Susan Rice battles for career, against critics as abrasive style has impact
By Louis Charbonneau and Susan Cornwell ,ReutersUNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON -- Susan Rice has had a series of diplomatic triumphs as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. President Barack Obama, an old friend, showed he has her back when last week he publicly challenged her Republican critics over the Benghazi controversy to “go after me” rather than her. She knew former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright from the age of 4.
November 25, 2012, 12:16 am TWN
And yet Rice is now fighting for her political future. Her chances of becoming the next secretary of state — replacing Hillary Clinton — have been significantly damaged.
Senior Republicans, such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have said they will oppose her getting the job, signaling a confirmation battle if Obama decides to nominate her. Some critics in the U.S. media, such as Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, have said she is unsuitable for the position.
The immediate source of a lot of the criticism is her appearances on Sunday morning television shows in September five days after the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans had been killed in Benghazi.
Her critics bitterly complain that she misled the American public by suggesting that the assault was the result of a spontaneous protest rather than an organized assault by affiliates of al-Qaida. During the U.S. presidential campaign, supporters of Republican candidate Mitt Romney seized on the issue to attack Obama.
The antipathy in Washington and elsewhere, though, is based on more than a series of TV interviews. While U.N. diplomats and U.S. officials who have dealt with Rice praise the intellect of the 48-year-old former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Stanford and Oxford, they say she has won few popularity contests during her meteoric rise.
Diplomats on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council privately complain of Rice's aggressive negotiating tactics, describing her with terms like “undiplomatic” and “sometimes rather rude.” They attributed some blunt language to Rice — “this is crap,” “let's kill this” or “this is bullshit.”
“She's got a sort of a cowboy-ish attitude,” one Western diplomat said. “She has a tendency to treat other countries as mere (U.S.) subsidiaries.”
Two other diplomats — all three were male — supported this view.
“She's not easy,” said David Rothkopf, the top manager and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine. “I'm not sure I'd want to take her on a picnic with my family, but if the president wants her to be secretary of state, she'll work hard.”
Indeed, along with a “no-nonsense” style, Rice has the most important ingredient for a successful secretary of state — a close relationship with the U.S. president, Rothkopf said.