(MintPress) – It’s rare to have a fight over a political nominee when he or she hasn’t been nominated in the first place (Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not announced her retirement yet, so there is no position to fill). But, when it comes to Susan Rice, U.N. ambassador for the United States and presumptive nominee to succeed Clinton, passions run hot. Rarely does a more complex and seemingly contradictory character make a presence on the political stage with no less than the backing of the president himself.
Should the president decide to go with Rice, she will easily win confirmation. Democrats control the Senate 55-45; Republicans would need six Democrats to vote against the party line to defeat Rice’s confirmation. The president has shown great faith in the ambassador, saying before a Cabinet meeting that she is “extraordinary” and that he “couldn’t be prouder of the job” Rice has done in her duties to the United Nations. However, lingering questions about conflicts of interest and her disposition to serve as the nation’s chief diplomat have yet to be answered.
A party-line confirmation of Rice would antagonize Republicans and return the political atmosphere back to the state of stagnation seen in the president’s first term. A Republican filibuster — the only way Republicans could delay a party-line confirmation — would ensure a war between Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and the House, which is the last thing the president would want on the eve of budget and immigration reform negotiations. It is notably a tricky task to achieve, considering the allegations of racism facing the Republican Party and the fact that Rice is an African-American female.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have suggested that they would block Rice’s nomination if the president appoints her. The senators are disturbed about Rice’s statements after the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — who introduced Rice during her 2009 Senate confirmation hearings — has voiced her concerns about the ambassador’s actions.
“I continue to be troubled by the fact that the U.N. ambassador played what is essentially a political role,” Collins said to the Sunday political talk circuit after the Sept. 11 attack. Rice incorrectly asserted that the attacks may have emerged from a protest in response to an anti-Islam video.
The White House later corrected the record, saying that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist action planned before the release of the film to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Four Americans died in the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stephens. In a private meeting Tuesday with Senate Republicans to calm down the rhetoric and clear the path to confirmation, Rice, instead, enflamed the senators with her take on the Benghazi attack. McCain emerged from the meeting “significantly troubled.” In the meeting, Rice indicated that her misspeaking about the incident was due to being given “incorrect” talking points by the intelligence services.
Rice said, “In the course of the meeting, 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 protest or demonstration in Benghazi.”
“While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.”
In regards to this, McCain said, “We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got and some that we didn’t get. It is clear the information that [Rice] gave the American people was incorrect when she said it was a spontaneous demonstration triggered by a hateful video. It was not, and there was compelling evidence at the time that that was certainly not the case.”
Graham echoed, “Bottom line, I’m more disturbed now than I was before [by] the 16 September explanation about how four Americans died in Benghazi … If you don’t know what happened, just say you don’t know what happened. The American people got bad information on 16 September. They got bad information from President Obama, and the question is should they have been giving the information at all?”
Republicans argue that Rice was acting in a political operative role, offering a smoke-screen to protect the president’s election campaign tagline that he authorized the death of Osama bin Laden and his actions fatally crippled al-Qaida. There is also some lingering hurt over how Democrats, in 2005, held up John Bolton’s appointment as U.N. ambassador. (Bolton was ultimately appointed and installed by then-President Bush while the Congress was not in session.) Republicans have came forward with support of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Democratic candidate for president in 2004 and former Republican punching bag — as an acceptable candidate for the soon-to-be-vacated secretary of state job.
The president has promised to be tougher with Republicans in his second term, and the appointment of Rice may be proof of keeping this promise. However, a closer look at the abrasive ambassador may prove she is an unworthy successor to Hillary Clinton.
Interesting things found in disclosure filings and press releases
Rice has proven to be a competent ambassador to the United Nations. With her abrasive, confrontational style, the ambassador has made friends and enemies through the halls of the U.N. and has voiced American interests in a loud, unflinching, sometimes ear-piercing manner.
However, many feel that she is unfit to head the State Department. The argument that Rice is being opposed due to racial reasons is not baseless. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told CNN in regards to the language Congressional Republicans are using to describe Rice, “These are code words … these kinds of terms that those of us — especially those of us who were born and raised in the South — we’ve been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them.”
But history doesn’t support this claim. Of the last four secretaries of state, two were African-American and three were women.
It can also be said that the charge to crucify Rice may center around Sen. McCain, who was close friends with Chris Stephens and may be attempting to win revenge for him. But, again, history disagrees. Senate Republicans have publicly opposed McCain’s extremist posturing on multiple occasions.
A closer basis for the resistance to Rice comes from the fact that the State Department under Clinton is a vastly different organization. The most popular senior official in the federal government — in a recent poll, if the secretary of state was to run for president in 2016, she would win Iowa by 58 percent over Joe Biden — Hillary Clinton, despite her public — but subtle — disdain for her boss, revamped the State Department in her tenure, winning respect and support domestically and abroad.
She pushed for an increased international affairs budget, personally called heads of state during her first days on the job to promise a change of directions from the Bush administration, called for a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (which, in 2010, called for the support of “civilian power” to address international challenges and called for new goals to empower women globally), unveiled the Global Hunger and Food Security Initiative, defended the need of a free Internet and effectively mitigated the security leak that climaxed with the leaking of classified materials to WikiLeaks. Most people believe that she was the best secretary of state in the last 20 years. Also, even though they disliked her as First Lady, people have grown to respect and admire her as senator and as secretary of state.
Clinton has raised the bar on what it means to be secretary of state; it’s not enough to be good, you must be extraordinary. While Rice has an impressive resume, many of her policy stances left people guessing. In 2006, Rice co-authored a co-op in which she called for air strikes against airfields, aircraft and other military targets in Sudan in order to to compel the entry of international peacekeepers in Darfur.
In Libya, Rice championed the NATO-led air campaign that destabilized the Gadhafi regime. However, now that she no longer speaks for the opposition, she has proven to be less activistic in the use of military force, and she has argued against the use of force in Syria. “If anybody thought that I was going to be a bomb thrower or a wild-eyed advocate of military intervention, they don’t know me. … There is no one-size-fits-all,” Rice told Foreign Policy last September.
While serving as assistant secretary of state under the Clinton administration, Rice developed many long-standing friendships and relationships with African leaders, notably Rwandan president Paul Kagame. Kagame became a target of U.N. investigations as reports of mass reprisal killings in Rwanda and Eastern Congo reached the Security Council. A Security Council independent panel determined that the Rwandan military is funding an armed mutiny, called M23. The goal was to seize a large swath of Eastern Congo territory. Rice publicly condemned this, but privately sought to remove language implicating Rwanda.
In defense of this, she said that she “merely asked for its release to be delayed to provide Rwanda a fair chance to respond and that she has forcefully criticized Rwanda for its alleged interference in Congo.”
“When the government launched its final offensive this year against the country’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), it was Mexico and Austria that first raised the alarm in the Security Council. France and Britain sent their foreign ministers to the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, to press the government to show restraint. The United States supported those efforts to draw attention to the crisis in the Security Council, efforts which China and Russia opposed. Eventually, the United States backed a compromise that allowed for discussion on the Sri Lankan conflict in the U.N. basement.
“’The U.S. government remained relatively silent on the Sri Lankan crisis, especially in the early stages of the fighting,” said Fabienne Hara, vice president for multilateral affairs at the International Crisis Group. Its response to Sri Lanka “did not seem to match the commitment to preventing mass human rights abuses stated during the presidential campaign,’ she said.
“Rice challenged that assessment, saying “my perception is that we spoke out very forcefully.” She said that the United States had a strong ambassador on the ground in Sri Lanka conveying American concerns, and that the assistant secretary of state for refugees traveled there to conduct an assessment mission. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rice said, had been personally focused on the issue. “I think that is an instance where our stand was clear, consistent and principled,” she said.”
Beyond all of this, the greatest single concern regarding a potential nomination to be the head of the State Department is that Rice is materially compromised from taking the role; she presents several clearly-cut conflicts of interest. According to OpenSecrets.org, in 2009, Susan Rice was the wealthiest member of the Executive Branch, with a net worth between $23.5 million and $43.5 million. Among her holdings is between $300,000 and $600,000 in stocks of TransCanada Corp., which is the backer of the proposed Keystone Pipeline XL, and stocks in four of Canada’s eight oil companies totaling between $1.25 million and $1.5 million, including Enbridge Oil — which is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in the United States in 2010. The State Department is actively spearheading the push for approval of this project.
On being Susan Rice
Susan Elizabeth Rice was born Nov. 17, 1964 in Washington, D.C. to Emmett J. Rice, a former Cornell University professor of economics and the second governor of the Federal Reserve System of African descent, and Lois Dickson Fitt, an education policy scholar and fellow at the Brookings Institution — a liberal public policy think tank. A three-sport athlete at the National Cathedral School, she was her student council president and graduated valedictorian. She attended Stanford University where she received a Truman Scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Art in History in 1986. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Upon receiving a Rhodes Scholarship, Rice attended the New College at Oxford University where she earned a Master’s of Philosophy in 1988 and a Doctorate of Philosophy in 1990.
Rice married ABC News producer Ian Officer Cameron in 1992. They have two children.
At 24, Rice served as a foreign policy aide to Michael Dukakis during his 1998 presidential bid. She served as a management consultant to McKinsey & Company until 1992, when she worked for the Clinton campaign. From 1993 to 1997, she worked at the National Security Council — first as Director for International Organization and Peacekeeping, and in 1995 (with no Africa experience to her credit) as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for African Affairs. She acknowledged that many mistakes were made at that time. Rice was accused of not accepting a deal that would have led to the capture of bin Laden in 1996, but the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States found no evidence to support this.
Under the insistence of her mentor, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Rice accepted the appointment to Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 1997. She was disliked by the Congressional Black Caucus, who considered Rice a part of “Washington’s assimilationist black elite.”
From 2001 to 2002, she was managing director at Intellibridge and in 2002, she joined the Brookings Institution as senior fellow in the Foreign Affairs program. In 2004, she was John Kerry’s foreign policy adviser during his presidential bid, as she was for Barack Obama in 2008. After Obama’s win, Rice was named to his transition team.
On Dec. 1, 2008, Rice was appointed the first African-American female U.S. representative to the U.N. She is also the second-youngest U.S. representative to the U.N.
In regards to her diplomatic style, Rice’s colleagues have described her as the “bulldozer” and the “headmistress.” She is described to be forceful, dominating and “known to rub people the wrong way” with her lack of diplomatic tact. One Security Council ambassador is reported as saying “her favorite word is bullshit.”