Are the Republican senators unreasonable? Or is the secretary of state-manqué undiplomatic? Did the senators sandbag Susan Rice? Or did Rice further inflame a tense situation? Is it a case of shooting the messenger and playing politics? Or is national security dangerously infected with politics?
It seems as if it would have been simple enough for Rice to quickly admit that the administration talking points she used on the Sept. 16 Sunday shows about the slaughter in Benghazi were misleading. But she went silent. She has no wartime consigliere and, aside from the president's angry postelection defense of Rice, the White House -- perhaps relieved that she was taking the heat rather than the president -- wasn't running a strong damage control operation that clarified matters.
Still, on last Sunday's talk shows, John McCain and Lindsey Graham softened their tone a bit. "She's not the problem," McCain said. "The problem is the president of the United States," for failing to swiftly tell Americans what his intelligence agencies had confirmed: that Benghazi was a terrorist attack involving Al Qaeda affiliates.
When Rice asked to come to the Hill to meet with some of her Republican critics, it seemed détente was nigh. But somehow the hour-and-a-half powwow caused an escalation, with McCain, Graham and Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire emerging to say they had more reservations than before. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who's scheduled to meet with Rice on Wednesday, suggested that she would be better suited to run the Democratic National Committee than State. If Rice can't soothe the egos of some cranky G.O.P. pols, how would she negotiate with China?
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the soft-spoken ranking member on the homeland security committee, hasn't been part of this shrill debate. Though they had met only once or twice, Collins agreed to introduce Rice to the Foreign Relations Committee in 2009 when Rice was nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Rice's grandparents immigrated from Jamaica to Portland, Maine.
"I don't bear any animus to her at all," the senator said. "In fact, to the contrary."
But she said she is "troubled" by Rice's role. "If I wanted to be secretary of state," Collins observed, "I would not go on television and perform what was essentially a political role."
Collins drew up a list of questions to ask Rice at their one-on-one hourlong meeting slated for Wednesday. She wants Rice to explain how she could promote a story "with such certitude" about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video that was so at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access. (It was also at odds with common sense, given that there were Al Qaeda sympathizers among the rebel army members that overthrew Muammar el-Qaddafi with help from the U.S. -- an intervention advocated by Rice -- and Islamic extremist training camps in the Benghazi area.)
Source: The New York Times