Susan Rice Asks: What About Trump's Benghazis?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The former National Security Advisor goes deep about the struggles of the Obama administration.
By Nick Fouriezos
Former National Security Advisor and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice sat for a revealing interview with OZY’s CEO and co-founder on the latest episode of The Carlos Watson Show. The following are some of the best cuts from their full conversation, which you can find on the show’s podcast feed.
What Obama got wrong … and Trump got right
Rice: We had so many complicated issues around Syria. Humanitarian concerns, a civil conflict, a dictator who was abusing his people, neighboring countries that were, to varying degrees, sucked into the conflict. Russia then came in. It really was one of the very toughest policy problems. And it’s still a problem, and it hasn’t been adequately resolved.
Watson: In saying that then, if you’re being your most candid, did you guys fail there? Or at least did you do a suboptimal job, given that he’s still in charge, given some of the other issues that are there? Again, I say that knowing that it was a difficult issue and that you’re saying it hadn’t…
Rice: Yeah, that was a really difficult issue. I write about this a lot in my book, Tough Love, where I deal with a number of tricky policy issues. But I say that Syria was the hardest, and I don’t think anybody can feel that the outcome was satisfactory.
What we did right and successfully was put in place a strategy and an operation to take down ISIS. We got a long way through the execution of that strategy in the Obama administration. And in my judgment, one of the few positive things that the Trump administration did is to take that strategy to fruition. And then they, I think, sort of fumbled the ball on the one-yard line by pulling the rug out from under our Kurdish allies, but that’s a different question.
The policy judgment was we were better off trying to negotiate, and we did successfully negotiate, a deal to remove chemical weapons from Syria and bind Syria to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
That was a better outcome than what we would have gotten through a few days of bombing or even one day of bombing, which is what the Trump administration did. They dropped some bombs when chemical weapons were used again, and then nothing happened. And whatever chemical weapons existed in Syria remain today, and we felt good for 24, 48 hours, but nothing fundamentally changed.
So about Benghazi …
Watson: I know you [have] spent a million years talking about Benghazi. Is there anything else about that that you think people don’t know that’s worth paying attention to?
Rice: Frankly, it may be a fun talking point on Fox News, but the reality is they all looked at it for years, with the intent of trying to find a scalp and they did not. And they certainly did not find mine.
So it really has become more of a Twitter meme than anything else, but it was a huge tragedy and we lost four Americans in a terrorist attack, and one of whom, Ambassador Chris Stevens, was my colleague and somebody that I had a very friendly relationship with, so that’s a painful loss. And rather than folks focusing on the tragedy of that loss, and what we needed to do to ensure that that kind of thing doesn’t happen again, and not to politicize it, we’ve gone in a completely different direction. People don’t know, Carlos, that under President Trump we lost four Americans in a terrorist attack, four American service members in Niger in West Africa. We lost three Americans just a year ago in Pensacola, Florida. Three American servicemen on a U.S. military base in an attack orchestrated by Saudis, inspired by al-Qaida. We had al-Qaida elements in East Africa, Al-Shabab, attack a U.S. military base in Kenya.
The fact that you’re looking at me like, “What the hell are you talking about,” was there ever a congressional investigation, one, into any of those? Was there ever any expression of concern or scandal? It shows you how these things have become politicized when it’s convenient and forgotten when it’s convenient. And that is not the way it should be. They shouldn’t be politicized and they shouldn’t be forgotten. We need to be looking at each of these tragedies for the human loss that they represent and for lessons on how do we do better?
How is it that the Department of Defense failed to vet the backgrounds of the Saudi military trainees that were on our base in Pensacola? And let people whose social media history, had they been scrubbed, revealed their extremist tendencies onto a base living with our men and women in uniform? And then have an attack that killed three of them and it’s like nothing happened.
So things are upside down here, Carlos. And we’re having this discussion in a week when 200,000 Americans will have died from COVID-19. 200,000. More than in all the wars since Korea combined. And we now know that they have died in substantial measure because the president of the United States did not care to tell the American people the truth, did not care to take the problem seriously, did not care to lead by wearing a mask or implementing social distancing or doing any of the things that could have saved tens of thousands of American lives. So let’s talk about the big picture and those things that we can learn from the failure around COVID, just as we should be talking about … what we can learn from failures around terrorist attacks, whether they were last year in Pensacola or eight years ago in Benghazi.
Watson: [On Syria] I wonder what a President Rice would have done if instead of being the adviser and recommender, you’d been the decider. I wonder if being in that yet different seat again, if you would have chosen. But I know there’s a lot of pieces to the…
Rice: That’s a hypothetical.