Off The Mark
Senator John McCain has vowed to try to block any nomination of Susan Rice to head the Department of State. On November 14, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, as with McCain a member of the Armed Services Committee, argued “I think she was a political choice, telling a political narrative, and either she didn’t know the truth about Benghazi—so she shouldn’t have been on T.V.—or she was spinning it.” Graham said. He said he wouldn’t “promote” anybody involved in the “Benghazi debacle.” Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina initiated a letter dated November 19, addressed to President Obama and signed by 97 Repub members of the U.S. House of Representatives, in which critics of the Administration have claimed "Ambassador Rice is widely having viewed as having either willfully or incompetently as having misled the American people in the Benghazi matter."
The third ranking House Democrat, Jim Clyburn of South Carolina (South Carolina again?), is not amused. On November 20, appearing on CNN's Turning Point, he maintained
You know, these are code words. We heard them during the campaign. During this recent campaign, we heard Senator Sununu calling our president lazy, incompetent—these kinds of terms that those of us, especially those of us who were grown and raised in the South, we would hear these little words and phrases all of our lives, and we’d get insulted by them.
Following Obama's debate performance in Denver, when the President was widely viewed as detached, Romney surrogate Sununu charged "What people saw last night, I think, was a president that revealed his incompetence, how lazy and detached he is, and how he has absolutely no idea how serious the economic problems of the country are, and how he has failed to even begin to address them."
There is little reason to accuse President Obama of being "lazy," other than that it reinforces a traditional stereotype of whites toward blacks. "Detached," however: not so much. When Caucasians get together in a locker room lacking ethnic diversity, "detached" is not the characterization that frequently springs to many minds, or lips, to refer to blacks.
Republicans really ought (which means they won't), however, to knock off using variants of the term "incompetent." When their nemesis is unskilled, unqualified, or inefficient (rough synonyms for "incompetent"), they ought to say so, rather than resorting to the vague, imprecise charge of lacking competence.
This is one of the problems with the G.O.P. charge against Ambassador Rice and, less significantly, Clyburn's criticism. Clyburn uses a scattershot approach, accusing Rice's critics- McCain, Graham, the U.S. Representatives, maybe even your next-door neighbor - of racial prejudice by using code words. But accusing black people of lacking trustworthiness or competence is qualitatively different than accusing them of laziness, which someone chronologically challenged as is Clyburn would recognize.
The GOP, though, is guilty of two sins. The following is the relevant portion of the interview with Bob Schieffer in which Susan Rice offended so many Republicans:
RICE (9/16/12): Well, Bob, let me tell you what we understand to be the assessment at present. First of all, very importantly, as you discussed with the president, there is an investigation that the United States government will launch, led by the FBI that has begun.
So we’ll want to see the results of that investigation to draw any definitive conclusions. But based on the best information we have to date, what our assessment is as of the present is in fact what— It began spontaneously in Benghazi as a reaction to what had transpired some hours earlier in Cairo, where, of course, as you know, there was a violent protest outside of our embassy sparked by this hateful video.
But soon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that effort with heavy weapons of the sort that are, unfortunately, readily now available in Libya post- revolution. And that it spun from there into something much, much more violent.
SCHIEFFER: Do you agree or disagree with him that al Qaeda had some part in this?
RICE: Well, we’ll have to find out that out. I mean, I think it’s clear that there were extremist elements that joined in and escalated the violence. Whether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself, I think is one of the things we’ll have to determine.
As Bob Somerby (from whom the transcript above is taken) has noted (emphasis his)
Quite plainly, she didn’t say the deadly attack “was not a terrorist attack.” In response to Schieffer's question, she explicitly said that it might have been the work of “al Qaeda itself!”
She didn’t say the deadly attack was the result of spontaneous demonstrations in Egypt (although it may have been, in some sense). She said the evening’s events began as a reaction to Cairo, after which the extremist elements joined in with their heavy weapons. On two other programs, she said they "hijacked" ongoing events.
The Republican critics (with, perhaps, a couple of exceptions), then, are wrong. But they are worse than wrong. They are cowardly in their criticism.
Certainly, John McCain, especially, is not a coward as an individual, possessing a superlative war record. But some of these fellows are knowingly targeting the wrong individual.
They should not be assailing President Obama, either, despite the latter's testerone-infused, alpha male challenge to Rice's critics: “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them... But when they go after the U.N. ambassador apparently because they think she's an easy target, then they've got a problem with me."
That was good politics, good theater, and good chivalry- but, unfortunately, beside the point. Obama, though, did note Rice "had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply doing a presentation based on information she had received." CBS News
has learned that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) cut specific references to "al Qaeda" and "terrorism" from the unclassified talking points given to Ambassador Susan Rice on the Benghazi consulate attack - with the agreement of the CIA and FBI. The White House or State Department did not make those changes...
An intelligence source says the talking points were passed from the CIA to the DNI, where the substantive edits were made, and then to FBI, which made more edits as part of "standard procedure."
The head of the DNI is James Clapper, an Obama appointee. He ultimately did review the points, before they were given to Ambassador Rice and members of the House intelligence committee on Sept. 14. They were compiled the day before.
Brennan says her source wouldn't confirm who in the agency suggested the final edits which were signed off on by all intelligence agencies.
CBS learned the details only this week. But members of Congress, Republicans included, have known for some time that Rice's remarks were "talking points," meant to convey to the public only that information which the intelligence community, given the needs of national security, wanted released.
One unnamed official explained "Because of the various elements involved in the attack, the term extremist was meant to capture the range of participants." But much of the criticism is misguided not only in content. Susan Rice has been attacked not because she is black or a woman, but because she is part of the Democratic administration. And most of all, she has been attacked because she is not part of the intelligence community which, it would appear, is immune from all criticism, as well as oversight.
Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving in an off-beat manner:
"As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly."