November 18, 2012 · 2 Comments
By Marie Burns:
In a New York Times column titled “Is Rice Cooked?” Maureen Dowd writes about the controversy surrounding United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and the Sunday talk show appearances Rice made five days after the September 11 assassinations of Americans in Benghazi, Libya. I don't normally read any article slugged in the form of a question because I can be pretty sure the writer doesn't answer the question. But, silly me, I figured Dowd might offer a full-throated defense of Rice against the unfounded, discredited blatherings of Several Geezers in Search of a Scandal. Instead, it appears Dowd hopes that one of her recipes for Skewered Rice, Rice-Raked-over-Coals or Fricassee of Valerie Jarrett will win a bake-off. It might, if she got points for half-baked.
President Obama reportedly favors Susan Rice to fill the Secretary of State slot, so Dowd – never content with a single target – also takes aim at former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. (To her credit, Dowd does not go after current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as the Washington Post's resident misogynist Dana Milbank does this weekend. He claims Clinton suckered Susan Rice into doing the talk shows as payback for Rice's tough criticisms of Clinton during the 2007-2008 primary race. Oh, cat fight!)
At the top of her column, Dowd claims that Democrats are “aggressively” arguing that Susan Rice is better than Republican Condi Rice. Nuance is not Dowd's thing, so you won't be surprised to learn that this is not precisely true. As Donna Cassata of the Associated Press reported,
Republican senators' angry criticism of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice over her initial account of the deadly Sept. 11 attack in Libya smacks of sexism and racism, a dozen female members of the House said Friday. In unusually personal terms, the Democratic women lashed out at Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham who earlier this week called Rice unqualified and untrustworthy and promised to scuttle her nomination if President Barack Obama nominates her to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.... The Democratic women directed particular ire against McCain, who said Rice was 'not being very bright' in her comments. The women pointed out that Rice was a Rhodes scholar who graduated tops in her Stanford University class whereas McCain was in the bottom of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy.
The Democratic women also contrasted McCain and Graham's criticism with their defense of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who had warned of weapons of mass destruction in pressing for war in Iraq that killed more than 4,400 Americans. No weapons of mass destruction were found.
These Democrats were not criticizing Condoleezza Rice per se; they were criticizing McCain and Graham for their hypocritical attacks on Susan Rice. Dowd need not read the wire services to grasp this not-so-subtle distinction. On Friday's New York Times op-ed page, Dowd's boss Andrew Rosenthal raised the same criticism of John McCain which some of the Democratic women aired:
In 2005, Mr. McCain argued that Condoleezza Rice was qualified to be the next secretary of state, even though she testified that there were WMDs in Iraq.
'So I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion.... I can only conclude we are doing this for no other reason than lingering bitterness at the outcome of the elections.... We all have varying policy views, but the President, in my view, has a clear right to put in place the team he believed would serve him best.' (The Senate floor)
Yes, the Democratic women and Rosenthal mentioned Condi Rice, but only in the context of the McCain-Graham double standard. For some reason, Dowd sees fit to lambaste only the women. She says Condi Rice “sold her soul” and “jilted” her mentor Brent Scowcroft to get the top job at State. Dowd lets the duplicitous Graham and McCain off the hook.
According to Dowd, the reason Susan Rice agreed to go on those Sunday talk shows in September was to strengthen her creds for the Secretary of State slot. Dowd claims a conveniently unnamed administration official told her,
She [Susan Rice] saw this as a great opportunity to go out and close the stature gap. She was focused on the performance, not the content. People said, “It’s sad because it was one of her best performances.” But it’s not a movie, it’s the news. Everyone in politics thinks, you just get your good talking points and learn them and reiterate them on camera. But what if they’re not good talking points? What if what you’re saying isn’t true, even if you’re saying it well?
Really? Susan Rice already has a pretty good platform at her disposal. It's called the United Nations. My own first recollection of Susan Rice was seeing her on television talk shows during the 2008 primary battle between Senators Obama and Clinton. Rice was a foreign policy advisor for Obama. I thought she was amazing. She had a firm grasp of the issues, and she had ready answers for any dumb questions the hosts posed. And she could rattle off all this complex stuff really fast! It is hard to believe that this incredibly competent and accomplished woman thinks chatting up lightweights David Gregory and George Stephanopoulos [Update: actually, Jake Tapper filled in for Stephanopoulos on September 16] would “prove she had the gravitas for the job,” as Dowd puts it.
As has been fairly well-documented now, and agreed-upon by everyone who isn't a Republican partisan (and even by some who are), in preparation for her talk show appearances, Rice received talking points prepared by the CIA and “other intelligence agencies” that described the Benghazi attackers as “extremists.” As Dowd notes, “The Times’s Eric Schmitt wrote, some analysts worried that identifying the groups 'could reveal that American spy services were eavesdropping on the militants – a fact most insurgents are already aware of. Rice was given the toned-down talking points....'”
Dowd complains that Rice, who no doubt had access to classified intelligence, “disputed the contention of the president of Libya’s General National Congress, who called the attack 'preplanned' when he talked to [CBS News's Bob] Schieffer just before Rice.” That is just not true. Rice did not “dispute” the Libyan's contention. Schieffer asked Rice about Libyan President Mohamed Magariaf's assertion: “So you do not agree with him that this is something that had been plotted out several months ago?” Rice's response: “We do not have information at present that leads us to conclude that this was premeditated or preplanned.” You can watch that portion of Schieffer's interview of Rice here.
Guess what? Rice's answer was what we call a “diplomatic response.” Rice neither disputed nor endorsed Magariaf's statement. Why? Because the administration and/or intelligence authorities told her not to endorse it, but it would have been “undiplomatic” to refute Magariaf's assertion (a) because he was right, and (b) because the U.S. has reason not to offend him. Schieffer put Rice in an uncomfortable position – that's his job – and Rice gave the best answer possible. Diplomats do that all the time. It is part of their job to give polite but ambiguous answers when necessary. Rice was respectful to Magariaf, to Schieffer and to her duty to share what information she could – based on the intelligence community's cautious advice – with the American people.
In addition, Susan Rice's remarks that Sunday were accurate, as far as they went. It has since been widely reported that Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists planned and carried out the attack on the U.S. diplomats and CIA operatives in Libya. This has been followed by an oft-repeated assumption that the offensive anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” had nothing to do with the attack. That is not the case, according to David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times. As he reported on October 15, more than a month after the attack,
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence. …Most of the attackers made no effort to hide their faces or identities, and during the assault some acknowledged to a Libyan journalist working for The New York Times that they belonged to the group. And their attack drew a crowd, some of whom cheered them on, some of whom just gawked, and some of whom later looted the compound.
The fighters said at the time that they were moved to act because of the video, which had first gained attention across the region after a protest in Egypt that day. The assailants approvingly recalled a 2006 assault by local Islamists that had destroyed an Italian diplomatic mission in Benghazi over a perceived insult to the prophet. In June the group staged a similar attack against the Tunisian Consulate over a different film....
At a news conference the day after the ambassador and three other Americans were killed, a spokesman for Ansar al-Shariah praised the attack as the proper response to such an insult to Islam. ‘We are saluting our people for this zeal in protecting their religion, to grant victory to the prophet,’ the spokesman said. ‘The response has to be firm.’ [Emphasis added.]
Dowd writes that Rice should have thrown caution to the wind: Rice should have been more of “a-bull-in-a-china-shop” and “vetted her talking points.” And, oh yeah, Rice should not have listened to “her pal Valerie Jarrett and other staffers zealous about casting the president in a more flattering light.” What is Dowd's evidence for Jarrett's interference? Nothing. In fact, according to national security advisor Ben Rhodes, “The only edit [of the talking points Rice received] ... made by the White House was the factual edit as to how to refer to the facility.” Rhodes said the White House changed references to the diplomatic facility in Benghazi as a consulate “because the consulate in Benghazi was not formally a consulate.” Somehow I don't think Valerie Jarrett or other “zealous staffers” care exactly what the U.S.'s Benghazi facility was called. Whatever name one attaches to it neither enhances nor detracts from the President's image. Pulling Valerie Jarrett into the mix is just nonsense. We have to wonder why Dowd did it.
Maybe it's just me. I find it curious and more than a bit disconcerting that Dowd reserves almost all of her criticism for accomplished black women. The only man she criticizes is President Obama (hey, he's black, too!), and she frames that criticism in layers of sexual innuendo. Obama showed “virile flare” in defending Rice against McCain's attacks, Dowd writes. He went “mano a mano” with McCain. The President was “protecting a diplomatic damsel in distress.” We are supposed to see Susan Rice and Valerie Jarrett as “All the President's Girls.” Dowd presents even the relationship between Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice in sexual terms: Condi “jilted” Brent. Black ladies may defend their man, but they don't mind dumping on old white boys. This is a sexist, racist construction the Party of White People surely appreciates.
Meanwhile, Dowd masks and bolsters the Republicans' unfounded accusations. If Dowd thinks the intelligence community was too cautious in its initial assessment, or too opaque in its early releases to the public, why doesn't she say so? Instead of faulting the authors of the talking points – you know, older white guys like former CIA director David Petraeus and NSA Director James Clapper – she fingers the spokeswoman. Just like John McCain & Lindsey Graham, Dowd blames the messenger. And just like McCain and Graham, Dowd relies on phony assertions to do so. Indeed, Dowd cannot criticize McCain and Graham because she's fishing in the same cesspool of half-truths and innuendo favored by the Old White Boys' Resentment Club. Not surprisingly, Dowd catches the same variety of sexist, racist carp the GOP anglers so commonly nab bare-handed.
In her pushback against Republican charges against Susan Rice, Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), the chairwoman-elect of the Congressional Black Caucus said, “All of the things they have disliked about things that have gone on in the administration, they have never called a male unqualified, not bright, not trustworthy. There is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments being made by unfortunately Sen. McCain and others.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the Republican attack on Rice “is almost as if the attempt is to assassinate her character.”
One might be inclined to say the same about Maureen Dowd's New York Times column today. Dowd's criticism of Rice and Jarrett, in particular, is so off-base, I have to wonder why she's made it. While I'm thinking about it, pass the Green Goddess dressing, please. It's perfect on my Bitter Envy Endive salad.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com
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