Susan Rice's 'worst week' could derail Secretary of State bid

As critics go after her comments on the Benghazi terrorist attack, Susan Rice's race, gender, and personality have become part of the debate over whether she should be the next Secretary of State. Even those who might have supported her are floating other names.

By , Staff writer

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    UN Ambassador Susan Rice leaves a meeting on Capitol Hill Wednesday with Sen. Susan Collins, R- Maine, and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., about the Benghazi terrorist attack.
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Should President Obama nominate Susan Rice to be the next Secretary of State – and her loyal boss may have been pushed into doing so by the clatter of Senate Republicans eager to prevent that – Ambassador Rice already will have undergone a blistering public vetting.

Her race, her gender, her personality, and her personal investments – none of which have anything to do with her now-controversial comments shortly after the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September – have been raised and chewed over by advocates and commentators.

The Washington Post’s waggish Chris Cillizza has declared Rice’s latest week “the worst in Washington … A weekly award honoring inhabitants of Planet Beltway.”

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We have learned, for example (courtesy of  Scott Dodd, editor of OnEarth.org), that Rice “holds significant investments in more than a dozen Canadian oil companies and banks that would stand to benefit from expansion of the North American tar sands industry and construction of the proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.”

“If confirmed by the Senate,” Mr. Dodd notes, “one of Rice’s first duties likely would be consideration, and potentially approval, of the controversial mega-project.”

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Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports, Rice and her husband “own modest stakes in companies that have until recently done business with Iran,” including oil companies. (So has Sen. John McCain, Rice’s chief inquisitor, by the way.)

Rice, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is one of the richest members of the Obama Cabinet. (Her father owned a lumber company in British Columbia, and her husband is a former television producer.) She and her husband were worth between $23.5 million and $43.5 million in 2009, the Post reports.

Starting with columnist Dana Milbank two weeks ago, a growing number of pundits – including some who otherwise support her – have cited Rice’s frequently undiplomatic demeanor and abrasive temperament as problematic. It is noted that she once gave the late diplomat Richard Holbrook (he of no small ego) a rude, middle-digit gesture – “which suggests, if nothing else, moxie,” writes the Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey Goldberg.

But all this talk about Rice’s prickliness and sharp elbows smacks of sexism to many.

“Why is she called abrasive, when clearly, similar toughness was hailed in our most powerful and respected secretaries of state – from Henry Kissinger to George Shultz to James Baker?” writes David Rothkopf, CEO and Editor-at-Large of Foreign Policy magazine. “All had their battles. Even reputedly smooth diplomats like Cyrus Vance and Warren Christopher could be all elbows behind the scenes.”

Then there’s the piling on over Benghazi – which seems to be largely a “shoot-the-messenger” flap, as Rothkopf puts it, and in which others find more than a hint of racism.

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think it was the summer of 2008 again, when the angry white men of Fox News and conservative talk radio were attacking an accomplished, smart, well-educated black woman for not being ‘patriotic’ and ‘loving her country’,” writes political columnist Sophia Nelson, author of “Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama.”

“Only this time, the punching bag is not First Lady Michelle Obama,” Ms. Nelson writes in the Daily Beast. “It’s U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.”

How can this be, protest Rice’s conservative critics, when another highly accomplished African-American woman – Condoleezza Rice – served as Secretary of State in a Republican administration?

Things do get a little complicated here.

Charles Krauthammer, the conservative Washington Post columnist, has gone after Susan Rice for saying that her early comments on Benghazi were based on talking points provided by US intelligence agencies. And yet in 2005, when Democrats were raising questions about Condoleezza Rice’s nomination to be Secretary of State in the Bush administration based on her erroneous statements about Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” Krauthammer defended that Rice by writing that she “was not a generator of intelligence … [but] a consumer – of a highly defective product.”

In this case, at least, a double standard seems to apply.

Everybody has suggestions for a non-Rice Secretary of State nominee – from Education Secretary Arne Duncan (the Atlantic’s Goldberg and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman) to US Senator John Kerry. Senate Republicans would love to have it be their Senate colleague, if only to give Scott Brown (sent packing by Elizabeth Warren) or some other Republican a shot at the Massachusetts seat Kerry would have to vacate.

Assuming Obama sticks with Rice as his first-choice nominee, her record at the UN presumably will come into play.

“She has gained tremendous, even unparalleled experience, at the United Nations,” argues Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. “She has learned how to parry the Russians and the Chinese; she has figured out the snakepit ways of the international system; she has seen up-close the hypocrisy of totalitarian and anti-democratic states (states that still make up a good portion of the UN membership).”

“At the UN, Rice has become an eloquent voice for human rights, and she has done an able job of arguing against the wildly disproportionate criticism leveled at Israel in the General Assembly and in putative UN human rights forums,” Goldberg writes. “She has been far from perfect in the job, but she has generally been solid.”

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