Susan Rice and the 'judgment' question
Susan Rice is certainly capable and tough. One person who has spent a lot of time with Rice is struck by her “bristling certitude.” A former U.S. ambassador told me, “Rice does not know how to be unblunt.” But it is her judgment at critical moments — as displayed on whether to reopen the Sudan embassy or in her handling of the talking points on the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans — that troubles me. - Roger Cohen, NYTimes [Emphasis supplied.]
The B words and Susan Rice are becoming more and more commonplace. In a remarkable column in the New York Times, for the first time that I can remember, Roger Cohen expressed concern about "bristling certitude" and "bluntness." His concern is regarding the supposed "bristling certitude" and "bluntness" of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. But what, to use Susan Collins' favorite word, "troubles" him, or so he writes, is Rice's judgment. Oh really? I did a quick Google search and the closest thing I find from Cohen on the CONDOLEEZZA Rice judgment issue was this:
Condoleezza Rice, the new secretary of state, explaining last month what will guide her policy: "The world should apply what Natan Sharansky calls 'the town square test': if a person cannot walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm, then that person is living in a fear society, not a free society. We cannot rest until every person living in a fear society has finally won their freedom. [...]
Mr. Sharansky might also have taken Abu Ghraib as an illustration of what can happen when a society becomes too certain of its mission, too giddy with its might, too negligent of constitutional safeguards of liberty and too blind to the humanity of people from another culture. Moral clarity in the name of freedom is one thing. But the slogan of freedom masquerading as moral clarity is quite another.
Yeah, I don't know what that means either. I do know that Roger Cohen's "judgment" was largely as flawed as that of Condoleezza Rice for most of the past decade. So when I read him questioning anyone's judgment, I am initially skeptical. Nonetheless, I think addressing the substance, such as it is, of Cohen's "troubles" is worth attempting.
Cohen writes that "[Rice's] handling of the talking points on the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya [...]" trouble him. He does not explain what troubles him about this. Was it Rice's adherence to the intelligence agencies' prepared talking points? Cohen would have preferred she go off script? Perhaps reveal some classified information as Republicans in the House have done? Cohen's argument for being troubled about Rice and the Benghazi talking points is, in a word, nonsense.
So what of the judgment in 1997 (yes, 15 years ago), where Rice disagreed with Thomas Pickering? What is troubling about that? I'm not sure as Cohen does not explain what is so troubling. It is ironic though that Cohen would mention Rice's siding with the CIA's security concerns about reopening the U.S. embassy in Khartoum in 1997 when all the criticisms about the Benghazi tragedy are rooted in the alleged ignoring of CIA security concerns in Benghazi. Someone alert Susan Collins, who evoked the African embassy security concerns of the 1990s when explaining her "troubles" about Susan Rice. It turns out Susan Rice was on your side on that, Susan Collins.
But do the facts really matter? How does Cohen determine that Pickering was the person imbued with the right "judgment" on the matter (other than the fact that Pickering is a white man and Rice is a black woman)?
Here are some facts: In September 1997, the U.S. embassy in Khartoum was reopened. Last I looked, Sudan did not become a peace-loving nation of goodwill after this. And to the point of embassy security, while the Khartoum embassy was not targetted in the 1998 African embassy attacks, Sudan was where the planning took place.
I'm not sure that the record supports the argument Cohen forwards here. I think, in hindsight, the case is strong that it was Susan Rice who got it right in 1997, not Thomas Pickering. However, I'm not prepared to be "troubled" by Pickering's judgment on this.
One final thought—in February 2008, Cohen critiqued then-presidential candidate Barack Obama thusly:
In an eloquent column, [Leon Weistelier] argued that “We are heading into an era of conflict.” From Waziristan to Gaza City the world of the next U.S. president will be one of foreboding. The threats, he suggested, were of a nature a neophyte senator called Barack Obama, who’s long on hope and short on hardness, is ill-prepared to confront.
I share the concern that the feel-good conciliation propelling the Obama bandwagon is light on fierceness. Change is great but constancy can be greater, especially when the threat is mortal. Readiness to talk to everyone, enemy dictators included, does not a foreign policy make. [Emphasis supplied.]
Apparently, there was a time when "hardness" and "fierceness" were qualities Cohen admired. Not sure why he sees "bristling certitiude" and "bluntness" from Rice now in a different light.
Maybe something to do with B words? Just asking.
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