President Barack Obama must face the music: U.N. Amabassdor Susan Rice is the wrong pick for Secretary of State. No matter how far Barack goes back with Rice, no matter how loyal, the president must pick his battles wisely to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton. Not only is Rice not ready for primetime, her answers to a closed door Senate hearing with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Lidsay Graham (R-S.C.), Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) raised more questioned than it answered. At issue were Rice’s remarks on Sunday, Sept 16, TV news talk shows, insisting the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack on the U.S. consulate that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans were based on rioting from a viral U.S. video blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed. Revised reports indicated that the attack was well-planned terrorist attack affiliated with al-Qaeda.
White House officials—including Obama—insist that Rice simply reported the best intelligence at the time. When former CIA Director David H. Petraeus testified Nov. 16 to a closed-door House-Senate panel, he admitted he knew the attack was a terrorist attack from the get-go. Somehow, by the time the information filtered through national security censors, the talking points removed any mention of al-Qaeda or terrorists. If Obama had any intention of nominating Rice to replace Hillary, he should have never put her through the indignity of an acting White House spokesperson. “We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” said McCain. McCain said he would keep an open mind, hearing Rice’s story in person before drawing conclusions.
White House officials, including Rice, insist that the U.N. ambassador simply read the best intel report available at the time. Whatever Rice said or didn’t say on five Sunday-morning news programs should have contained her personal knowledge, not simply White House or Homeland Security talking points. While not officially nominated by Obama to replace Hillary, Rice’s name has featured prominently as the frontrunner, ahead of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). “It is clear that the information that she gave the American people was incorrect when she said that it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video,” said McCain, not getting to real reason Rice impeaching Rice’s credibility. As any independent professional, let alone U.N. ambassador, Rice had a duty to give her best assessment, not simply reading predigested talking points.
Senate Republicans, including the more moderate Susan Collins, now have problems with Rice’s credibility. If she got the Benghazi incident so wrong, what will happen when she’s Secretary of State? Republicans, like McCain and Graham, suggest there was a deliberate attempt on the White House’s part to water down the Benghazi incident to protect Obama’s reelection bid. “We explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: There was no protests or demonstrations in Benghazi,” Rice said in a statement. Like other private citizens, Rice knew, just watching CNN or other media outlets, there were no demonstrations or rioting near the consulate yet recited the “incorrect” talking points to the media, raising red flags to GOP senators.
Appearing before the Senate hearing with acting CIA Director Michael Morell, Rice failed to explain why she got her wires crossed. “While we certainly wish that we had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved,” continuing to obfuscate. It was actually five days after the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack, plenty of time to assimilate enough news or intel reports to give a factual report. White House officials picked Rice as the White House spokesperson because they needed to defuse a potential PR nightmare only weeks before the first presidential debate. “We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the administration intended to mislead the American people at any state of this process,” said Rice, yet the original CIA talking points eliminated references to al-Qaeda and terrorist attacks for “several valid intelligence and investigatory reasons.”
Calling Republicans’ charges against Rice “outrageous and unmoored from facts and reality,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) showed his partisan ways. While it’s true that McCain and Graham are playing post-election politics, it’s also true that something happened to the original CIA talking points. Morell told the Senate panel that the FBI removed references to al-Qaeda and terrorists attacks to protect the integrity of a criminal investigation. CIA officials, a few hours later, retracted Morell’s testimony, admitting that the CIA deleted any references to al-Qaeda and terrorists attacks. “The secretary of state is supposed to above politics, and she played a very political role by appearing at the height of the political campaign o those shows,” said Collins, saying in a nutshell why Obama should look elsewhere to replace Hillary. Rice’s answers to the Senate panel just made no sense.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.