Your humble blogger was all set to talk about the nail-biter of an election for China's Standing Politburo Committee, but gosh, it seems like there wasn't much surprise in how it played out (with the admitted exception of Xi Jinping managing to sweep Hu Jintao off the Central Military Commission). So instead I'd like to talk about the clusterf**k that is the current debate in the United States on the Benghazi attack.
Yesterday at his press conference, Barack Obama defended Ambassador/possible future Secretary of State Susan Rice from Republican critiques of her Sunday news show appearances on Benghazi:
President Obama strongly defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice against attacks Wednesday by a trio of Republican senators who said she is ill-qualified to serve as secretary of state because of how she explained the roots of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Bristling with evident indignation during a news conference, Obama said Rice has “done exemplary work” with “skill, professionalism and toughness and grace.”
He then made a pointedly and almost personal challenge to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.),Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) who earlier Wednesday said Rice is unqualified to lead the State Department because she appeared either misinformed or ill-prepared to discuss the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, on national political talk shows a few days after the attack.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody they should go after me,” Obama said. “For them to go after the UN ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi…to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.”
Apparently the troika weren't pleased, taking to the Senate to blast Rice, Obama and everything else within range.
Slate's David Weigel has already blogged about the ways in which McCain has already distorted what Susan Rice actually said in those Sunday appearances. Rather than repeat his points, I'd note a few things:
1) It's fascinating to me how critics seem to think that Susan Rice flat-out lied in those Sunday shows. "Lied" is different from "saying things that are wrong." Lied implies that Rice knew exactly why that attack occurred but for political reasons said something else. Being wrong would have been a much simpler task -- simply echoing intelligence talking points that were given to her. It's to Marco Rubio's credit, for example, that he nails the distinction. As quoted by Weigel:
"We have a process for nominations, and we want to give her a full hearing," said Sen. Marco Rubio yesterday when asked about Rice. "I'm concerned with the fact she went on Sunday shows and said this was the product of a spontaneous uprising and not a terrorist attack. Obviously she based those comments on directives or information that she had, and it's important to know where those directives came from and what that information was." (emphasis added)
Everything that I have read about Benghazi suggests that this was a bureaucratic nigtmare -- but Rice didn't lie. And anyone who says differently better have something better than the assertion of "it's obvious!!"
2) Tying Rice to Benghazi seems.... odd, since her only role in what happened appears to be those Sunday morning talk shows. The better questions to ask would be about Rice's performance at the United Nations. Richard Grenell has a piece over at Fox News that gets at this issue. Grennell is the embodiment of a pure partisan -- but that doesn't mean he's wrong in this case. These are the questions that should form the basis of any confirmation hearing -- if it happens.
3) Do Republicans really want to make their new standard for bouncing cabinet nominations to be "says inaccurate things on television"? By that standard, an awful lot of the GOP's foreign affairs machine that served or defended the Bush administration would be blackballed from any foreign policy office for the future.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.