Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw from consideration as secretary of state is the best news for Republicans since Election Day.
First, a quick reminder of why the Rice nomination mattered to Republicans: Opposition to Rice would have been garden-variety if not for Benghazi, which strikes many Republicans (and too few Americans as a whole) as a major scandal and a series of egregious, deadly misjudgments. Three major questions remain: why the requests for additional security were rejected in the weeks before the attack; precisely what actions were taken that night to rescue our staff in Benghazi; and why the explanations in the first days after the attack were erroneous.
The defense from Rice — I was only saying what I had been told by the intelligence community — doesn’t fly because the “error” aligned all too perfectly with the Obama campaign’s need at that moment: to dissuade the public from the notion that we had witnessed a major terror attack on September 11, and to assert that it was all the fault of some filmmaker who is now imprisoned by U.S. authorities on a probation violation.
Rice may have only been a minor player in the effort to insist that the events in Benghazi were not terrorism, but her role was sufficient to make any promotion to secretary of state an outrage. Her confirmation would be a brazen declaration that a U.S. official can lie to the public about life-and-death issues without consequence.
Now, indisputably, Benghazi has had a consequence for the administration. Not the consequence many on the right wanted, but at least the post-attack spin derailed the career ambitions of at least one participant.
An unexpected side effect of this decision is how much this turn of events is infuriating Obama’s allies. Both last night and today on Morning Joe, NBC News Andrea Mitchell reported, “A lot of Democrats are saying that the president did not show enough loyalty. A lot of women in the administration are very angry tonight, and I’m saying this at a very high level. Angry because they feel that she was not treated with respect, she was not given the support she needed and she was left to twist in the wind.”
Ruth Marcus, this morning (I’m quoting the print version; the online version is slightly different):
But, really, Mr. President, either nominate her or pick someone else — like, two weeks ago. Don’t leave her out there, fending for herself.
Thursday’s humiliating denouement fooled no one who has been around Washington for more than a minute and a half. If the president wanted Rice, her withdrawal never would have been accepted.
It never should have been allowed to come to this. On that score, Mr. President, I’ve got a problem with you.
Obama’s allies made two assumptions in recent weeks: First, that his victory in November would mean he would get what he wants in most ways in the coming years; second, that what they want is what he wants. Both of those assumptions were always destined to be disproven, but for liberals and fans of Rice, it’s like awakening to a bucket of cold water to see them disproven so soon.
There’s an argument that Republicans should be careful what they wish for, contending that Rice had a more hawkish outlook on foreign policy than John Kerry did. But the philosophical distance between the two figures is not that decisive, and in the end, the foreign policy will ultimately reflect the decision-making of President Obama — and he’ll make a lot of decisions Republicans will oppose and some they will support. (Of course, this discussion presumes there is still such a thing as a Republican foreign-policy consensus.)