Defense & National Security

Will Obama nominate Rice amid scandal?

Will Obama nominate Rice amid scandal?

The scandal unfolding around U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has become a microcosm for the relationship between President Barack Obama and Republican lawmakers. As conservatives have protested Rice’s promotion amid allegations she misled the American people about the Benghazi attacks, the White House has only doubled down.

In his first news conference after re-election, Obama said Rice had played a faithful role as the administration’s mouthpiece, even though the information she dispensed to the press about a riot sparking the deadly attacks was contradicted by intelligence reports. The timing and exact content of those intelligence reports and who might have doctored her talking points to paper over any terrorist connection remains an open question for the American public.

“If Sen. [John] McCain and Sen. [Lindsey] Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” Obama said. “To besmirch [Rice’s] reputation is outrageous.”

Nearly 100 U.S. representatives have signed on to a petition asking Obama to pass over Rice for nomination to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, and a handful of senators have made clear she won’t be getting their vote because of her involvement with the White House messaging campaign.

But what the buzz over Benghazi obfuscates is a career with a number of controversial and polarizing moments that might threaten a confirmation to Secretary of State even if the consulate attacks had never taken place.

Most infamously, Obama administration academic and author Samantha Power took Rice to task in a 2001 Atlantic article for the then-National Security Council staffer’s political treatment of the Rwandan genocide. Power records Rice as saying, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?”

In the same era, Rice has been called responsible for failing to close a deal with Sudanese leaders that may have resulted in apprehending Osama bin Laden prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Since her 2008 confirmation as U.N. ambassador, many believe, too, that Rice has been too soft towards hostile nations, openly biased against Israel and sympathetic towards Palestine, and overly friendly to U.N. actions that threaten American sovereignty.

“She has also not been an effective diplomat or manager at the U.N. as evidenced by her failure to persuade Russia and China to join the U.S. in reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, stop the bloody civil war in Syria and halt North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in a statement last week, adding that he intended to vote against her if the nomination went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Diplomatic approach unlikely

Though Obama might think his re-election has earned him political capital he can spend on Rice’s nomination, he might be able to find more compromise and consensus on other issues, such as the fiscal cliff, if he yields to pressure from Congress and opts for a candidate not touched by scandal.

“This White House has such a poor relationship with Congress and such disregard for the representatives of the people,” said American Enterprise Institute vice president of Foreign and Defense Policy studies Danielle Pletka, adding that she doubted Obama would choose a diplomatic approach.

If he does pass over Rice, Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon may be his next choice. But while Donilon has received favorable coverage in the press for his involvement in the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Ghaddafi and the assassination of Osama bin Laden, his name has also been linked to a series of leaks of classified national security information. And Donilon may also have to answer for the years he spent as a top executive of Fannie Mae, one of the mortgage companies at ground zero of the 2008 Great Recession.

Obama may be better served to go with a candidate from outside his administration, such as Jon Huntsman, a two-time U.S. ambassador with a deep resume and centrist views, despite a Republican affiliation.

One option for times that call for tough dealings with hostile nations like Iran might be hawkish Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who is planning retirement from the Senate at the end of his term in 2013.

“I think someone like Joe Lieberman who has been incredibly bipartisan, who had endorsed John McCain (in his presidential run), who has very wide experience in foreign policy … a decent, honest human being, would be terrific at State,” Pletka said.

Lieberman has not ruled out the possibility of taking the position. “When the president of the United States asks you to serve your country, you have to give it serious consideration,” he said on Fox News Sunday last week. “But I’m not waiting by the phone.”

Potential Nominees

Likely nominee: Susan Rice

Current title: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (2008-present)

Resume: National Security Council Staff, Clinton Administration official, various roles (1993-1997); Brookings Institution Senior Fellow (2002-present)

Why: Despite widespread Republican objections, Rice appears to be the top White House pick for the job. Rice has decades of foreign relations experience, a close relationship with the White House, and a liberal pedigree, having served in the Obama and Clinton administrations.

Possible nominee: Tom Donilon

Current title: National Security Adviser, Obama administration

Resume: Executive Vice President for Law and Policy, Fannie Mae (1999-2005); Partner, O’Melveny & Myers law firm (1991-1993, 1996-1999)

Why: Extensive references to Donilon in New York Times writer David Sanger’s book “Confront and Conceal” caused many to suspect he was the source of leaks of classified White House information favorable to the president. Donilon has earned several flattering profiles in the Times and Washington Post for his work and has close ties to the administration—he is married to Jill Biden’s chief of staff.

Outside chance: Jon Huntsman

Current title: Former U.S. Ambassador to China (2009-2011)

Resume: U.S. Ambassador to Singapore (1992-1993); Deputy U.S. trade representative (2001-2003); Republican governor of Utah (2005-2009)

Why: As a Republican, Huntsman is an out-of-the box choice for a Democratic administration, but his centrist views and willingness to work with Obama might make him a favorable choice if the president chooses to extend an olive branch to conservatives. With a deep resume that spans four presidential administrations, Huntsman has the chops for the job as a former trade representative and two-time U.S. ambassador.

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