By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
We haven’t heard much about the “politics of personal destruction” since Bill Clinton. But if you thought the days of mean, personal, political attacks were over, just ask Susan Rice. The campaign against her — led by John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and Fox News — is perhaps the ugliest, and most meaningless, ever.
After protestors stormed our consulate in Benghazi, Libya and killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, you’d think all Americans would unite in condemning those responsible for the attack. No way. Not in this case. Republicans, instead, led by fading divas McCain and Graham, blame UN Ambassador Susan Rice. They hold her responsible for the September 11 attack and accuse her of deliberately misleading the American people as to its causes. They are dead wrong on both counts.
First, the UN ambassador has nothing — NOTHING — to do with security at U.S. embassies around the world. That’s the job of the State Department. But, in this case, the State Department’s capacity to secure the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi was severely handicapped by deep budget cuts by House Republicans. They slashed $128 million from embassy security funding in 2011 and another $331 million in 2012 because, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) told CNN, “You have to prioritize things.” Protecting our embassies was obviously not a high priority.
Second, when Ambassador Rice testified before Congress and appeared on Sunday talk shows the weekend following Benghazi, she did nothing but present “talking points” that had been prepared by the CIA at the request of Congress. And she very carefully warned that those preliminary reports might well be proven wrong. Later, in fact, when the CIA admitted removing any specific reference to possible involvement by al-Qaida sympathizers, the administration made public that information.
The truth is, even to this date, we still don’t know for sure what triggered the attacks in Benghazi, whether they were spontaneous or carefully planned, and who was responsible for the murder of four Americans. There are legitimate questions about why security wasn’t tighter and why our intelligence was faulty. But you can’t blame Susan Rice for any of it. And Republican attempts to do so are so over the top they’re embarrassing.
John McCain, for example, in what may be the dumbest thing said by any politician ever, complained that we know more about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound than we know about the raid on Benghazi. Of course we do, Einstein! Because Navy SEALs planned one of them, we knew every second what the game plan was, and President Obama and national security officials watched it on television.
McCain also said Rice, a graduate of Stanford University and a Rhodes Scholar, was “not very smart.” Rice should ask McCain, who graduated 894 out of 899 from the Naval Academy, how smart it was to pick Sarah Palin as his running-mate.
Maine’s Susan Collins must be drinking the same GOP Kool-Aid. She told reporters she couldn’t trust Rice because her response to Benghazi had an “eerie echo” of the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, when Rice was an assistant secretary of state. So now Rice is responsible for the bombings of three embassies? Mercifully, Collins stopped short of accusing Susan Rice of being on a grassy knoll in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), meanwhile, told Fox News that Rice’s response on Benghazi is going to go down as “the biggest cover-up in history.” Which is about as true as his claim that global warming is “the biggest hoax in history.” But, of course, Inhofe himself is the “biggest joke in history.”
The real question remains: Since the facts in this case are so clear, and her involvement so limited, what explains the Republicans’ obsession with trashing Susan Rice? President Obama hasn’t even nominated her as secretary of state, yet Republicans are already trying to shoot her down. Why?
There are two possibilities. Lindsey Graham may have let the cat out of the bag when he told reporters “I remember the John Bolton episode pretty well.” Could his feigned outrage be nothing but petty payback for Democrats blocking the nomination of Bolton as UN ambassador in 2005? Or are McCain and Graham simply trying to derail Susan Rice so Obama will be forced to nominate John Kerry and thereby open up a Massachusetts Senate seat for the resurrection of — Scott Brown?
Who knows? Whatever the motive, Susan Rice is just the latest target of the Republican Party’s continuing war on women.