Susan Rice Didn't Deserve State Post, Let Alone Her U.N. Role

From the Daily Beast

by Jacob Heilbrunn Dec 14, 2012

The ambassador built her career on catering to authority, even some of Africa’s most loathsome dictators. Why the Libya fiasco had nothing to do with the Beltway insider’s demise.


With her decision to withdraw from consideraion as secretary of state, Susan Rice-and her greatest champion, President Obama-is finally bowing to the inevitable. Her supporters concocted any number of reasons to promote her ascension to the top floor of Foggy Bottom. She was, they said, being demonized by the right. She was being subjected to racism. She was just trying to please her superiors. And so on.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria in August in New York. (Stephen Chernin/AFP/Getty Images)

Don’t believe a word of it. The real problem is not that she bungled Libya. It’s that she should never have been ambassador to the United Nations in the first place-let alone become secretary of state.

Until recently, Rice was smoothly on track to become the Edmund Hillary of foreign-policy strivers. But unlike the legendary climber, she only glimpsed but never quite reached the summit. Her entire career has been based less on solid accomplishment than on her networking skills. In that regard, she exquisitely represents her generation, which largely consists of unwise men and women.

Even a cursory look at Rice’s résumé should induce some queasiness. Essentially, she was molded in Washington, D.C. She punched all the right tickets-National Cathedral School, Stanford, Rhodes scholarship, Brookings Institution. She is a perfect creature of the Beltway. But the downside is that there is scant evidence that she ever flourished outside the cozy ecosystem of the foreign-policy establishment.

It has not always been thus. Henry Kissinger produced serious books about international affairs. Further back, Dean Acheson was a successful lawyer. James Baker was both a shrewd lawyer and political operative whose wheeler-dealer skills translated well into dealing with foreign allies and adversaries. Now it’s not necessary to be all of these things at once. No one would claim that Hillary Clinton is a Kissingerian-style intellectual. But Clinton’s stature and political prowess allowed her to crack heads during the recent Gaza crisis.

What would Rice have brought to the State Department? The most she seems to have accomplished outside the foreign-policy world is to serve a stint as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co. Otherwise, she has produced no memorable books or articles or even op-ed essays. The most interesting thing about Rice has been the kerfuffle over her move to become secretary of state.


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  • Did someone change the constitution when I wasn’t looking? Do we now decide by mass character assassination those who might or might not possibly be considered for a cabinet post? Does the President of the United States no longer have a role in who to nominate? Has the formal confirmation process been abandoned?

    By the way, what’s this stuff doing on a blog about the Peace Corps?

  • Tom, let’s talk about the “stuff” that appears on “Peace Corps Worldwide.” But first, not to worry: no one’s changed the Constitution’s Article Two on “advice and consent.” The Senate retains the role it’s always had in terms of treaties and major nominations by the President. Maybe today’s 21st Century media just enables Senators to express their opinions more quickly and loudly than ever before.

    As for why several Republican Senators stridently objected to the possibility of Susan Rice’s nomination to become Secretary of State, it was, they claimed, because of Rice’s initial reporting of the attack on Benghazi (in which, as you know, RPCV Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.) In part, a few of them and commentators further implied or said that Rice’s version was camouflage to defend the White House’s reputation as being tough against terrorism.

    On the other hand, those Senators and some pundits appeared to have also found Rice’s other positions and her behavior in her official role as a State Department employee and as the US Ambassador to the UN offensive. (E.g., Chris Stevens — both as a PCV and as an Ambassador — reportedly listened, spoke, and acted in a way quite the opposite of Rice.) In any case, I wonder if depicting Rice’s behavior in office as undiplomatic or even as offensive really rises to the level of “mass character assassination,” as you charge.

    Now about your words, “what’s this stuff doing on a blog about the Peace Corps?” Is that an expression of surprise? I.e., are you surprised that frontpage matters of foreign affairs might be of interest to RPCVs?

    Or are you objecting to having the “Peace Corps Worldwide” website be a forum where some RPCVs may discuss the awful aftermath of Benghazi in particular and global issues that affect the relations between the US and the rest of the world in general?

    As for me, my compliments and gratitude go to John Coyne and Marian Haley Beil for bringing up such matters for RPCVs to consider and comment upon. In a way, that they do so might somehow even be viewed as related to the Peace Corps’ Third Goal. Bringing the world back home. Or would you say that I’m stretching the point much too far and that John and Marian shouldn’t waste “Peace Corps Worldwide” space on such issues?

  • Thank you Tino, as one who writes on matters other than those related to the Peace Corps I am glad this blog site includes more general matters.

  • Tino, I don’t really object to items that are more general, as Leo writes, to appear here. I have read and enjoyed many of them. It appeared to me that this blog had taken a definitive editorial stance with respect to one person’s qualifications to be Secretary of State, even though that person had not been nominated and confirmation hearings had not been scheduled. I suppose having an editorial position is one of the perogatives of an editor, but I certainly would not be interested in reading a blog that had revealed such an obvious bias. I wouldn’t trust it enough. So, my concern has to do with the credibility of the blog.

  • Tom,
    With all due respect, you are full of it. Anybody can post whatever they believe, think, etc. here. Of course, John Coyne, and Marian Haley Beil from time to time, have opinions. Thank god.

    As someone who has blogged here for years, I find your “concern about credibility” insulting and unwarranted. The only possible censorship is the filtering out of scatological words, due to excellent software screens. I have joked about not being able to post “health g*@ls.

    I believe that you are the only one who would like to monitor or censor or restrict. I have appreciated many of your commentary. I hope that you quickly return to a more rational position.

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