The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Susan Rice withdraws

Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, no doubt at the behest of the White House, withdrew her name for consideration as secretary of state. This suggests there is a glimmer of reality-based thinking at the White House.

To be frank, she should never have been floated as a possible nominee. Her consideration for all intents and purposes was a political payback for her loyalty in the campaign and in the first term. Her reputation in the Clinton administration was poor; her record on Africa was dreadful. She was needlessly antagonistic in rhetoric and proved to be her own worst advocate. Liberals became squeamish not only about the prospect of her dragging the Senate through more Benghazi interrogation but about her investment portfolio in companies that engaged in business in Iran.

Even Hillary Clinton, whose husband’s administration found Rice mediocre at best, was rumored to prefer another pick. Whether that influenced President Obama is unknown, but if so it might have been (in addition to Libya) her most influential moment in a term in which she was not the mover of events nor the maker of policy.

Her undoing was her excessive eagerness to provide political cover to the president on a matter of grave national security. Whether she lied intentionally or merely agreed not to ask too many hard questions, it is a lesson for the ambitious in Washington: Credibility counts, at least sometimes.

It would be shocking if Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) did not now get the nod for secretary of state and zip through the Senate. He is certainly qualified. His views are as off kilter (Bashar al-Assad was a “reformer,” the surge was a mistake, Russian reset is a hit) as those of his boss, who is entitled to have the advisers of his choosing absent an ethical lapse or issue of qualification. He in any event will not run foreign policy any more than Hillary Clinton has. The president fancies himself quite the global expert, so the White House and the president specifically will continue to drive national security policy.

Finally, one might see this as a sign the president did not want a major confrontation with the Senate. I’m dubious, given his war on the Republicans in the “fiscal-cliff” battle. More likely, he decided to cut his political losses. That is a fitting denouement to the Rice episode. A political flunky to the end, Rice dutifully limped away, well, after crawling out from under the bus.