Jacob Heilbrunn

The Susan Rice Disaster

President Obama is reportedly digging his heels in on nominating Susan Rice to become Secretary of State. It's a strange choice, but then Obama has a history of making questionable selections for high-level officials, particularly when it came to the financial sector. He's apparently bedazzled by establishment credentials, which Rice holds in spades--former Rhodes scholar, Stanford graduate. Throughout her career, Rice has seamlessly ascended the escalator of success. Until now, that is.

With Republican Senators breathing fire over her bungled defense of the administration's reponse to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, a Rice nomination would simply create a new brouhaha for Obama. Why would he want that? Yes, the charges that Rice willfuly manipulated the evidence are overheated. The blunt fact is that ineptitude rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead the public was behind Rice's comments. But the GOP is seizing upon them for political gain, which is what opposition parties do even if foreign-policy professionals recoil at discovering that raw domestic politics often buffet their cozy little world. According to Senator Lindsey Graham,

I’m not entertaining, promoting anybody that I think was involved with the Benghazi debacle. We need to get to the bottom of it. The president has a lot of leeway with me and others when it comes to making appointments, but I’m not going to promote somebody who I think has misled the country or is either incompetent. That’s my view of Susan Rice.

Rice is not worth the fight, and it would be a testament to Obama's obstinacy rather than discernment if he insists on nominating her. His infatuation with her is somewhat mystifying. Her record in New York as United Nations ambassador has been undistinguished. What's more, she has already attraced the ire of neocon circles as she is perceived as hostile to the Jewish state. Is Obama's apparent eagerness to have Rice partly predicated on the notion that she will be more receptive than John Kerry to pursuing a tougher line against Israel?

Kerry, who resembles a human pinstripe, would seem like the more logical choice for Obama. He would win easy confirmation and boasts vastly more experience abroad than Rice. The most daring pick would be Jon Huntsman, who falls into the tradition of Republican mugwumps--the tradition of Elihu Root and Henry Stimson, Republicans who served in Democratic administrations. But then again, Obama may find that he has to wait before he plunges into choosing a new Secretary of State. With the ever-widening David Petraeus scandal, his national security team is melting down. If he insists on tapping Rice, Obama will embolden the GOP to attack him. It would be no small irony if it turns out that there is more bipartisanship in domestic than foreign affairs in Obama's second term.