Susan Rice has withdrawn her name from consideration to be the next Secretary of State.
In a letter to the president, Ms. Rice wrote she had been honored to be considered. "However," she added, "if nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly—to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities."
Timing has been perfect. Rice, you may recall, was trotted out to the Sunday talk shows immediately after Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were murdered in an 8-hour terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Her story on five different shows was the same: There was no evidence whatever that the attack had anything to do with terrorism. It was really a protest by Muslims, justifiably outraged in administration minds, over a YouTube video that was said to be insulting to the Prophet Mohammed. According to Rice, it was sheer chance that the protest took place on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks on America. Just as it was sheer chance that the protesters were armed with mortars and RPGs.
Rice's appearances on the Sunday talk show circuit changed the conversation. When Republicans reacted with skepticism to Rice's wildly unlikely explanations, the mainstream media switched their coverage away from Benghazi and over to the unfair, partisan mistreatment of poor Susan Rice. No need to bring up any embarrassing questions about why there was no help for Ambassador Stevens and his staff members during the eight hours they were under attack.
So the questions remain. Whose idea was it to normalize operations at the Libyan missions? Libya is not quite like Paris or London, you know. What happened after the president ordered the military to do everything possible to save the ambassador and his staff? Wouldn't an order like that have been transmitted in writing? Where is it? Why were the ambassador's earlier written requests for more security for the Benghazi mission ignored?
Those questions and more awaited the confirmation hearings for Secretary of State nominee Susan Rice. Not that there would be answers. We already know what Rice would say. She doesn't know anything about any of that stuff. But the questions would have been asked anyway, and Susan Rice would have gone on record saying that she knew nothing. She would have said, yet again, that she relayed the best information available at the time.
But there might be a problem. She did say, on those Sunday shows, that there was no evidence of a planned terrorist attack. We know that's not true. There most certainly was evidence. What could she say about that now? And how would the press cover it?
The press might actually have had to get to the real story: How could the administration have left the Ambassador Christopher Stevens unprotected after he repeatedly asked for more security forces? How could the administration have been caught be surprise on the anniversary of 9/11.
But with exquisite timing Rice withdrew her name from consideration, and all those questions have been avoided for now. Now President Obama signals the media. Let's get the coverage back on track. This is about the mistreatment of Susan Rice, not Benghazi.
"While I deeply regret the unfair and misleading attacks on Susan Rice in recent weeks, her decision demonstrates the strength of her character, and an admirable commitment to rise above the politics of the moment to put our national interests first," Mr. Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
The media are only too happy to oblige. Here's a sample of what we get from just the Washington Post today on the topic of Susan Rice:
Text of Susan Rice's letter to Obama withdrawing her name for secretary of state
Susan Rice, the embattled U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, abruptly withdrew from consideration to be the next secretary of state on Thursday after a standoff with Republicans. Here is the text of the letter she submitted to President Barack Obama:
Associated Press, AP 4:21 AM ET
Susan Rice, really the victim of conservative media?
So Chuck Todd says that Susan Rice was the victim of insufficient PR staff, the conservative media and other forces. Hmmm.
Erik Wemple, The Washington Post DEC 13
O'Malley blames Susan Rice's exit on 'a small cabal' of GOP senators
The Maryland governor defended Rice on the Rev. Al Sharpton's MSNBC show.
John Wagner, The Washington Post DEC 13
Susan Rice withdraws as candidate for secretary of state
Action ends weeks-long fight with Republicans.
Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan, The Washington Post DEC 13
President Obama's statement on Susan Rice's decision
The statement released by the White House on Thursday in which President Barack Obama accepted the decision by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to withdraw from consideration to be the next secretary of state:
Associated Press, AP DEC 13
The ignoble hounding of Susan Rice
Three senators belittled her experience, questioned her competence and wondered about her temperament for a job that she was only rumored to be considered for.
Jonathan Capehart, The Washington Post DEC 13
An ugly end to Rice's non-nomination
The lengthy public twisting-in-the-wind process reflected badly on nearly everyone involved.
Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post DEC 13
Why wasn't Hillary Clinton the one to make the talk show cirtcuit back in September instead of Ms. Rice? 2016, maybe? Hillary was a principal. As Secretary of State she was in the murdered ambassador's chain of command. She was somebody who had knowledge and some degree of control over events in Benghazi. She knew that Christopher Stevens thought he was in danger. Did she have enough control to comply with his request for more security? Or was that somebody else's decision? Inquiring minds may never find out. That is, if the coordinated efforts of the media and the administration win out.
This has been such a well orchestrated diversion. Rice was the administration spokesperson that day precisely because she could plausibly say she didn't know anything. She could say just what she said: She was just passing along the information that was available at the time. She was only there because Hillary was on a trip.
But Hillary promised to come back and testify to congress. Naturally, she'd want to let things cool down a bit before she makes an appearance. Now it looks like Hillary wants things to cool down even more.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has also already announced its Dec. 20 hearing featuring Clinton's testimony. The title of the HFAC hearing is "Benghazi Attack, Part II: The Report of the Accountability Review Board"
But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today that the ARB is not complete, might not be complete by Dec. 20, and Clinton has not agreed to testify on Dec. 20.
"The Hill has talked about a planning date on the calendar. That presumes that the ARB is finished," Nuland said. "That's dependent on all of the work getting done between now and then... The ARB is continuing to do its work, to my knowledge it has not yet completed its work."
Clinton has not agreed to testify in open hearing at all in fact, only to brief the House and Senate foreign relations committees on how she interprets the ARB report, whenever it surfaces.
Susan Rice's well scripted mission has been accomplished. Her performance in September brilliantly drew attention away from Hillary and Barack. And just when we might expect congress to begin getting to the bottom of what went wrong about Benghazi, she withdrew. It's about Susan Rice all over again. Legitimate questions about administration competence have gone unanswered for months, and we can expect them to go unanswered for months more. Hell, they may never be answered.