On second thought the possibility of U.N. ambassador Sandra Rice replacing Hillary Clinton just got a little dimmer in Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s view. It seems that she made some enemies in Washington D.C. through the years and since she’s a woman, she’s expected to conform to a particular decorum, in the eyes of people like Dana Milbank:
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.”
Clinton got a measure of revenge in 2010 after she worked out a deal with the Russian foreign minister on a package of Iran sanctions to be adopted by the U.N. Security Council. The White House wanted Rice to make the announcement (part of a campaign to increase her profile that included high-visibility foreign trips and TV appearances), but a Clinton aide got Kerry to ask Clinton about the matter during an unrelated Senate hearing.
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.
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.”
I didn’t realize she was a one-woman wrecking outfit, but it seems that she is being scapegoated by the Republicans for simply repeating the talking points she was given. Be that as it may, she may not be of the same ilk as Hillary Clinton, Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell, and could very well not be the person President Obama ends up picking. Had John McCain and Lindsey Graham raised plausible reasons why they don’t want her as the Secretary of State instead of having a vendetta against her for going off the CIA version of the events that transpired in Benghazi, then maybe people would listen. For the record, I am sure she isn’t the first to flip a finger at another colleague.
Just to put this all in perspective, here’s the New York Times’ take on Susan Rice:
In her sure-footed ascent of the foreign-policy ladder, Ms. Rice has rarely shrunk from a fight. But now that she appears poised to claim the top rung — White House aides say she is President Obama’s favored candidate for secretary of state — this sharp-tongued, self-confident diplomat finds herself in the middle of a bitter feud in which she is largely a bystander.
“Susan had a reputation, fairly or not, as someone who could run a little hot and shoot from the hip,” said John Norris, a foreign-policy expert at the Center for American Progress. “If someone had told me that the biggest knock on her was going to be that she too slavishly followed the talking points on Benghazi, I would have been shocked.”
At the United Nations, and in posts in the Clinton White House, Ms. Rice, who turned 48 on Saturday, has earned a reputation as a blunt advocate, relentless on issues like pressuring the regime in Sudan or intervening in Libya to prevent a slaughter by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.
Um, she doesn’t sound like the crass bully Dana Milbank is trying to portray her as. Without trying to excuse Susan Rice’s so-called off-color behavior, how many of her colleagues have displayed similar behavior? Unless it was really outrageous and criminal, it didn’t disqualify them from their jobs. On that basis, I scarcely believe that’s enough to disqualify her from the top job at the State Department.