Why Susan Rice?

No doubt about it: Republicans have it in for Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations and, by most accounts, President Obama’s likely choice to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.  Rice is an Obama confidante and advisor.

Let’s be clear: the world would be a better place with her out of government.   Like everyone else in Obama’s inner circle, she is a stalwart defender of American supremacy and its concomitant, neo-liberal “globalization.”  There isn’t an anti-imperialist bone in her body.

But this is not what galls Republican Senators John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC) and Kelly Ayotte (NH), her antagonists on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Neither does it bother that vaunted Republican “moderate,” Susan Collins (ME) or the Tea Party friendly Bob Corker (TN), both of whom have added their two cents to McCain and Company’s anti-Rice campaign.

Her opponents have nothing against Rice championing “humanitarian interventions” like the one in Libya in 2011.  Straightforward neo-conservatism is more to their liking, but neo-conservatism with a liberal face works for them as well.

They are therefore of one mind with Rice on Obama’s remote control killing sprees and his special ops escapades.  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney got the latest wave of high-tech international lawlessness going.  But Team Obama has escalated the level, and Obama has made the Bush-Cheney style his own.   As everyone knows, he has a special fondness for drones.

They also don’t object to the yeoman’s work Rice does for the Israel lobby and the Israeli government.  If anything, they think that Rice is not servile enough.   To cite just the latest example, they could hardly deny that her remarks purporting to justify the American vote against according UN “non-member observer state” status to Palestine recapitulated every nuance of the risible Israeli case.  But, where the Promised Land is concerned, Republicans will not be outdone.

To the extent that they know or care about Rice’s work incorporating Africa into the economic and military fold of the American empire, her critics have no quarrel with that either.

Of course, the reasons to oppose Rice are also reasons to oppose Hillary Clinton, along with almost everyone else in the Obama administration who deals with foreign affairs.  Those reasons apply with even greater force to Obama himself.

Anyone who favors adherence to international law and universally accepted standards of morality, and who would move the world towards a more equitable international order, should oppose them all.

And, with equal or greater force, they should oppose McCain and Company too.

Indeed, if there is any difference between Republicans and Democrats on matters in Rice’s purview, they have to do mainly with the Obama administration’s penchant for “multilateralism” — getting subordinate “allies” to do their dirty work for them — and their disinclination to present themselves as laughing-stocks in the manner of George Bush’s UN ambassador, John Bolton.

But the anti-Rice campaign is not about foreign policy.  It is about Obama and the Democrats.

This is why the thinking behind the machinations of McCain and the others is hard to fathom, and why there seems to be nothing more to it than the stubborn mindlessness that has come to define the Republican way.

It is especially bizarre because, ever since Mitt Romney lost on November 6, Republicans seem to have put the vitriol they used to hurl directly at Obama back on the shelf.   For the time being, their antipathy is focused on Rice.

Now it may be, as many pundits claim, that the party leadership decided that they want Rice out of the running for Clinton’s job, so that Obama will nominate John Kerry, opening up a Senate seat in Massachusetts and therefore a chance for Scott Brown to run again.

Maybe that is what some of them think.  But there is surely also something more sinister going on.

Still licking their wounds, Republicans are not yet ready to resume the demonization of the President.  A proxy war is about all they now can handle.

Because Rice is an Obama crony – a family friend — she makes a fine target of opportunity.  It doesn’t hurt either that she is African American and female.  To many a Republican, that makes her worth going after in its own right.

This is surely part of what this latest bout of Republican obduracy is about.

It must be said, though, that McCain and the others have set about their proxy war with consummate artlessness.  It is as if their aim is to show that outright Tea Partiers are not the only nincompoops running the Republican show.

But we must not confuse the messenger with the message.   McCain et. al. may not have much that is coherent to say, but there is a plausible case against Rice implicit in the charges they level.

What they claim is that Rice made false and misleading statements on Sunday morning talk shows about the September 11 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats.

However they have never been clear about exactly what they find objectionable: is it that she knew, or should have known, that it was a pro Al Qaeda group, the Omar Abdul Rahman Brigade, that executed the attack, and not, as was believed at first, Muslims incensed over a blasphemous YouTube video made in America?

Or is it that, with the election less than two months away, she ought not to have talked about the Benghazi events at all?

It is probably a little of both.

Their idea apparently is that candidate Obama wanted to appear tough on “terrorism,” and that it would be hard to sustain that appearance in the face of a lethal attack on an American consulate office overseas.  And so, they suppose, Rice went on TV to help him out.

Now if Republicans know anything, it is how important it can be for a candidate running for office – especially the presidency — to seem tough on terrorism. After all, this is what got George Bush reelected in 2004.

They also know that Bush succeeded in projecting a tough image thanks, in part, to Spinmeisters who made sure, for example, that the anthrax scares, like 9/11 itself, were not held against him.

It was only natural, therefore, that they would see Rice’s TV appearances in the same light.

Rice blamed it all on crazed Muslim mobs.  That too makes sense to Republicans because it is precisely what they would have done.  Playing to the fears of benighted souls in the Fox News demographic is their stock-in-trade.

The problem, though, is the familiar one: they cannot say for sure what she knew or when she knew it.  And so, to mix together two other clichés that suggest themselves at times like these, they set out on a fishing expedition, looking for a smoking gun.

If they can’t find one, they still have the inappropriate politicization argument to fall back upon.  But that argument is difficult to sustain inasmuch as diplomats always defend positions taken by the governments they work for.

Nobody would think to complain about that when they do it abroad.  Then they call it  “public diplomacy” and attach great importance to its proper execution.

And while blatant electioneering in what we nowadays call “the homeland” may appear unseemly and can even be illegal, subtle versions have always been part of the (unwritten) job description of government functionaries.

In pressing this argument, Republicans are therefore yet again displaying the hypocrisy at which they excel.  Is anybody surprised at that?

Moreover, sounder minds than McCain’s cannot help but wonder what difference it makes if she knew better, which she probably did not.

The important point, embarrassing to everyone involved, is that America’s role in Libya is, to put it mildly, unpopular in Benghazi — and everywhere else in that devastated country.

No surprise there either: humanitarian interventions always work out poorly, no matter how many allies join in.  And the bad news always gets out sooner or later, no matter how diligently public diplomats and Spinmeisters ply their trade.

This time, the news is very likely more interesting than McCain and his allies, or Rice and hers, would like the world to know.

For one thing, since it is now conceded that the attack was not an irrational mob action but a coordinated mission, it is fair to ask what its purpose was.

The story has yet to be featured prominently enough in The New York Times and other guardians of mainstream thinking to become widely known, but there are enough credible reports out there for a reasonable person to conclude, with virtual certainty, that the Benghazi consulate housed a sizeable CIA station, and that the CIA was holding prisoners in its precincts in violation of US and international law.  It would not be much of a stretch to speculate that one reason for the attack was to free those prisoners.

There is also the question of the role of the fallen General Petraeus.  Could a sexual dalliance alone have brought that much-hyped figure down?  It is hard to believe, even in a political culture in which hypocrisy sometimes takes a prudish turn, even as prurience, the kind that makes the wheels of commerce turn, is all about us.

Petraeus’s role, if any, in covering up CIA shenanigans in Benghazi, or in implementing what needed to be covered up, will likely emerge in time.  For now, we can only wonder about how much of what happened in Libya – and on the Sunday morning talk shows where Susan Rice “misspoke” — was done for his benefit, and who in the Obama administration was running interference in his behalf.

I would venture that, when this all finally becomes clear, the anti-Rice campaign will come to seem much like John Kennedy’s carrying on about a “missile gap” with the Soviet Union in the 1960 election.  Kennedy probably, and Richard Nixon certainly, knew that the only missile gap was in America’s favor.  But as the sitting Vice President, Nixon could not reveal what he knew.  Kennedy, on the other hand, could be as loose a cannon as he and his advisors deemed opportune.  Like McCain and the others now, he was able, with impunity, to serve his own purposes.

Is this what McCain thinks he is doing?  Assuming that cohabitation with Republicans has not significantly diminished his mental capacity, it is a good bet.

Kennedy’s motives were clear; he had an election to win.  What do McCain and the others want?

I would venture that in much the way that Republicans in 2009 found it expeditious, as early on as they could, to reveal how inept Obama is at wielding power, they now want, again, to put Obama in his place.

There is a lot of that going on now that Obama won again, just as there was in the aftermath of his victory in 2008.  The Israelis have it down to an art form; they kill Gazans and build new settlements to make their point.  Republican strategists are more benign.  But their maneuverings are cut from the same cloth.  Pernicious minds think alike.

A tried and true Republican tactic, employed in 2009 against Van Jones and others, is to attack Obama’s subordinates.  With Susan Rice, they are back at it.

Because Rice is a friend and not just an appointee, maybe this time Obama will fight back.  If he does, since their case is flimsy and since Obama still has political capital to spend, there is a chance Republicans will back off.  That would be a momentous development.  Obama might finally, for once, prevail.  That could be, as they say, a “game changer.”

But if the past four years are any indication, I wouldn’t count on it.  Obama epitomizes what Robert Frost had in mind when he said that a liberal is someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.

However we may never know how resolute Obama can be when he feels pressed and when he holds nearly all the cards because Rice has conflict-of-interest problems that could render the probity of her talk show performance last September moot.  According to recent reports, she is heavily invested in Canadian oil companies and banks that would benefit substantially from construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, one of the very first items on the plate of the next Secretary of State.

This is yet another reason for looking forward to see the back of her.  Not only is she, like everyone else in Obama’s administration, a committed imperialist; she is evidently also as indifferent to urgent ecological concerns as any of the world despoilers in the White House or on Capitol Hill.

But however that may be, if Obama wants an easy way out, her cupidity may have provided him one.  I would not be surprised if he takes advantage of it.  It would be entirely in character.

Obama’s idea of governance seems to be to give Republicans as much of what they want as the situation will allow.  In this instance, in one of history’s lesser ironies, that seems to be John Kerry.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

ANDREW LEVINE is the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).