What Does Obama See in Susan Rice?

Susan Rice looks perennially like a deer caught in the headlights.  No matter what her appointed position happens to be in this administration – whether U.S. ambassador to the United Nations or national security advisor – she has assumed the unenviable role of acquiescent apologist, shoved into the spotlight at times of tension to explain this administration's actions and to impugn the motives of anyone who questions them.

Despite her long and sometimes contentious government service, whose negotiating style has been described by some security council diplomats as "rude" and "blunt," Susan Rice appears to be an easy enough supplicant for brow-beating into compliance by her present boss.  She might be compared to the clean-up guy who is handed a shovel and told to use it behind the equestrian unit in a parade.  So why would she agree to do this?

Susan Rice has followed the all too familiar path from Ivy League academic to government careerist, with an occasional respite at a think-tank – in her case, the Brookings Institute, where her mother has long held an important post.  As for the issues of American security, on which she is presumed to be an expert, she started grappling with them as a theoretical scholar on the battlefields of undergraduate term papers and doctoral theses.  Over her years of governmental involvement, Rice has been roundly criticized for some of her decisions, one of which was her insistence throughout the 1990s on America's disengagement from Sudan, preventing our cooperation with Khartoum in sharing its intelligence about Osama bin Laden, who for many years directed his terrorist activities from that country.

Susan Rice has never been elected to political office, but she has held various important posts since the Clinton administration.  Over the surprising objections of the Congressional Black Caucus, who referred to her as part of "Washington's assimilated black elite," Rice was appointed in 1997 as Clinton's assistant secretary of state for African affairs.  She is known to have had a running feud with the late influential Ambassador Richard Holbrook, who viewed her as incompetent.  This assessment, however failed to stymie her appointment as foreign policy advisor in John Kerry's failed presidential campaign.

Rice's public persona did not develop, however, until after the Benghazi cover-up, for which she was the administration's designated spokesperson – or, as some might speculate, scapegoat.  Her subsequent nomination to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was withdrawn in anticipation of an unfavorable outcome.  That did not prevent the president from awarding his faithful crony an important place in his cabinet.

Throughout her career, Susan Rice has held positions of power at the behest of other, more powerful people.  As a result, she has grown beholden to lend a hand to the hand that feeds her.  And so Ms. Rice has become a mouthpiece for Obama in times of crises, albeit lacking any semblance of the eloquence this president is capable of (with the aid of a teleprompter).

Thus it was Susan Rice who dutifully made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to "explain" what happened when four Americans, including our young Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were slaughtered, and our diplomatic compound torched.  Looking somber and sounding rehearsed to the point of ennui, Rice did not hesitate to do what she'd been told: blame it all on a "heinous and offensive" YouTube trailer that riled up Muslims around the world.  In an unrelated comment, she proclaimed that "we've decimated al-Qaeda."

Rice wasn't very convincing then, and she isn't now in her latest bid to justify Obama's displeasure with Benjamin Netanyahu for the latter's recent visit to D.C. to address Congress.  But Susan's rhetoric hardly smacked of the same punch as did Nancy Pelosi's body language earlier on the floor of Congress, scowling at Bibi and then actually turning her back on him while others applauded.  Nor was Rice's after-the-fact presence as telling as the absence of many Democrat congressmen, whose loyalties would appear to lie with the partisan protection of their president rather than with protecting of the principle of free speech.

Contrast this with the Obama administration's encouragement, say, of illegal immigrants to freely rally and shout objections outside the Supreme Court when a crucial decision is under consideration.  Would that not tend to undermine deliberations?  So why, then, is it a breach of etiquette for the sitting prime minister of Israel – a country most in the crosshairs of Iran's nuclear ambitions – to speak to the American people?  The answer is that it might jeopardize a pending "accord" with Iran much desired to assure Obama's faltering legacy.  The victims of the Holocaust must be turning over in their graves.

But if Netanyahu was effective in using the power of the podium, Susan Rice seems incapable of doing the same.  Her problem may be that she cannot communicate with anyone other than her diplomatic buddies.  She comes before us only to make obscure statements, such as the presumption that a possible Iranian nuclear bomb is not as "existential" as other threats, whatever that means.

Now, once again as this administration's messenger of choice, Rice has climbed onto her platitudinous high horse, this time to pontificate that Bibi's appearance before Congress is "destructive of the fabric of the relationship" and is "injected with a degree of partisanship."  Through all of these meaningless metaphors, her delivery falls flat, just as in defying direct eye contact, her eyes fall at inappropriate times to her carefully crafted notes.  Perhaps she has forgotten that her audience consists of the citizens of the United States, not of attendees at some highbrow conference.

Surely one might expect an administrative spokesperson to deliver talking points in terms that Americans understand and with a sense of enthusiasm worthy of our right to be informed.  If the great orator in the White House cannot take time off from his "green agenda" (i.e., golfing) to forcefully and lucidly explain his Iranian policies to the American people, at least he should tap for the assignment somebody less lacking in passion, confidence, and even grace.

There are plenty of speech coaches within the Beltway.  And Susan Rice's husband, ABC news executive producer Ian Cameron, must know of others who could bring his wife up to snuff.  Still, I rather suspect that Susan Rice has no inkling as to her deficiencies as a communicator, surrounded as she is by those who wouldn't know and likely wouldn't care.

A career political servant like Rice is no threat to her narcissistic boss.  Still, as a public persuader, she has hardly served him well.  Even if President Obama does not deserve better, the American people do.

Susan Rice looks perennially like a deer caught in the headlights.  No matter what her appointed position happens to be in this administration – whether U.S. ambassador to the United Nations or national security advisor – she has assumed the unenviable role of acquiescent apologist, shoved into the spotlight at times of tension to explain this administration's actions and to impugn the motives of anyone who questions them.

Despite her long and sometimes contentious government service, whose negotiating style has been described by some security council diplomats as "rude" and "blunt," Susan Rice appears to be an easy enough supplicant for brow-beating into compliance by her present boss.  She might be compared to the clean-up guy who is handed a shovel and told to use it behind the equestrian unit in a parade.  So why would she agree to do this?

Susan Rice has followed the all too familiar path from Ivy League academic to government careerist, with an occasional respite at a think-tank – in her case, the Brookings Institute, where her mother has long held an important post.  As for the issues of American security, on which she is presumed to be an expert, she started grappling with them as a theoretical scholar on the battlefields of undergraduate term papers and doctoral theses.  Over her years of governmental involvement, Rice has been roundly criticized for some of her decisions, one of which was her insistence throughout the 1990s on America's disengagement from Sudan, preventing our cooperation with Khartoum in sharing its intelligence about Osama bin Laden, who for many years directed his terrorist activities from that country.

Susan Rice has never been elected to political office, but she has held various important posts since the Clinton administration.  Over the surprising objections of the Congressional Black Caucus, who referred to her as part of "Washington's assimilated black elite," Rice was appointed in 1997 as Clinton's assistant secretary of state for African affairs.  She is known to have had a running feud with the late influential Ambassador Richard Holbrook, who viewed her as incompetent.  This assessment, however failed to stymie her appointment as foreign policy advisor in John Kerry's failed presidential campaign.

Rice's public persona did not develop, however, until after the Benghazi cover-up, for which she was the administration's designated spokesperson – or, as some might speculate, scapegoat.  Her subsequent nomination to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state was withdrawn in anticipation of an unfavorable outcome.  That did not prevent the president from awarding his faithful crony an important place in his cabinet.

Throughout her career, Susan Rice has held positions of power at the behest of other, more powerful people.  As a result, she has grown beholden to lend a hand to the hand that feeds her.  And so Ms. Rice has become a mouthpiece for Obama in times of crises, albeit lacking any semblance of the eloquence this president is capable of (with the aid of a teleprompter).

Thus it was Susan Rice who dutifully made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to "explain" what happened when four Americans, including our young Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were slaughtered, and our diplomatic compound torched.  Looking somber and sounding rehearsed to the point of ennui, Rice did not hesitate to do what she'd been told: blame it all on a "heinous and offensive" YouTube trailer that riled up Muslims around the world.  In an unrelated comment, she proclaimed that "we've decimated al-Qaeda."

Rice wasn't very convincing then, and she isn't now in her latest bid to justify Obama's displeasure with Benjamin Netanyahu for the latter's recent visit to D.C. to address Congress.  But Susan's rhetoric hardly smacked of the same punch as did Nancy Pelosi's body language earlier on the floor of Congress, scowling at Bibi and then actually turning her back on him while others applauded.  Nor was Rice's after-the-fact presence as telling as the absence of many Democrat congressmen, whose loyalties would appear to lie with the partisan protection of their president rather than with protecting of the principle of free speech.

Contrast this with the Obama administration's encouragement, say, of illegal immigrants to freely rally and shout objections outside the Supreme Court when a crucial decision is under consideration.  Would that not tend to undermine deliberations?  So why, then, is it a breach of etiquette for the sitting prime minister of Israel – a country most in the crosshairs of Iran's nuclear ambitions – to speak to the American people?  The answer is that it might jeopardize a pending "accord" with Iran much desired to assure Obama's faltering legacy.  The victims of the Holocaust must be turning over in their graves.

But if Netanyahu was effective in using the power of the podium, Susan Rice seems incapable of doing the same.  Her problem may be that she cannot communicate with anyone other than her diplomatic buddies.  She comes before us only to make obscure statements, such as the presumption that a possible Iranian nuclear bomb is not as "existential" as other threats, whatever that means.

Now, once again as this administration's messenger of choice, Rice has climbed onto her platitudinous high horse, this time to pontificate that Bibi's appearance before Congress is "destructive of the fabric of the relationship" and is "injected with a degree of partisanship."  Through all of these meaningless metaphors, her delivery falls flat, just as in defying direct eye contact, her eyes fall at inappropriate times to her carefully crafted notes.  Perhaps she has forgotten that her audience consists of the citizens of the United States, not of attendees at some highbrow conference.

Surely one might expect an administrative spokesperson to deliver talking points in terms that Americans understand and with a sense of enthusiasm worthy of our right to be informed.  If the great orator in the White House cannot take time off from his "green agenda" (i.e., golfing) to forcefully and lucidly explain his Iranian policies to the American people, at least he should tap for the assignment somebody less lacking in passion, confidence, and even grace.

There are plenty of speech coaches within the Beltway.  And Susan Rice's husband, ABC news executive producer Ian Cameron, must know of others who could bring his wife up to snuff.  Still, I rather suspect that Susan Rice has no inkling as to her deficiencies as a communicator, surrounded as she is by those who wouldn't know and likely wouldn't care.

A career political servant like Rice is no threat to her narcissistic boss.  Still, as a public persuader, she has hardly served him well.  Even if President Obama does not deserve better, the American people do.