator, not so much for how he handled himself in the service (by all accounts a hostile, mean, drug addled joke riding his dad's coattails; he was very nearly "the goat" at Annapolis).

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@bobell No there has been numerous rumblings about this for years. And McCain has fought hard to slow down some of the programs designed to bring back POWs or their remains. If you Google McCain and POW hearings you can see how upset he gets at the thought of some of the people who shared cell time with him coming home and disclosing what they know.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vFM1xqqTX_g

http://www.prisonplanet.com/articles/april2008/210408McCain.htm