The GOP’s Misguided Crusade Against Susan Rice

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Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., speaks at a press conference in New York City on Feb. 4, 2012

Nearly 100 House Republicans sent a letter to President Obama on Monday urging him not to name Susan Rice as Hillary Clinton’s successor at the State Department. Its tortured reasoning exposes the flimsiness of the GOP’s crusade to make Rice a scapegoat for the Benghazi tragedy.

The letter’s signatories, led by South Carolina Congressman Jeff Duncan, are among the many Republicans angry and suspicious over the way Rice characterized the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in multiple television appearances five days after it occurred. To be sure, some important unanswered questions linger here, including why security was so inadequate and why the White House was slow to acknowledge that a premeditated terrorist attack had occurred.

(MORE: The Pros and Cons of Picking Susan Rice for State)

But Rice’s role isn’t an especially interesting or important one. In her Sept. 16 television appearances, Rice contended that the attacks seemed related to worldwide protests against an infamous anti-Islamic video, protests that we now know never occurred in Benghazi. Judging by the outrage of some Republicans, you would think Rice had left the consulate’s front gate unlocked. Far from arguing that Rice knowingly did anything wrong, the letter’s Republican signatories complain that she has been perceived, by nonspecified actors, as having lost “credibility” in the affair. Here’s the meat of the letter, obtained by the Hill:

Though Ambassador Rice has been our representative to the U.N., we believe her misleading statements over the days and weeks following the attack on our embassy in Libya that led to the deaths of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world…

Ambassador Rice is widely viewed as having either willfully or incompetently misled the American public in the Benghazi matter. Her actions plausibly give U.S. allies (and rivals) abroad reason to question U.S. commitment and credibility when needed. Thus, we believe that making her the face of U.S. foreign policy in your second term would greatly undermine your desire to improve U.S. relations with the world and continue to build trust with the American people.

(MORE: Benghazi’s Real Scandal: Why Is the Libyan Investigation Such a Mess?)

The problem here is that no one has offered evidence that Rice distorted or concealed any facts known to her. To the contrary, we know that Rice, quite responsibly, spoke from talking points crafted by the U.S. intelligence community. Those talking points have since been shown to be seriously flawed, but that’s not Rice’s fault. As one clever Washington Post reader put it: “Since she presumably does not operate a private intelligence agency, sensible people will wonder what else she could have said.”

Lacking a clear shot at Rice’s actions, House Republicans have resorted to a half-baked argument about appearances. The problem, they argue, is that Rice is “widely viewed” as incompetent or dishonest, not only at home but “around the world.” Whether Rice would fail to win a hearing at, say, the Saudi King’s palace because of this one trip around the talk-show circuit is hard enough to swallow. But when you think about it, the letter also entails a certain chutzpah. If being “widely viewed” as incompetent or dishonest is such a problem, shouldn’t most of the people who signed that letter, being members of Congress and all, themselves be out of a job?

VIDEO: 10 Questions for Susan Rice