In the last five years, I’ve been to a lot of uplifting events at the White House, from welcoming NASCAR winners, to awarding the Medal of Honor, to honoring the teacher of the year. But I’ve never been to a bigger White House celebration than Wednesday afternoon, June 5.
I was there in the Rose Garden as President Obama thanked Tom Donilon for his years of service as national security adviser – and named Ambassador Susan Rice to take his place. Or, to put it another way, I was there in the Rose Garden as President Obama gave a great, big, fat “Up Yours!” to congressional Republicans who had treated Rice so shabbily over Benghazi. How sweet it is!
Indeed, Wednesday’s simple ceremony was historically significant for two reasons. First, because Susan Rice is one of the smartest, toughest, most effective people on the planet. Also one of the nicest, by the way. She’s a Truman Scholar, Rhodes Scholar, former National Security Council staffer and the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs. She was Obama’s senior adviser for national security affairs during his 2008 campaign, and she’s done an outstanding job as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She’ll do an even better job as national security adviser.
But the Rose Garden event was also, and especially, satisfying because Rice’s appointment is driving Republicans absolutely bonkers. “I can’t imagine, one, that we would be keeping Ambassador Rice in any significant position, much less promoting her to an important position,” immediately tweeted Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. “POTUS rewards deception nominating Susan Rice as national security adviser,” added Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas. A meme repeated by many, including the Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin: “Rice rewarded for lying.”
Poor babies. Do they want some cheese with that whine? But here’s what’s so sweet about it. All Republicans can do is whine. Because the position of national security adviser does not require Senate confirmation, there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it. That’s why there were so many big smiles in the Rose Garden. Everybody knew: This was President Obama’s ultimate in-your-face appointment.
Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham will live to regret the day they blamed Susan Rice for Benghazi and, in effect, blocked her from becoming secretary of state. Because now she’s even closer to the president, in an even more powerful position, and because now, on any national security issue, they’re going to have to deal with her. And she has a long memory.
Rice will certainly never forget the unfair treatment she received from congressional Republicans following the September 2012 attack on our mission in Benghazi, in which four Americans were killed. The Sunday morning after the attack, she went on national television to reveal what the administration knew at the time. According to our intelligence agencies, she reported, it appeared to be a spontaneous demonstration, suddenly turned violent and sparked, like a simultaneous protest in Cairo, by an anti-Muslim video. But that assessment could change, she noted. And it did. The CIA and FBI soon discovered evidence of a deliberate, well-planned terrorist attack, and so informed Congress and the public.
That’s where things turned ugly. Unlike after Sept. 11, 2001, when Republicans and Democrats joined together to blame the terrorists who attacked us, after Sept. 11, 2012, Republicans went off on their own to blame, not the terrorists, but President Obama, Hillary Clinton and, especially, Susan Rice. Knowing Rice was a leading candidate to replace Clinton as secretary of state, they set out to shoot her down by accusing her of deliberately misleading the American people (perhaps confusing her with another national security adviser named Rice). A string of emails subsequently released by the White House prove a) that Rice’s talking points were written by the CIA; and b) that it was the CIA – not Rice, not Clinton, not Obama – who demanded that any early reference to possible terrorist activity be deleted. But facts don’t count in the politics of personal destruction. The attacks against Rice continue to this day.
But, in the end, this latest skirmish of the Republican war on women backfired big-time. The president ends up with John Kerry as secretary of state, Susan Rice as national security adviser and former Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Samantha Power as ambassador to the United Nations. And Obama proved a master practitioner of one of the first lessons I learned in politics: Don’t get mad, get even!