William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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IF YOU KNEW SUZIE – AT 11:53 A.M. ET:  Susan Rice has gotten more publicity in the last week than in the rest of her career.  Our U.N. ambassador, and probable nominee to succeed Hillary Clinton, is charged by Republicans with misleading the public on Libya by appearing on TV programs days after the consulate attack and repeating the party line that it had been provoked by some YouTube video, even though the truth was known by then. 

Democrats in Congress are self-righteously defending Rice, often in the most tasteless way.  Some are suggesting that criticisms directed at her are really based on the fact that she's an African-American woman.  That is pure nonsense.

Now a surprising column by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, himself a liberal, sets the record straight.  Milbank traces Rice's career, finds it inadequate, and bluntly draws the right conclusion. 

...McCain, even if wrong on the particulars, is right about Rice. She is ill-equipped to be the nation’s top diplomat for reasons that have little to do with Libya.

Even in a town that rewards sharp elbows and brusque personalities, Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her.

That is a stunning statement.  Not enough votes to confirm her?  Or not enough honest votes?  I doubt if more than a handful of Dems would vote against a black woman, knowing what would happen to them inside their party.

Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.

Among those she has insulted is the woman she would replace at State. Rice was one of the first former Clinton administration officials to defect to Obama’s primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. Rice condemned Clinton’s Iraq and Iran positions, asking for an “explanation of how and why she got those critical judgments wrong.”

And...

Rice’s put-down of Clinton was tame compared with her portrayal of McCain during 2008, which no doubt contributes to McCain’s hostility toward her today. She mocked McCain’s trip to Iraq (“strolling around the market in a flak jacket”), called his policies “reckless” and said “his tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later. It’s dangerous.”

It was Rice’s own shoot-first tendency that caused her to be benched as a spokesman for the Obama campaign for a time in 2008. She unnerved European allies when she denounced as “counterproductive” and “self-defeating” the U.N. policy that Iran suspend its nuclear program before talks can begin. She criticized President George W. Bush and McCain because they “insisted” on it. But, as The Post’s Glenn Kessler pointed out at the time, European diplomats were rattled by such remarks because the precondition was their idea.

And on Libya:

True, Rice was following orders from the White House, which she does well. But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.

COMMENT:  He certainly can.  But now that Rice is under attack and Obama has publicly defended her in a news conference, he almost has to nominate her, if only to show his presumed strength. 

We are at a very critical time in foreign policy.  We need someone at State who can do the job well.  Coming from a liberal writer, Milbank's column should serve as a warning that we're about to get the B-Team.

November 17, 2012