Everyone's a Realist Now?

Rice’s description of herself as a “realist” would be hilarious if it weren’t so misleading.

Michael Hirsh wrote an interesting report about the possibility that Obama’s former National Security Advisor Susan Rice might be Biden’s running mate. At one point, he relates this detail:

Rice, however, is said to be very close to Biden in outlook. She shares with the former vice president—as she did previously with Obama—a stringent, pared-down view of U.S. national interests that stands apart from Hillary Clinton’s more hawkish view of intervention, describing herself in her memoir as a “realist.”

Rice’s description of herself as a “realist” would be hilarious if it weren’t so misleading. Realist is often a catch-all term that people throw around to refer to anything they don’t know how to categorize. Even among interventionists it becomes a label to hide behind as a way of boasting about one’s own moderation and reasonableness. “I’m not a fanatic like those people over there, I’m a realist.” If Rice counts as a realist, then virtually everyone in Washington can claim the same thing.

It’s also hard to credit that Rice holds a “pared-down view of U.S. national interests.” It is true that she opposed the Iraq war when Biden did not, but she was a proponent of intervention in Libya when he opposed it, and by her own admission she was the lone holdout on Obama’s national security team in favor of bombing Syria in 2013 without Congressional authorization. None of that had anything to do with U.S. interests, especially not according to a “pared-down view.”

She recounts the scene from the meeting of the National Security Council in September 2013 where she made her case for attacking Syria without Congressional approval:

The lone dissenter, I argued for proceeding with military action, as planned. We had clearly signaled—most recently that morning in a strong speech by Secretary of State John Kerry—that we intended to hold Syria accountable through the use of force. Our military assets were in place. The UN had been warned. Our allies were waiting. As then–Vice President Joe Biden liked to say, “Big countries don’t bluff.” Finally, I invoked the painful history of Rwanda and predicted we could long be blamed for inaction.

All of the tell-tale signs of a reflexive interventionist are there: the do-somethingism, the phony appeal to “credibility,” the complete indifference to U.S. and international law, and of course the use of past atrocities to guilt-trip others into supporting unwise policies. Fortunately, Obama ignored Rice’s argument at that time. It is not an accident that some of the biggest mistakes Obama made as president were policies that Rice supported.

Rice repeatedly gave Obama terrible advice on important foreign policy questions during his presidency, and there is every reason to assume she would do the same with Biden if he were elected. If she were Vice President, Rice would have significant influence in shaping the foreign policy of a future administration, and judging from her record in both the Clinton and Obama administrations that would lead the U.S. into serious trouble.

Like many other Obama administration veterans, Rice has belatedly expressed regret for supporting the Saudi-led war on Yemen, but she said this only after she left government. Akbar Shahid Ahmed reported on this late last year:

“Our decision in the Obama administration to launch a partnership with Saudi Arabia in Yemen, not so much launching it but continuing it when it went off the rails ... that’s something that, given how that conflict has unfolded, people of conscience have reason to regret,” Rice told HuffPost.

As Obama’s National Security Advisor, Rice must have been involved in the decision to begin U.S. backing for the war on Yemen, and she would have been party responsible for continuing that policy until the day Obama left office. It is all very well that she has since repudiated the policy that the Obama administration started, but what did aiding and abetting war criminal governments in destroying Yemen and murdering Yemeni civilians ever have to do with U.S. interests? What good is Rice’s so-called “realism” if she keeps backing such destructive and atrocious policies?