Even before Barack Obama's second inauguration, the impending retirement of Hilary Clinton is providing Republicans with their first opportunity to challenge the President. It appears to be no secret that the shortlist of candidates the President is considering for his next Secretary of State includes John Kerry and Susan Rice.
Can the President really be serious in nominating Rice? Her cockeyed explanation of the Benghazi attack that cost the lives of four Americans has made her a prime target for Republicans and even moderate Democrats who do not always put their party ahead of the nation's interest. My friends and loyal readers may remember that from the beginning I mocked the story of a spontaneous uprising sparked by a poorly made film.
Rice was suspiciously cautious in stating that her conclusions were based on 'the currently available information.' Her defenders cite this as an example of prudence and sincerity, but for the most part her version has not been backed up by US intelligence sources. Although it might be rash, today, to describe her explanation as a lie, Dr. Johnson would have used the word without hesitation. What else is when someone pretends to have knowledge or speaks with assumed authority, when there is no basis for his (or her) knowledge or expertise. When Al Gore speaks as a climatologist, Hilary Clinton as a foreign affairs expert, or Newt Gingrich as a conservative guru, they are liars in this sense.
If I were writing a political novel, I would tell the story as a clever feint on the President's part: He pretends to be offering the completely unacceptable Rice, while actually preparing the way for John Kerry. There are many reasons for Senate Republicans to reject Kerry, but confronted with Rice, they are all ready to breathe a sigh of relief if the President actually taps the Vietnam veteran who accused his comrades-in-arms of war crimes.
If such speculation is entirely fanciful, then we are left having to explain why this administration would even consider Rice as a possibility. She is, it is true, a reliable leftist with all the right credentials, and she is almost as shrill as Madame Clinton in denouncing any regime or leader who does not bear the seal of approval of the Brookings Foundation and The New York Times. She was among the first to declare that Gadafi just had to go, no matter what the consequences.
But shrill rhetoric and irrational hysteria are not the only qualifications for senior positions in American diplomacy and security. If we look over some of the more distinguished Secretaries of State and National Security Advisors, we can detect a pattern of sorts.
There are the bland diplomatic types who walk softly and carry a big stick: John Foster Dulles, Brent Scowcroft, and even - though I might shock conservatives - the suave Dean Acheson. But in more recent years, we have seen scolds and bullies with special axes to grind: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Madeline Albright, Hilary Clinton.
Brzezinski, who advised the Carter administration to get involved in Afghanistan, declared in an interview with Der Spiegel that he did not regret any negative consequences because nothing that went on in that part of the world was comparable to the freedom of Eastern Europe. In other words, he admitted putting Polish interests ahead of those of the US.
Albright, born in Czechoslovakia, spent several years in Yugoslavia before Tito's takeover forced her family to flee. Her background and experiences may well explain the aggressive stance she took in promoting the US bombing of Serbian cities.
Hilary Clinton was, of course, born in the United States, but she is a tireless advocate of women's rights and has, at times, justified US military intervention in Iraq on the grounds that we were liberating women. It does not appear to occur to Clinton, that our invasions and our support for 'Arab Spring' have contributed to the Islamization that will have exactly the opposite effect.
Susan Rice fits the Brzezinski/Clinton model perfectly. As an African-American she has understandably taken a strong interest in African affairs. Her dissertation was titled 'Commonwealth Initiative in Zimbabwe, 1979-1980: Implication for International Peacekeeping.' I have not read this fascinating work, but it is an interesting topic. In 1979-80, the Commonwealth (actually the UK) helped to overthrow the existing regime in Rhodesia and brokered a fragile constitutional compromise whose end result was the brutal dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, which endures to this day. Bravo, well done!
Rice has devoted much of her subsequent career to African issues and peacekeeping missions (naturally the two interests often coincide). In supporting the multi-national mission to overthrow the disgusting Mobutu, Rice allegedly said, 'Anything is better than Mobutu.' Such a remark, if she made it, displays the naive lack of imagination that is always rewarded in Washington.
Like any sane conservative, I am opposed to Rice's nomination, if only because of her unconvincing theatrical performances in the wake of the Benghazi disaster. But I also object to the nomination of one more special interests diplomat.
Yes, it is difficult and perhaps impossible to sort through one's loyalties and even to make the attempt of working objectively for the American national interest. Some US diplomats, however, have made the effort. I don't think Colin Powell was terribly effective either as National Security Advisor or as Secretary of State, but, whatever he might have felt personally, he did not take a special interest in Jamaican affairs or presume to speak out for Africans everywhere.
As the proverbial nation of immigrants, the United States has been vulnerable, from the beginning, to ethnic politics. Big cities like Chicago and New York were ruled by political machines that employed ethnic wardheelers--German, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish--to get out the vote. In return, the ethnics expected something for themselves and something for their community. By and large, the system worked better than many progressive alternatives.
Local warheeling is inevitable in a diverse country, but it also permeates US foreign policy. As Woodrow Wilson contemplated American entrance into WW I, he had to take into account the strong opposition of German (including German-Jewish) and Irish Americans and the strong support of Anglo-Americans and East European Jews. According to one academic thesis, the Poles tipped the scales in favor of intervention.
Even in George Washington's administrations, the President could see that the Jeffersonians, nursing their understandable grudge against Britain, were too inclined to support the French, just as Hamilton and many Federalists were too eager to make it up with England. He wisely warned against the baneful effects of entangling alliances. What no one could have foreseen, however, was that US foreign policy would one day be held hostage to every kind of minority interest: feminists and homosexualists, capitalists and Marxists, environmentalists, and the thousand and one ethnic and religious minorities that make it virtually impossible for Americans to have a sense of the common good.
It used to be said that politics stops at the water's edge. This did not mean that politicians in going abroad were not to air their opinions about US policies but that political leaders, in debating and implementing foreign policy, had to seek a common ground and form a united front in the nation's interest. The current Secretary of State, however, has behaved like a scolding schoolmarm on the world's stage. With Susan Rice, we can expect more of the same.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.