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President Obama should — and apparently would — welcome a fight with the GOP over Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. The suggestion from some that the president should avoid expending political capital on this issue ignores the possibility that such a fight would galvanize support for Obama among progressives, creating goodwill he might need heading in to the “fiscal cliff” and budget discussions, which could require unpopular concessions from the president.

susan rice

And having just suffered significant electoral losses among women, African-Americans and young people, congressional Republicans would be foolish to think the specter of yet another hearing made up primarily of white males, this time attacking such a well-respected African-American woman with the facts on her side, is a good idea.

Within the first 24 hours after the Benghazi attack, the hyper-partisan reaction from Republicans involved accusing everyone from Rice to the president himself of lying and engaging in a cover-up, despite having access to intelligence that made it clear the facts were still being gathered. As we now know, there were legitimate national security concerns about what information — such as connections to al Qaeda — could or should be de-classified and put in the talking points being used during the initial days after the attack.

And thanks to the irresponsible behavior of Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), we also know that indeed there was a covert CIA presence operating out of the compound, the existence of which they, along with other members of Congress, knew about weeks ago and the details of which were likely being kept classified to protect intelligence as well as the identities of Libyans working with us.

The post-briefing shift in tone heard from Republican lawmakers over the weekend suggests that most now recognize the “shoot first, ask questions later” tack was not only flat wrong, but increases the appearance that their attacks on the administration were politically motivated or personally aimed at Rice.

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When asked by David Gregory on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday if anyone “misled the American people for deliberately political reasons,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) walked back from the conspiracy theories, saying, “This is what I know: I know the narrative was wrong and the intelligence was right. Now, getting between there and there, I think you have to be careful about making those accusations. I think you should have to prove it.” But Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has joined Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in calling for a special committee and Watergate-style hearings, has already turned Benghazi into an ad for his 2014 campaign.

And what of the obvious double standard — McCain and others had no problem vehemently defending the nomination of Condoleezza Rice for secretary of State despite her role in disseminating false information — which took a year to asses as incorrect — about the existence of weapons of mass destruction following the 9/11 attacks, which has cost America thousands of lives and millions of dollars.

Legitimate questions remain about security requirements, the impact of budget cuts and the potential need to improve intelligence-gathering capabilities in Libya. To the question of irresponsible behavior related to national security, congressional Republicans should be calling for an investigation into the reckless behavior of Issa and Chaffetz. The GOP’s continued focus on attacking the ambassador’s use of talking points also appears to be personal — some have suggested the real issue could be a belief among Republicans that Ambassador Susan Rice has simply been promoted high enough.

karen finney

Karen Finney
The Hill

Posted: Monday, 17 November 2012