, Salem, MA


November 24, 2012

Column: Rice falls short on diplomacy

Will he or won’t he? Only President Barack Obama knows for sure, but it certainly looks as if he’s ready to take on Senate Republicans and nominate Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations, as his next secretary of state. Is it worth the bluster and opposition that is sure to follow? At this point, I think not.

I say that not because Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina attacked Rice and her potential candidacy for that office. In fact, the specter of these two Senate powerhouses threatening to filibuster her nomination before the president has sent her name to Capitol Hill came off as bullying and overbearing. It made me feel sorry for her, initially.

The two men are on a crusade over the Benghazi debacle; they want to downgrade public opinion on the Obama administration’s handling of the bombing of our consulate there. They are relentlessly politicizing the deaths of four State Department personnel, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. They want to get to the bottom of why our small, remote consulate outpost didn’t have a U.S. Marine security guard detachment. Fair enough. But the truth is such outposts are rarely given this type of high-level security. Ambassadors in conflict zones know the risks involved when they travel to them.

Pounding Rice for mischaracterizing the attack on two Sunday morning talk shows as not related to terrorism (which, it turns out, it was) seems like two elephants stomping on one ant. It is more than a mite of overkill.

The real problem with Rice is her reputation. I do not think we want a person prone to nasty outbreaks serving as secretary of state, our diplomat-in-chief. In a town where all politicians have enemies and grudges aplenty, Rice is particularly well equipped in this unfortunate regard. She has, for example, been described as “famously” raising her middle finger at American diplomat Richard Holbrooke while she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration. This took place at a meeting that staffers described as particularly stormy and appalling. Imagine the consequences if she similarly lost control at international meetings or diplomatic sessions. They could be horrible.

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