With the Republican right persisting in baselesss persecution of Susan Rice, the UN Ambassador who may replace departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they have left President Obama little choice but to move ahead with her nomination. If he backs away from Rice, in the face of what he has called false accusations against her, that display of weakness would undermine his second term before it begins.
The opposition to Rice is cobbled together from the remnants of a failed “October Surprise” election gambit, which began when Mitt Romney sought to smear the president by using the tragic attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. In the election’s aftermath, Senate Republicans have fixated on Rice, whom they accuse of misleading the public in television appearances several days after the Sept. 11 incident.
Rice’s supposed offense was to downplay the likelihood that the attack had been perpetrated by al Qaeda terrorists or their local allies, while underlining the idea that it had been inspired by an anti-Muslim video on the Internet. On ABC News’ This Week, she repeated almost precisely the talking points provided to her by the CIA:
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 investigation finally confirms, but that’s the best information we have at present.
In those remarks, Rice clearly warned against drawing any conclusions from the preliminary information then available. Nevertheless, Senate Republicans led by John McCain (R-AZ) have sought to defame her as a liar, a fool, or worse. The latest insult came on Tuesday from Senator Kelly Ayotte, a junior Republican from New Hampshire with no significant national security experience and little evident grasp of the facts. Tagging along with the embittered McCain and his reliable sidekick Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Ayotte made an unprecedented threat to put a “hold” on Rice’s nomination if Obama sends it up to the Hill – the first time in memory that a senator has deployed that privilege against a prospective nominee to head the State Department.