Thursday, June 30 , 2016, 5:10 pm | Fair 71º

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Susan Estrich: Susan Rice Not the Villain Republicans, Media Make Her Out to Be

I have known Susan Rice for decades. We worked together in the 1980s. I followed her career in the ‘90s. She served her country with intelligence and integrity during the Clinton administration and for the past four years as our country’s representative to the United Nations.

So why are Republicans making (very loud) noises about a bruising confirmation battle should President Barack Obama choose his trusted aide to serve as secretary of state?

I’ve seen two reasons.

First and most significantly: because of what she said on a television show. Not because of anything she did wrong at the United Nations. Not because she stood before the United Nations and claimed we had proof of weapons of mass destruction (we didn’t). Not because she presided over the 1983 massacre of 220 Marines that an investigation concluded might have resulted in fewer deaths had there been something more than barbed wire and guards carrying unloaded weapons at the post. That was President Ronald Reagan, re-elected a year later.

Rice went on a television show. She misspoke on a television show. She followed the talking points. If misspeaking on a Sunday television show were grounds for not serving in high office, if repeating talking points were a fatal offense, Washington would be empty tomorrow.

Besides, no one is contending that Rice was responsible for security in Libya, that Rice did the investigation, that this was a U.N. issue. If John McCain wanted to go after someone, the “logical” person would be the most popular politician in America: Hillary Clinton. But that would be political hara-kiri. So he picks on a woman who has yet to build the kind of constituency that made people like Colin Powell (WMDs) and Reagan untouchable.

The other rap on Rice, trumpeted in the media more than in the Senate, is that she is “difficult” — too tenacious, too harsh, picks fights.

Gee. I’ve never met a politician like that. I’ve never seen a powerful man who is rude, difficult, harsh and demanding. In my research, men who behave like that tend to be considered aggressive and commanding. Women are “difficult.” In my experience and research, every successful woman over the age of 40, especially those on the younger side like Rice, is considered “difficult.”

Has Rice made mistakes? Yes. Has she learned from these mistakes? Almost certainly. Do the worst of the incidents being bandied about now date from years ago? Yes. Were it not for Benghazi, would Republicans really be claiming that this was disqualifying?

Is this even an accurate description of the ambassador? Not based on my experience. Back in 2000, one of my very conservative colleagues made a mistake in an interview with Rice that could easily, and not unfairly, be denounced as racist. There were, at the time, two African-American women with the last name of “Rice” who were dealing with foreign policy issues. Susan Rice and Condi Rice do not look alike, work for the same party or have the same views, and are not otherwise easily confused. I introduced her to one of the Fox brass, and the two of us apologized profusely. She laughed it off, saying she was far more interested in substantive debate than playing the race card.

I would not call her difficult. I would call her classy, informed, intelligent and committed — precisely the sort of person we need in government.

A witch hunt over this fine woman would send the message loud and clear that the best and the brightest should look elsewhere to shine. Our loss.

— Bestselling author Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her.

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