Rice a poor choice by Obama for security adviser

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President Barack Obama has chosen UN Ambassador Susan Rice to replace National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, who is resigning.

Not many Americans know who she is. Most who do learned of her when Ms. Rice did a "full Ginsburg" of the news talk shows the Sunday after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed at our consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

Ms. Rice told viewers of "Face the Nation" on CBS, "This Week" on ABC, "Meet the Press" on NBC, "State of the Union" on CNN and "Fox News Sunday" the attack was a "spontaneous" response to a YouTube video criticizing the Prophet Muhammad.

(Appearing on all five of the major Sunday morning news shows on the same day is called a "full Ginsburg" because William H. Ginsburg, the attorney for Monica Lewinsky, was the first to do this on Feb.1, 1998.)

What Ms. Rice told viewers so emphatically that Sunday was emphatically not true. The State Department, the CIA, the Pentagon and the National Security Council staff knew on the night of the attack that it was the work of terrorists affiliated with al Qaida.

The kindest explanation for why Ms. Rice was saying something so blatantly false five days afterward is that even though she was a senior official in the State Department, she knew little about what was going on there. More likely, she was lying. Prior to this administration, neither negligence nor dissimulation were career enhancers.

Ms. Rice is "one of the most brilliant minds alive," said Michael Eric Dyson, Georgetown University professor and MSNBC commentator. That's not a view universally held.

"She has zero credibility with the media, on Capitol Hill, with the foreign policy community and foreign leaders, and is so badly tarnished by the Benghazi scandal that she walks into the job on Day One weak and wounded," said K.T. McFarland, an aide to Henry Kissinger when he was National Security Adviser and Secretary of State.

Ms. Rice "has done, said, and written almost nothing to distinguish her as an influential voice in foreign policy, either within the Democratic party or outside of it," said Stanford University Professor John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general during the Bush administration.

A 1986 graduate of Stanford University who won a Rhodes scholarship, Ms. Rice has a sterling academic record. Her service in the Clinton administration was less than sterling.

The "highest profile act" of Ms. Rice's tenure on the NSC staff "was to support standing by during the Rwandan genocide because of concern over the effect of an intervention on the 1994 midterm elections," Mr. Yoo said.

His "greatest regret" is not having done something to prevent the slaughter of more than 800,000 Tutsis in Rwanda, former President Clinton has said.

As Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ms. Rice rejected repeated offers from Sudan's intelligence service to share its files on Osama bin Laden (who was based in Sudan until 1996) and al Qaida. Had the U.S. read and acted on the information in the Mukhabarat's files, the bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 -- and 9/11 -- might have been averted, wrote Vanity Fair editor David Rose in January 2002.

Before Ms. Rice's "full Ginsburg," it was rumored President Obama planned to make her Secretary of State. Her Benghazi lies torpedoed that. Why has he promoted her now?

Picking her "is a defiant gesture to Republicans," said Glenn Thrush of Politico. "It's an in your face appointment," said Clinton political operative James Carville. "It also seems to indicate that the White House thinks Benghazi is kind of over," said Elspeth Reeve of the Atlantic.

Mr. Obama "is taunting Republican critics," agrees Josh Krausharr of the National Journal, but frets his "hardball tactics" could backfire.

The scandals swirling about his administration have had little effect on the president's popularity so far, but "if more uncomfortable facts emerge, Obama could find himself ill-served by a team that knows how to play hardball brilliantly, but struggles to reach out beyond that inner circle."

Neither Mr. Krausharr nor the others considered the possibility the president chose loyalty over honesty and competence chiefly because he hopes to prevent more "uncomfortable facts" from emerging.

Mr. Donilon is regarded as one of the most shrewd political operatives in Washington. A more interesting question than why Mr. Obama chose Ms. Rice may be why Mr. Donilon has decided now is the time to get outta Dodge.


This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe: http://press.post-gazette.com/ Jack Kelly is a columnist for The Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412 263-1476.


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