As President, Mr. Obama has every right to appoint whomever he chooses as his national security adviser. It is an appointment that does not require Congressional approval. Nevertheless, his choice of Susan Rice, while being characterized as being “bold” by some was in fact a cynical slap in the face of the American people. Ms. Rice is not the only appointment to merit that response. Peter Baker, writing in Thursday’s New York Times , noted that Ms. Rice’s appointment “underscored the newly assertive approach he [Mr. Obama] has taken to appointments ever since he abandoned a potential cabinet appointee named Susan E. Rice.” Ed Rogers, a former aide to Reagan and the elder Bush tweeted: “There’s a lot of taunting, a lot of in-your-face. To me, he is throwing in the towel on governing, and it’s just going to be about his grievances. I don’t get it.” Incredibly, at least to me, Mr. Obama also nominated Victoria Nuland, who helped edit the (deliberately misleading) Benghazi talking points, as an assistant secretary of state. Despite known Republican Congressional opposition, Mr. Obama has renominated Richard Corday, the former Ohio Attorney General, as head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. He had been appointed in January by Executive Order, and the President is now seeking Senate confirmation.
Presidents often surround themselves with those with whom they feel closest. That tendency is true of most insecure people. It indicates a lack of self-confidence. Doris Kearns Goodwin titled her 2005 book about Lincoln, Team of Rivals , because the term did in fact define Mr. Lincoln’s cabinet. Lincoln knew that in spirited debate answers could be found. It was the premise offered by Mr. Obama when he took office a little more than four years ago. But instead, the President has created a stable of sycophants. And, as scandals proliferate and his polls worsen, he increasingly draws upon his Administration’s adulators. Dana Milbank, Washington Post columnist put it this way last week: “The man who boasted about creating a ‘team of rivals’ in his first term has been circling the wagons so tightly that people are bound to get motion sickness.”
There are, of course, those that support Ms. Rice. James Rubin, a former diplomat in the Clinton years and now an editor of Bloomberg News glosses over the appointment as probably not making much of a difference – that policy decisions have already been decided upon. That may be true if nothing changes, but how confident can we be with Syria in flames, North Korea flexing its nuclear muscles, Iran almost certainly being in possession of nuclear weapons before 2016 and East Asia looking more and more like a tinder box? The Financial Times , in an editorial, wrote, “Her appointment offers grounds for hope and caution.” They praised her for instinctively being more “interventionist” than her predecessor, “notably on humanitarian grounds.” They did, however, acknowledge her reputation for being “abrasive and uncollegiate.” The Middletown Press , a local paper in southeastern Connecticut, was the most supportive of the editorials I read, suggesting, in a statement I found incredulous in its misrepresentation of the facts, that she should have been confirmed as Secretary of State were it not for an “irresponsible Republican campaign accusing her of dissembling about the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.”
The Wall Street Journal , in an editorial criticizing Ms. Rice’s appointment, noted that she shares Mr. Obama’s view that “the U.S. is no longer the world’s ‘indisputable nation,’ (as Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright once put it).” Investor’s Business Daily questioned her “integrity.” Ralph Peters, in the New York Post questioned her competence, while pointing out that, as a close personal friend of Mr. Obama, she could become the most influential national security adviser since Henry Kissinger served in that capacity for Richard Nixon during the years 1969-1973. Certainly, Kissinger’s influence and intellect eclipsed that of then Secretary of State, William Rogers.
But the real reason for objection to her appointment is that she is a liar. Ms. Rice may be very bright, but the Benghazi killings showed her to be a willing accomplice in elevating political expediency above the truth. Euphemisms, such as dissembling, prevaricating or “not strictly adhering to the truth,” don’t do justice to a woman who went on national television five days after the Islamic extremists’ attack on our mission in Benghazi and laid blame for the attacks on a video. As a quote-unquote sophisticated society, we take cover behind polite sounding euphemisms, but we should never be fearful of using good old Anglo Saxon words where the apply. Ms. Rice may have been reciting the “talking points,” but she had to have known that they were wrong. Like the Fort Hood shootings in November 2009 by self-confessed al Qaeda terrorist Major Nidal Malik Hasan (still, incredulously, characterized by the Administration as “workplace violence”), Benghazi was proof that we are not immune from attack by militant Islamic fundamentalists, despites repetitive statements from the President that Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is in retreat. The attack in Benghazi simply did not accord with the script.
With government’s ease and frequency in listening to our calls, reading our e-mails and tracking our movements, trust in leadership becomes more critical. [Consider the case of Edward Snowden.] Such knowledge garnered may be important to officials in thwarting terrorism, but there is a fine line between necessary spying on real or perceived terrorists and harassment of one’s political enemies. Accountability and responsibility fall more heavily on those in charge. Cyber security was first on the agenda when President Obama met China’s President Xi Jinping last weekend at the Annenberg Retreat in California, but cyber security at home is equally important. As each day advances, technology makes simpler the ability to intercept and interpret what is being sent or said by and to whom. Installing a person like Ms. Rice, who knowingly misled the American people, as national security adviser does little to advance confidence and trust in government.
Despite a spate of scandals, the President’s poll numbers remain surprisingly high; though they have been slipping in recent weeks. The latest Rasmussen Poll found that, while 51% of voters approve of the President’s performance and 49% disapprove, only 27% strongly approve, while 36% strongly disapprove, giving him a Presidential Approval Index ranking of negative 9. A new Economist/YouGov poll showed that difference to be negative 15. As scandals have escalated and his approval ratings have fallen, Mr. Obama’s bravado has increased. Relations with our allies have become more tenuous, while our enemies have become more emboldened. The economy is still sputtering, but there have been no cutbacks on Presidential vacations or golf outings. While loyalty and personal friendships are to be admired, offering Ms. Rice so prominent a job serves as a vindication that lying is okay, at least when it is done in the interests of politics. “Patriotism,” claimed Samuel Johnson, “is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Defiance, it seems to me, is the reaction of a President who has lost his way.
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“The thought of the day” by Sydney Williams