The series of false and misleading statements from the administration of President Donald Trump amount to a “disturbing pattern of behavior that poses real and potentially profound dangers to U.S. national security,” former White House national security adviser Susan Rice wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday evening by The Washington Post.
Rice, the national security adviser to former President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017 and before that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote that American global leadership is based not only on military strength, economic strength and high ideals, but also on “the perception that the United States is steady, rational and fact-based.” Through two months, Rice argued, the Trump administration’s actions have damaged that perception.
“To lead effectively, the United States must maintain respect and trust. So, when a White House deliberately dissembles and serially contorts the facts, its actions pose a serious risk to America’s global leadership, among friends and adversaries alike,” she wrote.
Rice was herself the subject of similar criticism during her tenure in the Obama administration, when she appeared on an array of Sunday morning political talk shows in 2012 and blamed the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on an anti-Islam video circulating online. The attack had, in fact, been planned in advance by a terrorist group, and Rice’s TV appearances became a point of attack not just against her but also against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her failed 2016 presidential bid.
As an example, Rice pointed to the assertion by Trump that Obama ordered a wiretap of Trump Tower during the campaign, an allegation for which FBI Director James Comey said he had no evidence during his testimony on Capitol Hill this week. For another, she referenced White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s suggestion that Obama had relied on British intelligence to conduct the Trump Tower surveillance, an accusation that America’s longtime ally characterized as “utterly ridiculous.”
Such statements could hurt America’s ability to form an international coalition to tackle military or humanitarian crises around the world, Rice argued, as well as shake the trust of U.S. allies and embolden its enemies. The latter issue, she said, could be “exacerbated” by “flip-flops on foundational, bipartisan U.S. policy” like U.S. commitment to NATO, the one-China policy and a dedication to a two-state solution to the long-running conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The White House’s track record thus far could also damage the president’s ability to smooth over diplomatic rough patches, as Rice said Obama did when embarrassing diplomatic cables were released that showed the U.S. was spying on the personal communications of leaders in friendly governments like Germany and Brazil. The Trump administration might similarly struggle, Rice wrote, to rally support among Americans should a crisis emerge.
“The United States’ words matter. Critical calculations are based on our perceived credibility,” Rice wrote. “When America’s word is frequently found to be false, doubts arise and allies may hedge their bets by reducing their reliance on the United States and seeking improved relations with traditional adversaries.”