Published December 14, 2012
“Secretary Clinton had originally been asked by networks to go on. She declined to do it.”
-- Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, talking to NBC News.
The Obama Democrats are today furious at the opposition of Republicans that ended the bid of presidential favorite U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But this would be sort of like being upset at the bear that trashed your campsite in search of your food. The bear was just being a bear, like Lindsey Graham and John McCain were just being themselves. Bears like peanut butter and Republican senators like to bedevil controversial Democratic appointees.
The real question is who forgot to seal up the cooler and hang the rest of the chow from a tree branch. Who enticed the bears into camp?
Rice, a friend and confidante of President Obama, gave the answer on Thursday night in an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams. It was Clinton herself that set in motion what would become the shambles of Rice’s once-inevitable march into the top cabinet slot for the second Obama term.
It was a round of Sunday show interviews in the wake of the Sept. 11 raid by Islamist militiamen in Libya that ultimately doomed Rice’s chance to have the top job. Rice, no doubt looking for the chance to burnish her profile on big issues, sallied forth the following Sunday to lay out the administration talking points that the deadly attack was a spontaneous result of riots over a YouTube video offensive to Muslims.
That wasn’t true, as some in the administration already knew. Not only was the attack not spontaneous, but there were no riots. It was a premeditated strike that resulted in a battle that raged off and on for many hours.
Questions have mounted about why security was inadequate despite rising warnings about radicals in the new Islamist state, why the president opted not to mount a rescue mission and the overall wisdom of helping install Islamist governments in the region.
Obama foes have debated whether Rice knowingly misled the public or was simply sticking to the talking points. Was she dissembling or simply repeat what she had been told. This now becomes a matter of no significance because we’ll never really know and Obama looks likely to install his friend as his National Security Adviser, a position that requires no congressional approval.
But whatever led Rice to say what she said, we know that Clinton herself wisely avoided the trap of talking about what she likely knew would end up being a serious foreign policy scandal. Madame Secretary opted to let the woman who was itching to replace her go ahead and take the limelight.
Clinton , who became the clear frontrunner for the 2016 presidential election the day after this year’s election, sidestepped what she knew, or had reason to know, would be a disaster.
Did she disagree with the White House communications strategy of emphasizing the spontaneity of the raid? Not likely since she would herself publicly emphasize the non-existent riots and the video in public remarks.
More likely she knew that she would have difficulty answering the other questions. Her agency had denied requests for additional security despite prior attacks and warnings from the doomed ambassador. She herself likely knew what the president knew, and when he knew it, about the raid and why Obama chose not to send reinforcements to the consulate.
Rice’s rueful explanation about Clinton sidestepping the Sunday shows makes it clear she knows who lured the bears into camp. Rice, a stalwart retainer of the House of Obama, knows that Clinton, the matriarch of the rival Democratic clan, let the ambitious ambassador take the fall. Not only did it shield Clinton but it also helped set up the nomination of her former colleague and ally, Sen. John Kerry.
Having survived the first several rounds of the Benghazi debacle, Clinton faces her final and greatest test: testimony before fuming House Republicans.
Clinton has been summoned to testify on Thursday about the raid, but her spokeswoman says it’s not certain that she will appear. Clinton is no stranger to hostile questioning in testimony and depositions tracing all the way back to her time as first lady of Arkansas, so she is well equipped on how to evade unpleasant questions. “I do not recall,” being a useful phrase.
Although Clinton would not like leave office on that note, neither would she like to leave office being held in contempt of Congress for refusing to appear. The latter may be a more appealing option, though, since she could say her testifying could endanger national security because of partisan attacks, etc.
Clinton can hardly leave her post before a replacement is confirmed, so her goal is to keep the Benghazi business from damaging her valedictory weeks at Foggy Bottom.
It’s a tricky task, but as Rice learned and Obama has been taught again, Clinton is not someone to be underestimated.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“The idea that the readout that this was a ‘frank discussion’ [between Speaker John Boehner and President Obama]: Look, frank is a word they use in diplomacy. When it was used in the cold war -- when Kennedy would meet Khrushchev -- they would announce that the meetings were frank and people would restock the bomb shelters.”
-- Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.