Back in September 2012, there were a lot of people, including many conservative critics of the Obama administration who thought the Obama White House hung Susan Rice out to dry after the Benghazi terror attacks. Rice had nothing to do with the decisions that put Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in harm’s way only to be slain by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists. Nor had she, as America’s ambassador to the United Nations, any responsibility for the manner with which the State Department had bungled the Libyan venture and anti-terror policy. But she was the one delegated by the administration to be the voice of its spin of this disaster. It was Rice who was handed the infamous talking points that sought—on all five major Sunday programs—to persuade the American people that the Benghazi attack was the result of film criticism run amok rather than terrorism. It was quickly apparent that this was a brazen lie concocted by the White House for political purposes. Alone of top administration officials, Rice paid the highest penalty for Benghazi since her fateful morning in the spotlight almost certainly cost her the chance to be secretary of state in President Obama’s second term. But in spite of all this, Rice has refused to back down and apologize for her statements.
So it was surprising that Rice, now the president’s national security advisor, would win up in roughly the same position this week during the fallout from the Bowe Bergdahl-Taliban prisoner swap. Last Sunday, when the administration was seeking to portray the exchange as a triumph for the president, Rice went again to the Sunday shows to proclaim that the deal was worthy of celebration and then added that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” Since then, Rice has taken a beating in the media as the truth about Bergdahl’s alleged desertion and America-bashing was revealed, as any sensible person must have always known it would be. Yet when offered a chance to back down from her egregious comments today on CNN, Rice again refused to do the sensible thing, instead again doubling down on her fibs, arguing that Bergdahl’s presence in a war zone in uniform entitled him to be described in this manner. Rather than acknowledging that her rhetoric made her seem like the administration’s chief fabulist, Rice turned her ire on those who questioned her latest foray into fiction.
But the second instance in which she has been outed as a purveyor of the most transparent “pants-on-fire” type of spin means that Rice can no longer be portrayed as a victim. Whatever you may think about Bergdahl or the decision to trade five top Taliban terrorists for him, there can be no debate about the fact that Rice has severely damaged her own reputation in this business. After all, her definition of what entitles a soldier to be termed as having served with “honor and distinction” would equally apply to Benedict Arnold as it does to Americans who actually have behaved heroically.
An official who not only spreads lies but also won’t disavow them even when caught red-handed has lost the right to be treated as a plausible spokesperson for anything, let alone an American government. Susan Rice must now face up to the fact that she is a one-woman credibility gap who is an embarrassment to the United States government.
Is Rice’s predilection for telling outrageous fibs while fronting for the administration more a commentary on the president who sends her out to do such things than on herself? It’s hard to say.
It is true that Rice does not bear total responsibility for these lies. As we now know, it took a committee of administration spinners to craft the Benghazi talking points. The decision to treat Bergdahl as a returning hero and to treat his parents to the full White House PR treatment surely came from the very top of the West Wing food chain. But Rice’s talent for overstatement and her inability to take responsibility for her mistakes, even when they have exposed her to the worst sort of public ridicule, cannot be attributed to the president or any of the clueless advisors that persuaded him to treat the prisoner swap as an opportunity to make political hay.
As we have seen with his treatment of other officials who failed him, the president is slow to hold his top staff accountable and seems to regard admitting bad personnel judgment as a form of capitulation to his Republican foes. In particular, Rice is a personal Obama favorite and he made no secret of his anger about the fact that her Benghazi lies killed her chances to be secretary of state. But a smarter president with a better grasp of political reality would understand that his national security advisor has fatally compromised her ability to speak for him on important issues. Surely if anyone would have known the truth about Bergdahl’s behavior last week it would have been Rice. Though the chances of Obama ever owning up to the fact that she is a liability are minimal, having a national security advisor who will be best remembered for her Benghazi and Bergdahl lies is not something any president should settle for.