Ten Miles Square

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December 05, 2012 11:28 AM Bad Choices

By James Wimberley

The insulting treatment of Susan Rice by John McCain and other Republican senators over the real Benghazi tragedy, and manufactured scandal, has worked in her favour as a candidate to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

The complaints about her abrasive temperament don´t stand up either. Niceness is an overrated quality in diplomacy. A moderate and conciliatory tone can easily be misread as weakness: April Glaspie, the US Ambassador to Iraq in 1990, and the British Foreign Office in 1982, failed to threaten Saddam Hussein and General Galtieri repectively that the aggression they were planning would be met, as it was, with war. (The FO was hampered by the absence of diplomatic relations with Argentina; Glaspie was carrying out instructions.) A diplomat uses the temperament she or he has in a disciplined way. When Mr Nice Guy speaks harshly, or Ms Buzzsaw speaks softly, interlocutors read the signs. I´ve not read anything to suggest that Rice lacks the necessary self-discipline.

What disqualifies Ms Rice is her investment judgement. She´s a comfortably wealthy woman; she and her husband had assets of ¨$23,521,177 to $43,543,009¨ in 2009, according to her 2009 financial disclosure report. Good for them both. They are clearly experienced and knowledgeable investors.

But according to Scott Dodd´s reporting for One Earth:

Rice owns stock valued between $300,000 and $600,000 in TransCanada, the company seeking a federal permit to transport tar sands crude 1,700 miles to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast, crossing fragile Midwest ecosystems and the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.
Beyond that, according to financial disclosure reports, about a third of Rice’s personal net worth is tied up in oil producers, pipeline operators, and related energy industries north of the 49th parallel — including companies with poor environmental and safety records on both U.S. and Canadian soil. Rice and her husband own at least $1.25 million worth of stock in four of Canada’s eight leading oil producers, as ranked by Forbes magazine.

These stakes are not parts of a neutral balanced portfolio. Energy stocks (mostly oil) represent only 10.3% of the value of a representative Vanguard index fund. The Rice household has made an unusually large bet on oil, and Canadian tar sands oil in particular.

The issue is not the specific conflict of interest over the Keystone XL pipeline, on which the State Department has to issue a recommendation next year. It´s that she would have a systematic conflict of interest over the most important foreign policy issue of the second Obama Administration – far more important than Islamic fundamentalism.

The investments also show terrible judgement. Betting your fortune on planet-busting oil means you are one of these three things:

  • a feckless denialist (the proverbial grasshopper)
  • a gutless temporiser (the proverbial ostrich)
  • a heartless cynic (the proverbial scorpion.)

Take your pick. But any of these should disqualify Ms Rice from the office of Secretary of State.

Unkind, you think? Greens should be grateful to that nice Mr. Obama for not being Mitt Romney? What would you say if Ms Rice had invested her money with Peshawar arms dealers? What´s the difference?

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

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James Wimberley was head of the mutual assistance section of the department of education for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and secretary to the Councils higher education and research committee. He is retired.