Commentary Magazine


Washington Insiders Focus on Rice to Protect Their Own

Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.

Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.

It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:

As she wraps up her tenure at Foggy Bottom and mulls over a possible 2016 White House bid, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decade-old bipartisan friendship with McCain appears to have helped shield her from GOP fire — even as her agency finds itself in the thick of a partisan battle over Benghazi.

Their deep bond and mutual respect was born out of eight years serving in the Senate together, their shared admiration for the military, numerous trips around the world to war zones, security conferences in Germany — they once even took in a sunset in the Arctic Circle.

Far be it from me to let something like national security get in the way of a good Arctic sunset, but this seems patently irresponsible. When Republican candidates run as “outsiders,” this is exactly the sort of thing they don’t want to be associated with. And when they question the Beltway’s obsession with bipartisanship, this is the kind of thing they’re questioning.

I’m not going to tell McCain and Clinton that they should follow Harry Truman’s advice and get a dog if they want a friend in Washington. Comity and cooperation have their benefits. And it’s true that liberal columnists who clearly side with Hillary Clinton in her feud with Susan Rice have used this occasion to stick up for their friend–but they are opinion writers at liberal newspapers, not high-ranking senators and leaders on American national security and foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the other politician who would gain from Rice’s downfall is, as Jonathan wrote today, John Kerry–another member of the Senate foreign relations old guard.

Clinton should be held accountable for her failure, and instead her bipartisan friends will protect her. Clinton will skate on to her expected 2016 presidential run unscathed by her egregious incompetence that resulted in the death of our ambassador and three others. And the “dear friend” of Bashar al-Assad–I’m quoting John Kerry himself here, so take it up with him–hopes to advance his career as well by climbing up the rubble of Rice’s.

By all means, get answers from Rice on Benghazi. But letting colleagues and friends escape accountability because of that friendship is its own brand of negligence.