By Ben Cohen: It is hard to watch group of elderly white conservative men attacking a black woman for political purposes and not believe race or gender has something to do with it. Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN and next inline for Secretary of State after Hillary Clinton departs, has been subjected to ridiculous accusations from the Republican Party, namely John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Peter King, that she deliberately misled the public in the aftermath of the deadly assault on the US consulate in Benghazi. This culminated in a letter signed by 97 members of congress appealing to President Obama not to consider Rice for Secretary of State.
Rice had suggested in television interviews that intelligence information the White House had received pointed to a spontaneous attack by militants in protest of a US-made anti-Muslim film. Updated intelligence now shows the attack on the consulate was most likely a terrorist attack. However, in evidence given to a congressional committee, former CIA chief David Petraeus stated that the report handed to Rice immediately after the attack did not mention the terrorist link.
A recent CBS News report also completely dismisses the Republican narrative that Rice misled anyone. Writes Michael Tomasky:
The CBS report found the following. It was the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that took the words “al Qaeda” and “terrorism” out of Rice’s talking points for those Sept. 16 talk shows. It found also that both the CIA and the FBI approved of these edits, following standard operating procedure. The report states emphatically: “The White House or State Department did not make those changes.” One source told the network’s Margaret Brennan that the controversy over the word choice employed by Rice has come to the intel world as “a bit of a surprise.” Another source said that there were “legitimate intelligence and legal issues to consider, as is almost always the case when explaining classified assessments publicly.”
Before looking at any of the facts, Republicans waged a vicious campaign to block her nomination to Secretary of State. It now looks pretty clear that Rice was merely acting on the intelligence she received, leading John McCain and Lindsey Graham to calm their rhetoric down on Rice, and shift their focus to the President.
Were the attacks on Susan Rice racially or gender motivated?
Of course it's impossible to speculate on exactly what McCain, Graham or any other of the Republicans demonizing Rice were thinking, but it isn't hard to take a guess. African American Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) believes the attacks on Rice were clearly racially tinged. He took specific issue with legislators calling Rice 'incompetent' in the wake of the interviews. Said Clyburn on CNN's 'Starting Point':
You know, these are code words, these kinds of terms that those of us -- especially those of us who were grown and raised in the South -- we've been hearing these little words and phrases all of our lives and we get insulted by them.
Words like "incompetent" don't necessarily mean anything by themselves, but as Clyburn pointed out:
Sen. McCain called her incompetent, as well, but he told us that Sarah Palin was very competent to be vice president of the United States - that should tell you a little about his judgment.
And then there's the gender aspect of the attacks. As Lizz Winstead in the Guardian discovered, the 97 members of Congress who wrote to the President urging him to dismiss Susan Rice as a nominee for Secretary of State don't exactly have stellar voting record on women's rights in the workplace:
To start with, I went to the website Open Congress and compared the names on the letter to those who voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009. Well, whadya know? Forty-eight of the 97 who signed the letter also voted against fair pay for women. "But Lizz," you're thinking, "that's only half. What about the other half?" Oh, them. Turns out they weren't in Congress in 2009. Worse, all but two are from that freshman class, elected in the medieval-term election of 2010, which brought progress to its knees in an attempt to keep women as far away from the deciders' table as possible.
Whether they consciously understand it or not, there's an argument to made that conservative white males feel seriously threatened by educated, professional black women. The power structure in America has long been controlled and dominated by men who look and sound just like Rep. Jon King or John McCain, and they believe it is under attack from minorities. King, McCain and the other Republicans assailing Rice's character believed they saw an opportunity to take out a minority in a position of power, and they piled on without looking at the facts. MSNBC’s Richard Wolffe had the following to say about the nature and purpose of the attacks on Chris Matthew's 'Hardball':
Frankly, it’s outrageous that there is this witch hunt going on the right about these people of color, let’s face it, around this president. Eric Holder, Valerie Jarrett, now Susan Rice — before, it was Van Jones. This is not about who is hawkish in the same way John McCain is about foreign policy, because if you look at Iran and Libya, Susan Rice checks those boxes. This is a personal vendetta.
Wolffe's logic is hard to dismiss. There's a good chance the Republicans saw Rice as a vulnerable figure, and rightly so. Historically, African American woman haven't exactly been over represented in the workplace, and Rice's position was always going to be precarious. President Obama, who has been on the receiving end of racial discrimination throughout his professional career, could barely conceal his contempt for the accusations. Just look at the press conference he gave in the aftermath of the debacle:
Whether you agree or disagree with Susan Rice's politics from a Left or Right perspective, there's little evidence to show she did anything other than present the facts as she was given them. In other words, she did her job to the best of her ability. Rice subsequently admitted that a mistake had been made and the initial intelligence wrong, and she has been completely forthright about her role in the matter. Mistakes happen routinely in intelligence gathering, and to blame the messenger is not only absurd but downright dangerous. To play politics with issues pertaining to national security is irresponsible and counterproductive. We had eight long years of the Bush Administration politicizing national security issues leading to a complete break down in trust between the government and the public. Now there are grown ups in power who actually take their responsibilities seriously (anyone remember Bush's appointee John Bolton?), attacking them diminishes their ability to do their important jobs properly.
Susan Rice is clearly a highly accomplished and competent professional, and attacking her for incompetence says more about the attackers than it does Susan Rice.