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David Ignatius: On Rice, a close call

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: December 2, 2012
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The Republican assault on Susan Rice is a fabricated scandal, attacking her for repeating CIA talking points, almost verbatim, to explain the Benghazi attacks. The U.N. ambassador's version, even with its omissions, may turn out to be closer to the truth than some of the inflammatory GOP rhetoric.

But just because Rice is being unfairly pilloried, this doesn't mean she would be a good secretary of state. And it's a close call on the merits: Given her friendship with President Obama, she would be uniquely able to speak as his emissary. But she would also carry some baggage — not least from the political fight that would follow her nomination.

Rice would be a high-risk, high-reward nominee for secretary of state. She would represent a gambler's choice for Obama, a sign that his second term really would be different from the cautious style of the first. Her appointment would signal that Obama will play a stronger personal role in foreign policy, and that he's ready to break some crockery to get things done.

Rice's problem, to be blunt, is that some people don't like her. They find her abrasive, self-promoting, mercurial. Some have argued that this critique is sexist, but Rice's defects are similar to those of the abrasive, self-promoting Richard Holbrooke, an immensely talented male diplomat who never became secretary of state.

Given the political inflammation over Rice, the White House should let the issue cool for a week or two: Wait for the official investigation of Benghazi, which will make Rice's television statements look better, and also show that they were a blip in the tragedy of what happened. Wait for Obama to assemble a full national security team in which Rice would be a key player, rather than a lone wolf.

If State Department officials could select their own boss, they would probably pick Sen. John Kerry. He presents himself (as has Hillary Clinton) in the practiced, reassuring way that a seasoned politician can.

But picking a secretary of state isn't anyone's choice but the president's (with the “advice and consent” of the Senate). And if Obama concludes after a period of reflection that he wants to roll the dice with Rice — and gain the potential rewards — then he should go for it. She probably wouldn't be a bad secretary, and she might be an outstanding one.

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