06/05/2013 05:50 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

National Security Advisor Susan Rice: Good Idea or Bad Idea?


Well, there aren't many more embarrassing episodes in the history of the Obama Administration than UN Ambassador Susan Rice's fateful Sunday chat show tour last September. Her spin patrol on the Benhgazi disaster was simply spectacular. As in spectacularly wrong. So promoting her to national security advisor is a ridiculous idea, right?


President Barack Obama, in a not unexpected move, announced Wednesday that Rice will replace Tom Donilon as the national security advisor. And that former National Security Council aide Samantha Power, a noted journalist and human rights advocate, will replace Rice as the UN ambassador.

The appointment of Rice does not require Senate confirmation. Which is just as well. Hahah.

In her fateful round of appearances last fall, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice declared on CBS that "all sorts of evidence" indicated the deadly attack in Benghazi "began spontaneously" and was not pre-planned. This, of course, was wildly wrong, as was apparent at the time. President Barack Obama named Rice today as the new national security advisor.

Power's appointment will require Senate confirmation. As she was a big advocate, on her trademark human rights grounds, of the limited U.S. intervention in Libya, expect the umpteenth revisiting of the Benghazi disaster. Not that all this controversy centering on the much-adjusted "talking points" used by Rice has shed all that much light on what went wrong, and, more importantly, why.

Meanwhile, Rice is the new national security advisor.

It's a good choice for a number of reasons, not the least of which is precisely that she was so wrong on those shows. Which may seem, let's say, counter-intuitive.

When a very intelligent person, and there's no question about that with regard to Rice (a former national merit scholar and Rhodes Scholar), makes a mistake that big and that public, the likelihood of learning from it is pretty high.

Then there is the fact that Rice herself had nothing to do with what happened in Benghazi. She just went on TV, as a loyal friend and longtime backer of Obama, to spin things up.

As it happens, it was something of an exercise in hack politics and dumb PR. A collective exercise, with Rice as its articulate voice. Delivering spin that was already past its sell-by date -- spin devised by a host of others, from the intelligence community to the White House -- was simply incredibly short-sighted and bad politics. And it may well have cost her the post of secretary of state. Rice would have to be an idiot, which she decidedly is not, to repeat the exercise in the future.

As I wrote last month, the spin, which was obviously wrong from the beginning, had already fallen apart by the time Rice made her notorious round of appearances on the Sunday chat shows. That is why Rice embarrassingly contradicted the Libyan leader on one of the shows.

And as I wrote at the time last September, Obama was just plain fortunate that Mitt Romney so mishandled the Benghazi disaster from the start, foolishly charging Obama with "apologizing" to the real protesters -- against the hate-Islam video that later sparked something of a global riot -- who stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo earlier on the anniversary of 9/11.

Instead of getting more accurate between the time of the Benghazi disaster and the time of Rice's chat show appearances, the spin got increasingly wrong as the process went on, even as reality, reflected by news reports and the consistent statements of the Libyan government, was becoming ever clearer. Which reads to me like the manifestation of a tunnel-visioned view of politics in which the Obama-promised and achieved defeat of Al Qaeda Prime, as distinguished from the undefeated intellectual virus of jihadism, couldn't be enough for a public which is actually probably aware that we live in a complex and imperfect world.

There is, of course, another, more malign view of this. (Besides the view in which what Rice said was just hunky-dory.)

Many persist in seeing a massive conspiracy, of which the disastrous spin about the Benghazi disaster was merely the tip of the iceberg. This is the hyper-conspiracist viewpoint in which Obama -- whose drone strike kill program has relentlessly eliminated so many Muslim radicals, and some unfortunate enough to be in their vicinity, as to ignite a backlash -- is actually a "Manchurian Candidate" sort of left-wing closet Islamist appeaser of the global jihadist conspiracy. Of course, as I wrote in October 2008, that viewpoint has been around for awhile.

Enough said about that feverish, ah, thinking.

Now Rice has the post for which she may well be best suited. I remember watching her speech to the UN last fall on the controversy over the Palestinians upgrading their diplomatic status to that of a "non-member state." She seemed quite harsh and, well, undiplomatic in speaking against the Palestinian move.

Indeed, her reputation is not that of being at all diplomatic. I'm told she's a political fighter -- which certainly proved to be the case in her surrogate appearances in the 2008 presidential campaign against both Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- not to mention someone who does not suffer fools gladly.

As national security advisor, she doesn't have to be a natural diplomat with a gift of politesse. She has to be smart, analytical, articulate, and hard-working. And she has to have the confidence of the president. Which she clearly does.

It is, after all, Obama's White House staff. Now Rice is there, at a critical time for Obama and the country, with America in the midst of a complex geopolitical pivot from its fateful over-involvement in the Islamic world of the Middle East and Central Asia to increased engagement with the rising Asia-Pacific. (An archive of pieces related to the Pivot.)

It's going to be very interesting to see what she does.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

William Bradley Huffington Post Archive