Should the Secretary of State be a dupe?

Following President Obama’s testy defense of Susan Rice, as if on cue, CBS News reports that it has obtained the CIA talking points given to Rice on September 15 regarding the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, four days earlier. According to CBS News, the talking points, which were also given to members of the House intelligence committee, make no reference to terrorism being a likely factor in the assault.

So, as Obama previewed, Rice’s defense, if she is nominated to be Secretary of State, will be that she was just parroting her talking points.

That may be a good defense for a press secretary. Whether it suffices for a U.N. ambassador or a would-be Secretary of State is another matter.

Should someone who allowed herself to be used in this way by the White House — that is, an ambassador who agreed to provide facts about a matter of enormous importance even though she apparently lacked any knowledge of the matter, and who as a result provided false information — be the U.S. Secretary of State? Not in my opinion. How would the U.S. Senate that confirmed her be able to rely on her reports or, for that matter, her judgment? Having misused the prestige of the U.N. ambassador position to serve the White House spin machine, how could the Senate be confident that she wouldn’t misuse the even greater prestige of the Secretary of State for political purposes?

Moreover, Rice knew or should have discovered other information besides the CIA talking points that pointed to a different conclusion about the attack. The State Department had watched events in Benghazi unfold in real time and thus knew this was no spontaneous demonstration. And President Obama claims he had already characterized the attack as terrorism. Either Obama is lying or Susan Rice ignored the president’s characterization of the Benghazi attack.

Given the conflicting views about the attack, and given how obvious it was that this wasn’t a spontaneous event, Rice had a duty to inquire about the facts, rather than simply relying on talking points prepared by others. If Rice can show that she engaged in a reasonable inquiry and that she reached intelligent conclusions, then Senate Republicans should be receptive to confirming her, in the event she is nominated to be Secretary of State. Otherwise, they should vote against confirming a dupe.

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