“We do not want to concertina-wire America off from the world”
– Senator John Kerry
….I’m looking ahead to my second term. And I am very proud to announce my choice for America’s next secretary of state, John Kerry. In a sense, John’s entire life has prepared him for this role. As the son of a Foreign Service officer, he has a deep respect for the men and women of the State Department — the role they play in advancing our interests and values, the risks that they undertake and the sacrifices that they make, along with their families.
Having served with valor in Vietnam, he understands that we have a responsibility to use American power wisely, especially our military power. And he knows from personal experience that when we send our troops into harm’s way, we must give them the sound strategy, a clear mission, and the resources that they need to get the job done.
Click here for a transcript of President Obama’s remarks as he nominates Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the Cabinet position of Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton (via WaPo).
NBS News exclusive reports that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments.
“If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.
“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.
Today, I spoke to Ambassador Susan Rice, and accepted her decision to remove her name from consideration for Secretary of State. For two decades, Susan has proven to be an extraordinarily capable, patriotic, and passionate public servant. As my Ambassador to the United Nations, she plays an indispensable role in advancing America’s interests. Already, she has secured international support for sanctions against Iran and North Korea, worked to protect the people of Libya, helped achieve an independent South Sudan, stood up for Israel’s security and legitimacy, and served as an advocate for UN reform and the human rights of all people. I am grateful that Susan will continue to serve as our Ambassador at the United Nations and a key member of my cabinet and national security team, carrying her work forward on all of these and other issues. I have every confidence that Susan has limitless capability to serve our country now and in the years to come, and know that I will continue to rely on her as an advisor and friend. While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first. The American people can be proud to have a public servant of her caliber and character representing our country.
Somewhere Senator McGrouchy is dancing in the moonlight.
Rumors abound that former Senator Chuck Hagel is heading to the Pentagon. In which case, it seems likely that the Senate’s favorite, John Kerry is a step closer to Foggy Bottom.
The Daily Beast has a new addition to the Susan Rice, please let this be over story already. It’s titled, Susan Rice’s Personality ‘Disorder’. Is it just us or are folks trying to outdo themselves with their Susan headlines? We fear that the longer this runs, the more outrageous the headlines will be; so they’ll get our attention despite cruising towards some darn cliff, of course. While it is not surprising that this is a hallway conversation over in Foggy Bottom, we’re still struck by this: (excerpt):
George W. Bush, had flouted longstanding tradition and downgraded the U.N. job to sub-cabinet status, but President Obama restored it to cabinet rank for Rice—thus insuring intense bureaucratic rivalry between the U.S. Mission in New York and the State Department in Washington, where various career foreign-service officers view the prospect of Rice’s takeover with suspicion.
“It’s the hallway conversation,” says a longtime State Department staffer. “It’s like, Jesus Christ, woe unto us all if this happens!”
Indeed, Rice has apparently left a trail of bruised egos and injured feelings in the nation’s capital. A veteran of the Clinton White House recalls a junior aide being summoned by Rice, then director of Africa policy at the National Security Council, and returning to his desk in tears.
It’s like, Jesus Christ, must be more than just bruised egos!
So we heard that Senator McCain has “softened” a tad about the possible Susan Rice nomination. He toldFox News Sunday that he was willing to hear her out. Asked whether there’s anything Rice can do to change his mind, McCain responded:
“Sure, I give everyone the benefit of explaining their position and the actions that they took. I’ll be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her. Why did she say that Al-Qaeda has been decimated in her statement here on this program? Al-Qaeda hasn’t been decimated, they’re on the rise…So, there’s a lot of questions we have for Ambassador Rice, and I’m sure we’ll have the opportunity to discuss this with her.”
The CSM explains why GOP opposition to Susan Rice is no longer white-hot. The news about what’s softening even made the international news. And then the AP reported that “With congressional opposition softening, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice could find her name in contention as early as this week to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.”
Yesterday, it was widely reported that the U.N. Ambassador would have a Tuesday meeting with the three key Republican senators, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.). The meeting was reportedly at the request of Ambassador Rice’s office.
So today the folks had their meeting. And then the softened senators are quickly back to their old selves. What more, they are now “significantly troubled,” “more troubled, not less” and obviously “disturbed.”
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” McCain told reporters after the meeting.
“I am more disturbed now than before,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (video).
Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said she’s “more troubled, not less,” after talking with Rice and top U.S. intelligence officials about the attacks.
Over at USUN, Ambassador Rice released a statement about her meeting with the three senators saying, “I appreciated the opportunity to discuss these issues directly and constructively with them” and that she and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell stressed that there was no intention to mislead. Here is part of the statement:
“In the course of the meeting, we explained that the talking points provided by the intelligence community, and the initial assessment upon which they were based, were incorrect in a key respect: there was no protest or demonstration in Benghazi. While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved. We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the Administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.”
This is looking more and more like a rough ride. And if Susan Rice does get the nomination and the Senate confirmation dashed with a brutal fight, there will be an extreme ride way ahead. Brutal fights tend to generate intense, unforgettable memories …so, there may be a rumble with every new nomination particularly related to the State Department.
We’re scrapping the bottom for good news on this one — but there is at least this: with Senator McCain and his prospective ranking Republican spot in the Indian Affairs Committee next year, the new Congress should be far from boring. It’ll be nice if they get something done, too, but that would be asking too much.
You’ve already heard Senator John McCain firing the opening salvo on the State Department’s (maybe) future Secretary Rice. Susan Rice has not even been announced as a nominee yet but hey, this the pre-emption doctrine at work.
In any case, we are reminded of his take on this Rice and not that Rice. Senator McCain argued that Susan Rice is “not qualified” to be the next secretary since she said the Benghazi attack began spontaneously and promised to block her nomination. In 2005, Mr. McCain argued that Condoleezza Rice was qualified to be the next secretary of state, despite her testimony about those WMDs in Iraq.
And Senator McCain took him up on that offer, so then the GOP wants a special select committee ala Watergate to investigate the attack in Benghazi.
Thereafter, just like in the movies, Nevada’s Harry Reid came out with a three-barrel page turner written with a scathing .44 Magnum pen.
Oops! But what’s this we hear? Is it truethat in January, the Arizona senator will lose his top-ranking committee seat due to term limits? And that the only ranking Republican spot available to him next session will be on the Indian Affairs Committee?
What’s this world coming to?
The jaded part of me says born or made, politicians are bound to disappoint.
* * *
Maureen Dowd over in the NYT waded into the matter and asked, Is Rice Cooked? I dunno, is she?
“Rice, who has a bull-in-a-china-shop reputation, is diplomatic enough for the top diplomatic job. [..] Rice should have realized that when a gang showed up with R.P.G.’s and mortars in a place known as a hotbed of Qaeda sympathizers and Islamic extremist training camps, it was not anger over a movie. She should have been savvy enough to wonder why the wily Hillary was avoiding the talk shows.”
In WaPo, Robert Kagan, prominent neoconservative writer with the Brookings Institution and husband of State Department spokesperson, Victoria Nuland said that “the idea that Rice should be disqualified because of statements she made on television in the days after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, strikes me as unfair. […] I haven’t seen persuasive evidence to support the theory that Rice’s statements were part of a coverup to hide a terrorist attack.”
Also in WaPo, Dana Milbank wrote about Susan Rice’s tarnished resume with inside the building stories from unnamed witnesses (ah yes, the knives are out!):
“Rice has managed to make an impressive array of enemies — on Capitol Hill, in Foggy Bottom and abroad. Particularly in comparison with the other person often mentioned for the job, Sen. John Kerry, she can be a most undiplomatic diplomat, and there likely aren’t enough Republican or Democratic votes in the Senate to confirm her. […] Back when she was an assistant secretary of state during the Clinton administration, she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. […] But the nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence — traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance. Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.”
After weeks of being the Benghazi punching bag, and with 97 House Republicans (who have no role in confirming a cabinet secretary) co-signing a letter to President Obama about being “deeply troubled” that Susan Rice is under consideration as possible successor of Hillary Clinton (claiming she “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world”), and just one day before Thanksgiving, the subject of so much online ink finally spoke up to defend herself:
She said she respects Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been critical of her, but says “some of the statements he’s made about me have been unfounded, but I look forward to having the opportunity at the appropriate time to discuss all of this with him.”
One wonders why she is speaking out now? Is that “appropriate time” during an expected nomination hearing?
Diplomats on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council privately complain of Rice’s aggressive negotiating tactics, describing her with terms like “undiplomatic” and “sometimes rather rude.” They attributed some blunt language to Rice – “this is crap,” “let’s kill this” or “this is bull___.”
“She’s got a sort of a cowboy-ish attitude,” one Western diplomat said. “She has a tendency to treat other countries as mere (U.S.) subsidiaries.”
“She’s not easy,” said David Rothkopf, the top manager and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine. “I’m not sure I’d want to take her on a picnic with my family, but if the president wants her to be secretary of state, she’ll work hard.”
Indeed, along with a “no-nonsense” style, Rice has the most important ingredient for a successful secretary of state – a close relationship with the U.S. president, Rothkopf said.
Rothkopf, who was an official in President Bill Clinton’s administration, cited James Baker and Henry Kissinger as exemplary secretaries of state.
They were “tough infighters who broke a few eggs and made some enemies. They are admired for their toughness, and (Rice) is attacked for her abrasiveness,” he said.
And New York Magazine’s John Heilemann in State of Waroffers at least five reasons why Obama will appoint Rice to succeed Clinton and also why she will be confirmed. One of the reasons for this prediction with “a 79.4357 percent probability” is that “McCain is being a jackass—and Obama is sick of it.”
Amidst the noise generated by rumors of this possible nomination, perhaps Stephen Walt over in Foreign Policy articulated the best argument against the Rice nomination as the next secretary of state. He writes:
I fear that unlike Hillary Clinton, Rice is too much of an Obama insider and too dependent on the president’s patronage to be an ideal Secretary of State. As a result, her appointment will reinforce the growing lack of intellectual diversity within the administration.
Rice, by contrast, has no independent power base. She did serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Africa in the Clinton administration (to no great distinction), but signed up early with Obama and was a key foreign policy advisor during the 2008 campaign. She obviously has Obama’s confidence, but her current ascendancy depends solely on the president’s backing. Maintaining his personal support will be critical to her effectiveness, which makes her much less likely to tell him things he doesn’t want to hear or that cut against the thrust of existing policy. Although Rice has the reputation of being a forceful advocate with sharp elbows, her relationship to the president runs the risk of making her more of a courtier than a counselor.
The danger of an administration suffering from groupthink is certainly real. Hello Iraq! But with Susan Rice as an Obama insider, no foreign leader will doubt her closeness to this president.
Of course, if the secretary of state is too independent or too much of an outsider, he or she could end up marginalized by White House insiders. Remember Cordell Hull during the Roosevelt years and of course, there is Colin Powell, during the first George W. Bush term.
In addition to Walt’s point, there are two things that we hope might be included in the calculation of nominating the next secretary of state.
One – somebody with enough stature and relationship with Congress who can help shore up support for the State Department budget, which is often an attractive candidate for pirate raid in this world of shrinking federal resources. In this dangerous world, the State Department cannot continue to do more with less. It should either be funded for the work that needs to be done or it should consolidate some of its overseas presence into regional hubs with appropriate support, staffing and funding.
Two – somebody with the right sauce who can help right the listing ship of the U.S. Foreign Service. The new norm of deploying diplomats into war zones which started during Condi Rice’s tenure has gone on for years now and into the Clinton tenure with no end in sight. At the same time, assignments to non-war zone areas where there is continuing threats of physical harm or imminent danger to FS employees, including unaccompanied assignments (UT) which continue to expand. As an aside, I’ve heard that there is one/one UT program specialist at the State Department to “support” 800 UT family members and partners. Is that as family friendly as it gets?
Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan continue to tax the shrinking resources of a small agency. For example, in spring this year, the USG planned a presence of 11,500 personnel at 11 diplomatic sites in Iraq. According to the GAO, between fiscal years 2004 and 2008, Diplomatic Security (DS) operations in Iraq required approximately 36 percent of Diplomatic Security’s entire budget. DS like the rest of the State Department had to draw staff and resources away from other programs. Then there’s Afghanistan after 2014 where State will do Iraq all over again.
Of course, AIP posts have absolutely nothing to do with the persistent experience gaps in overseas Foreign Service positions, which have not diminished since 2008. And the persistent issues on assignments, performance evaluation and promotion just rage on.
Ambassador Rice has been at the helm of USUN since 2009 and her performance as chief of mission there has not lead us to believe that she is the right person who can inspire followers or provide the needed leadership to help the listing ship at State. Here is part of the OIG report:
… neither the mission’s leadership nor individual section chiefs have given sufficient attention to management of the mission’s people and processes.
Ø For many years USUN has focused few resources and little attention on training mission staff, leaving some in jobs for which they lack sufficient skills and others without an opportunity to upgrade or refresh their knowledge.
Ø USUN has not had a strategic approach to workforce planning and has refilled vacancies without considering mission priorities and reprogramming options.
That’s not the best starting point. If you can’t manage people and processes, you are in a constant crisis mode. Which is not a good thing because — sooner or later people will burn out, stick their finger in a socket and mistakes will happen.
I actually would like to see Secretary Powell return to State. I do believe in second chances, and some of the work he started there needs revisiting.
President Obama, of course, has the prerogative to pick his cabinet secretary. But I also think that despite Senator McGrouchy’s dare, President Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice. But not because of Benghazi. And not because of her sharp elbows.