Ambassador Susan Rice: Witch-hunt or legitimate questions?

Scapegoating Ambassador Rice leaves five big, more important questions unanswered.  Photo: Inside bombed out U.S. Benghazi consulate, Sept. 13 AP

WASHINGTON, November 26, 2012 — Let’s get one thing straight, right off: UN Ambassador Susan Rice isn’t lovable. She can rub people the wrong way. For a diplomat she can be decidedly undiplomatic. She’s no Hillary Clinton, our current Secretary of State. Yet she is a smart cookie, a Phi Beta Kappa Stanford graduate and a Rhodes scholar. And she has served her country well.

So why is she targeted by some Republicans in Congress for being the face of the administration on the Sunday talk shows after the Benghazi attack on September 11? She basically took Secretary Clinton’s place on television, giving the talking points supplied to her by the intelligence community.

Suddenly she became the Ambassador of Lies and was pilloried by Republican Senators John McCain (Az.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Lindsay Graham (S.C.) as unfit to be considered as the next Secretary of State when Clinton steps down. Words like “incompetent” were thrown around. And 97 House Republicans signed a letter telling President Obama that Rice’s comments “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world.”

UN Ambassador Susan Rice

Talk about upping the ante, even though it’s the Senate, and not the House, which confirms presidential appointees, but Republican House members just couldn’t resist throwingb a few jabs too.

Of course, the first salvos were fired when the election was still in full throttle, so anything that would undermine the Obama administration was fair game. But November 6 came and went, President Obama was re-elected, and then CIA chief General David Petraeus testified behind closed doors before Congress, confirming that those were the CIA’s talking points in the early days of the Benghazi debacle, if not the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Facts vs. Hyperbole

Therefor it might help to separate the hyperbole from the facts:

On the Sunday following the storming of the American consulate in Benghazi and the murder of the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, Ambassador Rice made the rounds of the Sunday morning talk shows, basically saying the same thing she said on ABC’s “This Week,” when asked by Jake Tapper what happened:

“Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.

“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to — or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in — in the wake of the revolution in Libya are — are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.

“We’ll wait to see exactly what the [FBI] investigation finally confirms, but that’s the best information we have at present.” (From ABC transcript)

CIA’s Talking Points

L to R: Senators Ayotte, Graham, McCain AP

So where did Rice get her information? The intelligence community. And at the time, she made it clear that the FBI was making an investigation and that her remarks were only preliminary. General Petraeus told Congress that the CIA signed off on the talking points Rice was given to use on the talk shows. Case closed.

For Republicans to now suggest that Rice should have gone off message, much less to have gone maverick, as McCain and Graham would have liked her to done, giving details of what the CIA actually knew (that the Benghazi attack was al Qaeda-linked terrorisms), it would have meant revealing classified information. If she had, you can imagine the howls of outrage and chest thumping we would have heard from the GOP.

Five Real Questions About Benghazi

The whole “Ricegate,” call it what you will, is just more gotcha politics when there are much bigger questions that need to be addressed:

1. Why was the security for the Benghazi consulate so lax when allies like the Brits had already closed up shop and left in June after an attack on the British ambassador’s convoy and the escalating violence?

2. Why were Ambassador Stevens’ pleas for beefed up security ignored, especially when he emailed his superiors in August that there was a “security vacuum” in Benghazi?

3. Why wasn’t a drone over Libya armed, just in case of such attacks?

4. Why did the U.S. rely on Libya security forces, which are basically a fledgling and unreliable militia at this point?

5. Is it possible, as some have already asked, that the Benghazi consulate was a front for the CIA’s covert mission in Libya, making it a prime target for terrorists who knew exactly that?

That’s why continuing the witch-hunt by scapegoating Rice is to lose sight of the big picture and a waste of Congressional time and energy. Or is the whole purpose of “Ricegate” to block her nomination, if President Obama submits her name, as Secretary of State?

Sadly, it is beginning to look like the politics of the last two years is to be played out once more, just when Americans were hoping for better from their elected representatives.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.


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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe

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