On Thursday I asked that President Barack Obama no longer consider me for the job of secretary of state. I made this decision because it is the right step for this country I love. I have never shied away from a fight for a cause I believe in. But as it became clear that my potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle, I concluded that it would be wrong to allow this debate to continue distracting from urgent national priorities — creating jobs, growing our economy, addressing our deficit, reforming our immigration system and protecting our national security.
These are the issues that deserve our focus, not a controversy about me. On Sept. 16, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was unavailable after a grueling week, the White House asked me to appear on five Sunday talk shows to discuss a range of foreign policy issues: the protests against our diplomatic facilities around the world; the attack in Benghazi, Libya; and Iran's nuclear program.
When discussing Benghazi, I relied on fully cleared, unclassified points provided by the intelligence community, which encapsulated their best current assessment. These unclassified points were consistent with the classified assessments I received as a senior policymaker. It would have been irresponsible for me to substitute any personal judgment for our government's and wrong to reveal classified material. I made clear in each interview that the information I was providing was preliminary and that ongoing investigations would give us definitive answers. I have tremendous appreciation for our intelligence professionals, who work hard to provide their best assessments based on the information available. Long experience shows that our first accounts of terrorist attacks and other tragedies often evolve over time. The intelligence community did its job in good faith. So did I.
I have never sought in any way, shape or form to mislead the American people. To do so would run counter to my character and my life of public service. But in recent weeks, new lines of attack have been raised to malign my character and my career. Even before I was nominated for any new position, a steady drip of manufactured charges painted a wholly false picture of me. This has interfered increasingly with my work on behalf of the United States at the United Nations and with America's agenda.
I grew up in Washington and I've seen plenty of battles over politics and policy. But a national security appointment, much less a potential one, should never be turned into a political football. There are far bigger issues at stake. So I concluded that this distraction has to stop.
This was the right call, for four reasons.
First, my commitment to public service is rooted in the belief that our nation's interests must be put ahead of individual ones. I've devoted my life to serving the United States and trying to mend our imperfect world. That's where I want to focus my efforts, not on defending myself against baseless political attacks.
Second, I deeply respect Congress' role in our system of government. After the despicable terrorist attacks that took the lives of four colleagues in Benghazi, our government must work through serious questions and bring the perpetrators to justice. We must strengthen security at our diplomatic posts and improve our intelligence in a volatile Middle East. Accomplishing these goals is far more important than political fights or personal attacks.
Third, the American people expect us to come together to keep our nation safe. U.S. leadership abroad is strengthened when we transcend partisan differences on matters of national security. America is seriously weakened when politics come first. If any good can come out of the experience of the past few months, I hope that it will be a renewed focus on the business of the American people — and a renewed insistence that the process of selecting potential candidates for high national security office be treated in the best bipartisan traditions of our country.
Finally, I have a great job. It's been my highest honor to serve as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. I'm proud that President Obama has restored our global stature, refocused on the greatest threats to our security, and advanced our values around the world.
I'm equally proud of the many successes of my tremendous team at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations: saving countless civilians from slaughter in Libya, imposing the toughest sanctions ever on Iran and North Korea, steadfastly defending Israel's security and legitimacy, and helping midwife the birth of the world's newest nation, South Sudan.
These efforts remind us that we can do so much more when we come together than when we let ourselves be split apart. That's a lesson I will carry with me as I continue the work of the American people at the United Nations.
Susan Rice is U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
© 2012 Washington Post