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Jewish World Review
December 18, 2012/ 5 Teves, 5773
A welcome decision: Congratulations, Madam Ambassador
Who says the Hon. Susan E. Rice can't display the kind of good judgment, independence and candor required of an American secretary of state? She showed all of those sterling qualities last week when she withdrew from consideration for that post.
For good reason. Call it a tacit admission that she hadn't been suited for the job from the first. She demonstrated just how unsuited not long ago by the royal botch she made of "explaining" what had happened to four of our best at Benghazi: They were slaughtered.
Time and again, Ms. Rice had gone before the television cameras to repeat her talking points about that bloody debacle and what had caused it. We were supposed to believe that this murderous attack was the result of a tumultuous demonstration against an amateurish anti-Muslim video produced in this country -- even as it became clear that her version of events was largely fiction. And that in reality our people were the victims of a well-planned assault that should have been anticipated and could have been avoided.
Ambassador Rice's unconvincing performance came at a convenient time for a White House beset by a major scandal, if not a dereliction of duty. For the president's campaign for re-election was just moving into high gear. And this administration was all too ready to shift the focus of discussion from its failure to thwart a terrorist attack to the uncontrollable nature of a spontaneous demonstration.
The ambassador's account of what had happened at Benghazi was already proving untenable even as she delivered it. And it would soon prove a major embarrassment. In the end, the only useful thing provided by her misadventure in public relations was a cautionary tale about the dangers of politicizing American diplomacy. The ambassador may have fooled some of the people, or even herself, for some of the time -- a very brief time in her case -- but at a heavy price: She destroyed her own credibility. And that of the administration. Who could believe anything she had to say after that?
If the assault at Benghazi could have been blamed on some dolt who'd made a stupid video, it might have been enough to insulate the president from charges of incompetence -- at least till election day was safely past. But a seasoned diplomat with a mind of her own, and able to recognize the emerging truth about a ghastly lapse in security, would not have parroted so unconvincing a story, and one that was already growing threadbare by the time she put it out there for public consumption.
If she had been nominated for secretary of state, those television appearances of hers would have been rehashed again and again in her confirmation hearings, and her humiliation made complete. At least she's now had the good sense to get out of the public spotlight while the getting out was good. The president should never have put her there -- and then left her to slowly twist in the wind as one revelation about Benghazi followed another.
Susan Rice's decision last Thursday also spared her the embarrassment of having other, less than shining aspects of her diplomatic career rehearsed in public. Such as her tendency to cozy up to bloody-minded dictators on the African continent, even to the extent of ignoring the monumental genocide in Rwanda and homicidal rampages in the "Republic" of Congo. She was deep into some of the shadier aspects of public relations as far back as the Clinton years -- long before she was making excuses for the current administration's actions or lack thereof at Benghazi.
A worldly diplomat should have learned better after all these years, but it turns out that years of service in the diplomatic corps is not the same as experience -- or the capacity to learn from it. And now she's no longer up for secretary of state, for which she and the country should be grateful.
But that doesn't mean a healthy curiosity about what went wrong and why at Benghazi should be discouraged. Quite the contrary. Whatever the career prospects of the Hon. Susan E. Rice at this sad point, inquiring minds will still want to know just what went wrong there. And why the American people were still being offered phony explanations for it long after Washington knew better -- or certainly should have known better. There are still many questions to be asked even if this administration balks at answering them.
Kelly Ayotte, the Republican senator from New Hampshire and a former prosecuting attorney of some note in that state, concluded awhile back that Susan Rice had "misled the American public," and wasted no time hailing her decision to forget about becoming the country's next secretary of state.
But that doesn't mean the inquisitive senator from New Hampshire has lost interest in what happened at Benghazi -- and afterward. To quote Sen. Ayotte: "My concerns regarding the terrorist attack in Benghazi go beyond any one individual. I remain deeply troubled by the continued lack of information from the White House and the State Department. With four of our public servants murdered, it is critical that we get to the bottom of what happened."
If we don't learn the truth about that whole sad affair, and learn from it, we stand to lose more outstanding diplomats like Chris Stevens. We'd call his loss tragic if tragedy didn't have an air of inevitability about it. But there was nothing inevitable about losing a fine and still young envoy who had already become something of a legend in Libya, as popular as he was energetic. What happened at Benghazi didn't have to happen. And wouldn't have happened if this administration had been awake. Here's hoping Sen. Ayotte's concerns will yet be explored in detail, hard as facing them may be for the usual excuse-makers.
There was a time when the United States of America was represented at the United Nations by spokesmen who knew how to speak truth to power -- giants like Adlai Stevenson and Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick, all of whom faced down the tyrannies of their time. May that time return.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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