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Fri Nov 30, 2012, 11:58 AM

In defense of Susan Rice

In defense of Susan Rice

The Benghazi matter should not disqualify her from confirmation as President Obama's next secretary of State.

By Michael O'Hanlon
November 29, 2012

Is U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice an appropriate choice as President Obama's second-term secretary of State?

Nearly 100 House Republicans have come out against Rice, joining several prominent GOP senators. Meetings on Capitol Hill this week appear not to have helped her cause with them. They consider her either untrustworthy or incompetent, insinuating that she is too much of a partisan to represent the country as a whole on the world stage. But the Republicans should relent in their opposition.

I am no blind supporter of Rice. She is my friend and former colleague at the Brookings Institution, but I advised Hillary Rodham Clinton in the 2007-08 primary campaign, while Rice co-led the Obama foreign policy team, and I supported the surge in Iraq, while Rice opposed it. Despite these battle scars, I consider Rice a person of high integrity and intelligence; she has a strong work ethic and a clear commitment to this country's security. There may be a valid debate as to whether Rice, or Sen. John F. Kerry, or someone else (Adm. Michael G. Mullen and another Clinton come to mind) should succeed Clinton as the nation's next top diplomat. But Rice is a solid candidate and would be a fine secretary of State.

The opposition to Rice begins with the matter of Benghazi. Her Sunday talk-show statements about what happened when Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11 were mistaken but far from unreasonable. Early on, some in the intelligence community suspected a spontaneous demonstration was the starting point for the situation. Five days later, more was known: The attack was preplanned. Rice qualified her statements, but the emphasis was wrong. Still, no evidence has been presented that her comments were mendacious.

There is a broader criticism of Rice, as well. Some view her as untried, untested, too young or too much of an Obama loyalist rather than an independent thinker. Her record deserves a more careful look.

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