Jacob Heilbrunn

Go Away, Susan Rice

The defenders of Susan Rice offer numerous explanations for why President Obama should ignore her detractors, and they seem to growing by the day, to select her to become Secretary of State. They say that she is a victim of racism. Or they say that she is being tarred as overly aggressive, a label that no one would pin on a man. Or they say she is abundantly qualified for the post. Or they say all of the above.

None of it is convincing. The truth is that Susan Rice would be a lousy candidate for Secretary of State even if she had never uttered a syllable about Benghazi. As Maureen Dowd observes in the New York Times, the very fact that she walked out of her big 90-minute meeting with Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte leaving them more, not less, dubious about her credentials is a telling indice of her lack of diplomatic skills. What on earth did she say? That they were "confused," as she once sniped at McCain, about her record? If she she keeps this up, pretty soon there may be a spontaneous demonstration against Rice in the Senate.

She has punched all the right tickets in the foreign policy establishment--Stanford, a Rhodes scholarship, various national security postings. For a president like Obama who seems to have a pathological need to surround himself with establishment advisers she fits just right in. But the most striking thing about Rice's resume--which, as Dana Milbank has noted, is not so hot after all--is what it does not contain--a serious position that has nothing to do with foreign policy. She has not been a Senator, a lawyer, a businessman. Instead, she has succeeded at succeeding. She has never, you could say, left her little ecosystem.

Now she is supposed to be the president's star pupil. She also has the White House cabal of Michelle Obama and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, one of the worst influences on Obama, behind her. Obama dared her critics to come after him instead. It was a childish boast.  She has never demonstrated prowess as a diplomat. In reality, she is simply, as she has been all her life, the teacher's pet.

It is this background, I suspect, that made her so prepared to fall on her sword for the Obama administration. She wants to please her superiors, which is why she fudged when it came to deeming the events in Rwanda "genocide" during her service on the national security council during the Clinton administration. In 1994 she apparently stated, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November congressional election?" This isn't the statement of a diplomat, but a political hack.

The bottom line is this: Rice doesn't question authority; she seeks to cater to it. So she asked no questions about the bogus intelligence about the events in Libya that she was relying upon. Rather, she simply regurgitated her talking points about a spontaneous protest in Benghazi with vigor and conviction. Which is why Senator Bob Corker has it right when he observes that her talents might be best-suited to making her an "outstanding" head of the Democratic National Committee, but are not necessarily conducive to a successful tenure as Secretary of State.

With numerous foreign affairs problems confronting America--from the roiling Middle East to a resurgent China--Rice simply does not have the experience to grapple with them successfully. Democrats, the Los Angeles Times reports, are beginning to get queasy about Rice: "Without defections, Democrats would need to pick up only five Republican votes to stop a filibuster of the nomination. But some Senate Democrats are privately expressing reluctance to cast a vote that might not be popular in their home states." Obama would not simply be making a mistake if he picks Rice. He would be committing a terrible blunder. Instead of dwelling on her, Obama should move on and avoid a divisive confirmation battle. How about approaching Jon Huntsman?