President Barack Obama has suffered a major political defeat with Susan Rice’s withdrawal today of her name from consideration as the next Secretary of State. A month ago, Obama raised the stakes by defending Rice angrily in his first post-election press conference, challenging Republicans to “go after” him instead. He and his party cast Republican objections as racist and sexist, rather than motivated by legitimate concerns about her role in lying to the public about the Benghazi terror attack and her thin record as ambassador to the United Nations.
For a long time, the GOP seemed to be losing the public debate over Rice’s potential nomination. But Obama’s needlessly confrontational approach handed Republicans a victory. By trying to force the GOP to back down with false accusations of prejudice, Obama created a no-win scenario for himself: if he proceeded to nominate Rice, Republicans could turn her confirmation hearings into a full public investigation of the Benghazi debacle; if he backed down, he would look weak and perseverating. The press followed Obama’s lead, but the GOP held firm.
Republicans held the line because there were very clear reasons for Rice to be denied the job–indeed, for her to be denied any further high-profile political positions. She not only lied to the nation–on several occasions–but had a long track record of failure, particularly on Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. She also had a poor record at the UN on Middle East issues and on Israel in particular–a record that loyal Democrats, such as former U.S. representative Robert Wexler (with impeccably poor timing), were straining themselves to defend.
The debate will now move on to other candidates for the job, such as Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), notorious for smearing U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and, more recently, for sucking up to the Assad regime in Syria in an attempt to run an alternative foreign policy to that of then-President George W. Bush. Obama will be quite happy to see the conversation shift away from Benghazi for a while. But he broke his own post-election momentum, and Republicans may be encouraged by this victory to stand firm in fiscal cliff talks and on other issues.
Rice’s decision to quit the nomination process is also a victory for conservative media, notably Breitbart News and the Fox News Channel, which continue to pursue the Benghazi scandal with the seriousness it deserves. For all the talk of a “right-wing media bubble,” it is the liberal mainstream media, which refused to cover the Benghazi scandal and dismissed concerns about Rice’s role in it, which remained at a far remove from reality. Those issues are serious enough for Rice to have backed down–and her departure will not let Obama off the hook.