Ambassador Susan Rice steps aside (37338)

Five days after Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other embassy employees were killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, UN Ambassador Susan Rice appeared on television to explain what had happened. She told Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that based on the best available information she had, it was a violent protest “sparked by this hateful video.”

The video she referred to impugned the Prophet Muhammad and aroused Muslims all over the world. Rice insisted at the time, working with talking points supplied by intelligence agencies, that it was a spontaneous protest, “not premeditated,” which was later joined by “extremist elements,” and then things got more deadly.

Schieffer pressed her on the analysis, asking if she agreed with the president of Libya’s General National Congress that al-Qaeda had some part in it.

“Well, we’ll have to find that out,” Rice responded. “I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined and escalated the violence. Whether they were al-Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al-Qaeda itself, I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.”

You would think that would be the end of it, but no. It was only the beginning of a firestorm that shows few signs of dimming or being doused, as Rice has since been the recipient of a barrage of accusations and attacks from such GOP luminaries as Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Susan Collins.

President Barack Obama felt compelled to comment on the issue, insisting from the inception of the brouhaha that Rice “is extraordinary … I couldn’t be prouder of the job she’s done.” And with a retort aimed squarely at the attackers, he said, “If they want to pick on someone, pick on me.”

But picking on Rice is a way of picking on Obama, and to hear the remarks from some pundits, the senators are just the point of the spear, seeking by any nettlesome means at their disposal to keep the Obama administration unnerved and perhaps choosing the wrong battle in what has been an endless political war.

“Hands off Ambassador Susan Rice!” read an open letter launched by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and a cadre of associates that is gathering momentum on the Internet.

“Despite President Obama’s pledge to conduct a thorough investigation of this matter, there has been a steady pre- and post-election partisan drumbeat insinuating that Ambassador Rice lied to the American people about the nature of the attack on the embassy,” the letter states, clearly addressed to the Republican senators. “Honorable sirs, you have not only impugned the character of Rice, but boldly and boastfully threatened to block her confirmation should she be nominated for the office of secretary of state by the president.”

And therein looms the crux of the attack, the letter challenging the notion put forth by the senators that Rice deliberately played down the possibility of al-Qaeda involvement so that Obama could retain his position of terrorist forces having been decimated. Without saying it, they suggest that Rice lied in order to ensure that Obama would be re-elected.

If there have been any lies, the IBW and its allies charge, they have come almost exclusively from the right over the last score of years. “Hypocrites have no moral or political authority to stand in judgment of Ambassador Susan Rice!” the letter asserts. “We find it utterly incredulous that the honorable senators who uncritically supported the war against Iraq, based on inexplicably flawed intelligence or outright deception, could even perk [sic] their lips to criticize Ambassador Rice. Who could ever forget President Bush emphatically asserting that the reason for the war was the danger posed to the region, America and the world by Saddam Hussein’s stockpile of weapons of mass destruction?

“Who could ever forget Cheney and Rice parroting this fallacious proposition and that embarrassing performance by an ill-informed Colin Powell before the Security Council of the United Nations? No weapons of mass destruction were ever found, but a war was launched on false pretenses that cost 4,486 American lives, thousands more wounded, more than 100,000 Iraqis killed and nearly $1 trillion of resources wasted that could have been used to rebuild America and reduce the debt and deficit!”

While Obama has continued to defend Rice, keeping to an unstated intention of nominating her to be the next secretary of state, there’s a growing chorus on the left and the right, of all places, that his choice be Sen. John Kerry. Tapping Kerry would mollify the outrage against Rice and allow Obama to focus on some other far more critical issues, some politicians contend.

Throughout the raucous tenor of things, Secretary of State Clinton has not been very vocal, perhaps consumed with other important matters. After practically a month of silence, Clinton finally declared, “Susan Rice has done a great job as our ambassador to the United Nations,” echoing what even the otherwise adversarial Rep. Peter King has said.

Maybe Clinton is still in a snit over Rice’s siding with Obama against Clinton in 2008. As the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and there are some women in politics you dare not cross.