Christine M. Flowers: New secretary of state needs to be more than a mouthpiece for Obama

Posted: November 23, 2012

WRITE THIS on your blackboard 100 times: Elections have consequences, elections have consequences, elections have consequences . . .

Write it until the chalk wears down, until you wrap your mind around the idea that Barack Obama earned the right to get his way because a majority of voters gave it to him on Nov. 6. Those who fought tooth and nail to deny the president another four years have to respect the process, even as we regret the result.

However, there is a consequential difference between acknowledging the president's right to make certain legitimate choices, such as filling Cabinet positions, and remaining silent in the face of what could turn out to be a devastating mistake with far-reaching impact. That's why those of us in the "Loyal Opposition" who refuse to bend compliantly in those ill winds out of Chicago need to speak out when we sense a threat to the country we love.

Case in point: Susan Rice. All indications are that President Obama will nominate Rice to fill Hillary Clinton's soon-to-be vacated spot at the State Department.

Steven Bucci of the Heritage Foundation predicted this week that Rice is likely to be confirmed if nominated, and few doubt that she will be nominated. That's because the current U.N. ambassador is highly intelligent, impeccably educated and a true believer in the Obama Way.

Rice has been an avid cheerleader for No. 44, shaking her Obama-Poms for the media since well before the 2008 election. And since Barack Obama treasures loyalty above all other qualities, or so it seems, there's every reason to believe that Bucci's prediction will come to pass.

There are, however, compelling reasons to hope that it won't. First, for all of her objective qualifications, Rice is not ready for prime time. Intelligence and pedigrees are good to pad out your professional portfolio, but they don't necessarily inspire confidence on the international stage.

This is particularly so at a time when the Middle East has moved from a slow but threatening boil to a wild conflagration in Syria, Libya, Egypt and, most recently, Gaza. Rice simply doesn't project the gravitas that, politics aside, Hillary Clinton possesses.

Even more important than her lack of experience is the fact that Susan Rice is far too much a team player for this administration, the mouthpiece - not the adviser - of her boss. We saw this most clearly in the Benghazi scandal when, like a good little girl, she went out in front of the news media and repeated a story that was factually incorrect. Even if she may have known the troubling truth that al Qaeda was involved in the Libya attacks, she kept silent and followed those good-soldier marching orders.

You might say it's important for a president's Cabinet members to speak with a consistent voice - his. But in times of crisis, it's important that these members give the impression that they're much more than empty vessels waiting to be filled with the animating substance of their superiors. Rice's recent performance in this still-evolving scandal shows how utterly and completely she fails that test.

Some say that criticizing Rice is tantamount to racism. The third-ranking House Democrat, James E. Clyburn from South Carolina, has come right out and said that questioning Rice's competence is "character assassination." Not to be outdone, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Marcia L. Fudge from Ohio, suggested that the ambassador was being targeted because of her gender and race.

Really? Are we going back to that ridiculous and tiresome shell game of using faux grievances as a smokescreen for real problems? Given the gravity of the situation, let's hope not.

The incontrovertible fact is that Susan Rice carried Obama's water on the Sunday talk shows and categorically denied that the Libya event was an act of terror, blaming it instead on a "spontaneous reaction" to a YouTube video. That was, to put it politely, dead- wrong.

It may not be fair to judge Rice on this single, albeit significant, incident. Many who know her say she's extremely talented and still has a bright future. But she's damaged goods and will have a hard time building bridges with Congress, as evidenced by the vocal opposition of senators like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, not to mention the nearly 100 House GOP members who've written to the president opposing her nomination.

Elections may have consequences. But here's the truth: At a time when the Middle East is on the brink of chaos, we need a leader. Not a cheerleader.


Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.

Email: cflowers1961@gmail.com

Blog: philly.com/flowers

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