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Ambassador Susan Rice steps aside

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 12/21/2012, 1:49 p.m.
Ambassador Susan Rice steps aside

Last week, when Ambassador Susan Rice withdrew her name as a possible candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, she relieved President Barack Obama of a burden and probably, for at least a moment, silenced her detractors on the left and right.

Now, maybe she too can take a breath after enduring weeks of withering criticism from a gaggle of Republican lawmakers and a gathering storm of flak from opponents on the left who were not satisfied with her policy moves on Africa and other global hotspots.

"The position of secretary of state should never be politicized," Rice said in her letter to Obama. "As someone who grew up in an era of comparative bipartisanship and as a sitting U.S. national security official who has served in two U.S. administrations, I am saddened that we have reached this point, even before you have decided whom to nominate. We cannot afford such an irresponsible distraction from the most pressing issues facing the American people."

Rice wrote that she was grateful for the president's unwavering confidence in her, "for your extraordinary personal support during these past several weeks." She said she looked forward to continuing to "serve you and our great country with enthusiasm and pride as U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations and as a member of your cabinet and national security council."

After accepting her withdrawal, Obama said in a statement: "I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. 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."

Apparently, she will continue in the capacity that brought her into the critical public spotlight with her appearance on national television five days after the tragedy in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Rice told Bob Schieffer on CBS's "Face the Nation" that, based on the best available information she had at that time, the attack on the embassy was "spontaneous ... and not premeditated."

Within days came a firestorm of attacks from Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Susan Collins, and it became so heated that she agreed to meet with them, though it did little to tamp down their determination to stop her bid for the slot, which now apparently belongs to Sen. John Kerry, the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

There was also blistering criticism on the left. Many felt she was not qualified for the post, had made terrible mistakes in the past and was too cozy with certain African leaders, particularly President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, who has been in the news lately for his alleged role in backing the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In her letter, Rice defended her foreign policy decisions, some of which, especially on negotiations with North Korea, even Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Long Island, praised.

"I am proud of the many U.S. successes at the United Nations, including the protection of civilians from Libya to Cote D'Ivoire, strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime and increasing international pressure on Iran and North Korea through the toughest sanctions ever [and] our unwavering support for Israel ... I look forward to building on this major progress in your second term," she added.

This probably won't be the last of the Rice affair, and with things on the brink of absolute total destruction in Syria, drones continuing to rain death in Pakistan and Yemen, and Egypt a powder keg with a short fuse, Rice and the Obama administration indeed have far more critical things to deal with than her failed nomination.