The Real Susan Rice

Setting the record straight on the U.N. ambassador and colleague we know.

On Thursday, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice asked the president to remove her name from consideration as a possible successor to Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

We deeply regret this, not because she is the only person qualified to serve in that position, but because of the false picture that has been painted of her character and service. As rumors spread that President Obama was considering her for the job, Rice became a lightning rod for criticism from Republican politicians and a small herd of pundits and columnists. The caricature that emerged from those criticisms bears little resemblance to the truth. We write to set the record straight.

From 1993 until 2001, Rice served in the Bill Clinton administration, first on the staff of the National Security Council, and later as assistant secretary of state for African affairs. We worked closely with her throughout this period, during which her performance was marked by high intelligence, unwavering energy, unassailable integrity, and a deep commitment to the interests and ideals of our nation.

These were years of enormous turbulence in Africa. The end of the Cold War unleashed hopes that new democracies would thrive and prosperity would spread; such hopes were counter-balanced by the eruption of international and civil conflicts, leading in Rwanda to genocide and in half a dozen other countries to debilitating tragedy and strife.

As we know from experience, diplomats cannot transform war into peace by wishes alone. One has to convince the leaders of governments and militias to stop fighting. This often requires sitting down with unsavory people and earning their trust. At times, it involves endorsing a fragile ceasefire that seems a better bet to save lives than a continuation of war.

At the White House and as assistant secretary of state, Rice endeavored (at our instruction) to build peace on several fronts. In the Horn of Africa, she joined the Organization of African Unity in persuading Ethiopia and Eritrea to end their cross-border conflict. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, she worked with regional leaders to broker an agreement that led to the withdrawal of all the foreign forces that had entered what was called Africa's first world war. In 1999 in Sierra Leone, the Economic Community of West African States forged a pact between the government and rebels that briefly halted a murderous civil war. Ultimately, a U.N. peacekeeping force heavily assisted by the British brought about a second ceasefire, paving the way to disarmament and relative peace. Meanwhile, the brutal civil war in Sudan resisted all diplomatic efforts.

More generally, Rice was a principal architect of programs to improve Africa's own peacekeeping capabilities, supported the growth of democratic institutions, and tied ambitious economic initiatives to domestic political reform. The landmark Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (which became law in May 2000) lowered U.S. trade barriers to sub-Saharan Africa, while our backing for large-scale debt relief was designed to free up funds for investment in education, health care and other social needs. At Rice's urging, we also marshaled international support for a ban on trade in so-called blood diamonds.

Not all of our objectives in Africa were achieved before we left office, but the principles and programs she espoused helped build the foundation for future progress. Rice deserves immense credit for the passion and creativity that she brought to the job. She was driven by an urgent desire to save lives and to help countries in conflict rebuild and go forward in peace.

Rice has continued to operate at a high level as our country's permanent representative to the United Nations. Since 2009, she has held the moral high ground for the United States in the most diverse and contentious diplomatic arena on the globe. Her efforts contributed mightily to tough economic sanctions that have weakened Syria's brutal regime and made life far more difficult for the leaders of Iran. She has steadfastly defended our ally Israel from unbalanced attacks, and argued effectively for a Security Council resolution that paved the way for the removal of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.

Much of the recent criticism of Rice focused on her televised statements in the aftermath of September's terrorist assault on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. But even a high-level official depends on officially cleared talking points when publicly discussing a situation about which he or she lacks first-hand knowledge. This is especially the case when the talking points reflect the consensus view of the U.S. intelligence community. Given the serious nature of what happened in Benghazi, senators were surely justified in asking questions, but there simply is no basis to believe that Rice sought to mislead the American people.

President Obama deserves -- and our nation requires -- a first-rate public servant in the position of secretary of state. Susan Rice is not the only such person, but she was certainly one of them. She will continue to represent our country at the United Nations and as a member of the president's cabinet. In the future, let us all strive to create an environment in which our leaders are held accountable to the truth, but not made subject to innuendo and false accusations.

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National Security

What It Takes

Why the next SecDef should channel Robert McNamara.

Being secretary of defense is a demanding and complex job. Among other things, the secretary functions as deputy commander in chief in wartime, manages the world's largest organization, represents the United States in multicultural forums around the globe, negotiates with our allies, works with dozens of congressional committees and subcommittees to get the funds necessary to run the Pentagon effectively, and deals with a vibrant free press.

Since the creation of the Department of Defense in 1947, 23 people have held the post, an average tenure of less than three years. Those who have been successful in the job have brought four qualities to the position.

First, they have been able to get the support of the uniformed military leadership without giving in to their every whim. To do this, it is useful to have had military service, particularly in wartime. Serving in the military, and especially in combat, gives the secretary of defense not only credibility with the military leadership but also an understanding of the military's unique culture and the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women who rise to the top of the armed forces. If, for example, the next secretary wants to curb runaway personnel benefits or accelerate the exit from Afghanistan, his or her ability to get the support of the military hierarchy will be enhanced if he has been there.

Second, the secretary must be able to make tough management decisions. The most successful secretaries have either had experience running a large company, like Charles Wilson from General Motors or Robert McNamara from Ford, or they have brought in a strong deputy with a background in management. For example, Secretaries Melvin Laird and Dick Cheney came to the Pentagon directly from the House of Representatives. Neither had ever managed a large organization but were successful managers because they brought in people who had: David Packard of Hewlett-Packard for Laird and Don Atwood from General Motors for Cheney.

Not surprisingly, during the tenures of Wilson, McNamara, Laird, and Cheney, the Pentagon did not experience what Frank Kendall, the undersecretary for acquisitions to Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, called "acquisition malpractice." For the most part, weapon systems came in on time and within budget targets. Compare the F-4, which was developed by McNamara, and the F-16, which was started under Laird and Packard, with the grossly over-budget F-35.

Being a tough manager also requires cancelling programs that cannot be developed at a reasonable cost or that deal with threats from a bygone era, even if they are strongly supported by the services. After doing a major aircraft review in 1990, as the Cold War was ending, Cheney and Atwood cancelled the Navy's version of the F-22, the A-12, and the Marine Corps's dream machine, the V-22, both of which were hopelessly over budget and experiencing several technological problems. Unfortunately, the Tilt Rotor Caucus in Congress overruled Cheney on the V-22, and in an attempt to get support from the Marine Corps and workers in Pennsylvania and Texas, President Clinton supported the helicopter in his 1992 campaign. Nevertheless, being a strong manager also means being willing to take on the military's sacred cows.

It is no accident that Donald Rumsfeld's tenure as secretary of defense was marked by unparalleled cost growth in major weapons systems and the Boeing tanker scandal. Rumsfeld was unable or unwilling to manage the procurement process, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was more interested in policy than management. Similarly, the Pentagon functioned quite well in the first part of the Reagan era when Caspar Weinberger (full disclosure: he was Korb's boss) had a skilled deputy, Frank Carlucci. But when Carlucci left, there were so many management problems that President Reagan had to bring back David Packard to straighten things out.

Further, being a tough manager means being able to fire military and civilian leaders who perform badly or inappropriately. Cheney fired Michael Duggan, the Air Force Chief of Staff on the eve of the first Persian Gulf War for inappropriate remarks he made on a trip back from the region. McNamara canned George Anderson, the chief of naval operations who attempted to ignore the president's guidance on the blockade during the Cuban missile crisis. And Gates fired the Air Force chief of staff and the secretary of the Air Force for failing to keep our nuclear weapons under tight control.

Weinberger, on the other hand, allowed the civilian leadership of the Navy to undermine his efforts to create a Unified Transportation Command without firing them.

Third, the secretary of defense must have the political skills and willingness to work with Congress and get the administration's agenda adopted, particularly its annual budget. Being a former representative like Laird and Cheney helped them deal successfully with a Congress controlled by the opposite party. At least in his first couple of years in office, McNamara's knowledge of the workings of the Pentagon simply overwhelmed Congress. Rumsfeld, on the other hand, even though he had been a member, treated Congress with disdain and he found it harder and harder to get support for the Bush agenda.

Finally, the person selected for the job must agree to serve for a full presidential term but no more. If there is a perception that the secretary might be a short-timer, the bureaucracy will simply slow walk his efforts, as they did with Gates's heralded efficiency initiatives. On the other hand, all those secretaries who stayed until a president's second term did not leave with their reputations intact.

Had McNamara left in 1965, after Johnson's election, he would be remembered as the first secretary to have successfully managed the Pentagon, rather than the author of a failed policy in Vietnam. Similarly, if Weinberger had left after Reagan's first term, he would have been remembered as the person who cured the hollow military rather than the person who resisted Reagan's arms control deals with Gorbachev and paid $600 for toilet seats. Even Rumsfeld's reputation would be better if he had left after Bush's first term rather than having been forced out after the Democrats took control of Congress in 2006 and he became the poster boy for the poorly managed war in Iraq.

Hopefully the next secretary will have Laird's political savvy, McNamara's management skills, and a history of military service.

If, as expected, President Obama selects Chuck Hagel to be secretary, he will bring as much to the table as his most distinguished predecessors. As a former senator, Hagel certainly possesses the political skill to be an effective advocate for the Obama administration's agenda and the progress it has made on military issues. A wounded combat veteran, Hagel would be one of the few enlisted people to rise to the rank of secretary of defense. Given his experience supporting military families as president and CEO of the United Service Organizations as well as his status as a decorated Vietnam veteran, Hagel has the credentials to work with military leaders and Congress to address all of the challenges facing the Pentagon. Further, his experience in business would be invaluable in guiding the Department of Defense -- the world's largest employer -- as it adapts to an era of limited budgets.

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