[James Bruno was a Foreign Service officer for 23 years, having worked previously in military intelligence and journalism. He is a member of the Diplomatic Readiness Reserve, subject to worldwide duty on short notice. He holds a M.A. degrees from the U.S. Naval War College & Columbia University, and a B.A from George Washington U. He has served in SE Asia, Cuba, Guantanamo, Pakistan/Afghanistan. He also spent time at the White House and have worked with the Secret Service in a presidential protection detail overseas. He knows the Pentagon, CIA and other foreign affairs agencies well. He have been featured on NBC's Today Show, Washington Post, Huffington Post & NPR. His political thrillers Permanent Interests and Chasme have simultaneously been on three Amazon Kindle Bestseller lists, including #1 in Political Fiction. His recently released Afghanistan thriller, Tribe, is also a bestseller. Here is what he has to say about Susan Rice.]
The Problem With Susan Rice and Manufactured Outrage
“We are significantly troubled by many of the answers that we got, and some that we didn’t get, concerning evidence that was overwhelming leading up to the attack on our consulate,” Senator John McCain told reporters following an hour-and-a-half meeting with Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN and reputed Obama favorite to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.
Troubled by what answers exactly? Whether the lethal attack on Consulate Benghazi was sparked by a mob enraged over an anti-Islamic film, or by an organized terrorist action? Who had removed a talking point during an interagency clearance process?
Here’s some insight on how the process works from a former insider who’d written, revised and cleared thousands of such talking point papers over the years:
An event happens. The bosses instruct working level staff to draft talking points that all designated officials would use when presenting Washington’s views to the world, be they the Secretary of State or ambassadors or lowly junior diplomats. The draft talking points are then circulated to relevant offices and agencies for their input in an often onerous exercise called the “clearance process.” Once all concerned have had a crack at the document, it is finalized and usually sent out in cable format to all diplomatic posts, with instructions to brief host governments and, if asked, interested news reporters.
So, in the case of the Benghazi consulate attack, if usual procedures were followed, the CIA would have put together an analysis based on the best information it had at the time. This analysis would have been further distilled into easy-to-digest points, cleared by the DNI, and quickly dispatched to the White House, State Department and other agencies. State officers would then have put the points into a cable to all embassies. The White House apparently then designated, for whatever reason, Amb. Rice to take the lead in presenting the points to major national media outlets — notably the Sunday morning news shows. Rice dutifully delivered the approved points, careful not to deviate from her instructions. The same drill normally would be followed by our diplomats overseas. Everyone reading from the same sheet of music.
Susan Rice was not in Libya at the time of the attack. Nor is she an expert on that country. Nor does she have direct responsibilities for managing Libya or North Africa in the U.S. government, for that matter. She was merely the messenger of the official line at a particular point in time, before the dust had settled on an event still shrouded in the fog of war. So, why are Republican senators making a humongous stink over Susan Rice and Benghazi? Essentially, two reasons:
- Political: the Republicans’ drubbing in the recent election is still raw. Furthermore, they seem incapable of climbing down from knee-jerk attack mode against Pres. Obama and remain blind to opinion polls showing that Americans want an end to gridlock in Washington in favor of constructive engagement to solve the problems facing the country. Further add a personal grudge by McCain against Obama since he was defeated by the latter in the 2008 election.
- Personal: Susan Rice is probably the most undiplomatic senior U.S. diplomat in many years. Frequently referred to as the proverbial “bull in a china shop,” Ms. Rice has gone out of her way to offend just about everyone who has crossed paths with her, not excluding members of Congress. UN diplomats report that Ms. Rice throws around earthy expletives like “this is crap,” “let’s kill this” or “this is bullshit” in her dealings with them. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank reports that her public put-downs of Hillary Clinton and Sen. McCain during the 2008 election deeply offended them. He further reports, “she appalled colleagues by flipping her middle finger at Richard Holbrooke during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department, according to witnesses. Colleagues talk of shouting matches and insults.” European and Russian officials differ on many matters, but seem united in their distaste of the imperious Susan Rice.
It is clear Republicans are scapegoating Ms. Rice for the Benghazi affair. She is America’s Colonel Dreyfus, the French army officer falsely convicted of passing secrets to the Germans and sent to Devil’s Island. All this business about a film vs terrorists as a catalyst for the attack, and “who changed a talking point” is mere manufactured outrage, a subterfuge to conceal personal animus toward an unlikable UN ambassador and continued political jihad against a president whom they despise. Ex-Navy pilot McCain and former Air Force JAG lawyer Lindsey Graham, hardly doofuses when it comes to foreign policy, clearly know better and are acting disingenuously. Underscoring their motives is McCain’s and other Republican senators’ stated intention of letting fellow Senator John Kerry breeze through the confirmation process should the president nominate him as Secretary of State. If the administration wants to throw a life line to Susan Rice, it should release the unclassified instruction containing the controversial talking points.
The truly sad thing about this whole sorry affair is the disrespect being shown to the four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, who were killed in Benghazi. White House press secretary Jay Carney was spot on in stating, “The questions that remain to be answered have to do with what happened in Benghazi, who was responsible for the deaths of four Americans, including our ambassador, and what steps we need to take to ensure that something like that doesn’t happen again.”