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Rice appointment is fitting rebuke to GOP

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

President Obama’s appointment of UN Ambassador Susan Rice as his National Security Adviser was a great move for two reasons.

Rice has the same superb qualifications that would have made her an exemplary Secretary of State. This is the post that GOP obstructionists worked to ensure that she didn’t get.

The second reason why Rice is the right choice for NSA is that it sends the message that the Obama Administration has not tossed in the towel and capitulated to the GOP’s campaign of bullying, intimidation and vilification of Obama nominees and appointees to cabinet and administration positions.

The GOP sniffed that the Benghazi debacle and Rice’s alleged role in misrepresenting and mishandling it could pay big political dividends. GOP senators then used Rice as a surrogate in part to batter Obama, and in part to paint the administration as incompetent, neglectful and duplicitous on crucial Middle East policy matters.

Rice’s appointment as NSA is bulletproof in the sense that she is not subject to Senate confirmation. However, this doesn’t mean that Rice or Obama is out of the woods completely with her appointment. Arizona Sen. John McCain who, opposed any thought of a Rice nomination for Secretary of State, said he still didn’t agree with the Rice appointment as NSA.

Other GOP senators who were fierce Rice antagonists were more guarded in their comments about her appointment. They were more conciliatory to Rice for one very embarrassing reason and another politically cagey reason.

The embarrassment to the GOP was the smoking gun emails between leading administration officials in the days immediately after the Benghazi attack. The emails proved what the Obama administration had contended all along — Rice had no role in cobbling together the talking points that she used on television talk shows to paint the attack as an anti-U.S. protest and not a planned terrorist attack. The GOP got a lot of mileage out of that falsehood.

But there’s still the political calculation about Rice.

The GOP almost certainly will keep her as their trump card to play each and every time that it wants to tweak, scold or outright assail an alleged stumble by Obama on a Middle East policy issue. It could be a terrorist attack, the Syrian civil war, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Afghan war, the threat of Iran’s nuclear development program and Iraq instability. The aim as always is to taint and discredit Obama’s foreign policy initiatives.

However, this in itself won’t be the distraction that the GOP would like it to be for Obama. He, as have other presidents, has faced some backlash from real or manufactured controversies by opponents over an appointee or nominee. In an exact reverse situation when then-President Bush nominated his NSA Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State, Rice was slammed hard by some Democratic senators for helping sell Bush’s falsehood on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

The threat to delay Rice’s confirmation in the Senate quickly fizzled out, and she was confirmed. This did not distract or dampen Bush in his pursuit of his key initiatives. There was not the slightest inference that nominating Rice — and standing behind her in the face of Democrats grumbles about her — would pose a moral threat to his administration’s larger agenda items.

The political reality is that the legislative business that Congress and the White House must do never has been shut down by any political squabble over a presidential appointee.

Rice will not be Obama’s only appointment in the still early stages of his second term. He will — as all presidents do — see a small revolving door of some cabinet members and agency heads who will leave and must be replaced. There almost certainly will be another Obama pick that will raise some eyebrows and draw inevitable fire from either the GOP or some interests groups.

Like other presidents, Obama will have to weigh carefully the political fallout, if any, from his pick. But as is usually the case, the likelihood of any lasting harm to the administration will be minimal to nonexistent.

It took time, but Rice got the reward that she deserved. As Obama’s eyes and ears on crucial foreign policy matters, and his troubleshooter and adviser on hotspot issues, she will be a key player in the Obama Administration.

This is only fitting for someone who had the right stuff to ably fill the role as the international face of Obama Administration foreign policy decisions if she had gotten the Secretary of State job. It’s an even more fitting rebuke to a GOP that did everything it could to make sure she didn’t.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.