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Susan Rice’s Place Is in the White House

By James Gibney
December 14, 2012 3:50 PM EST

In the annals of failed nominees -- from Robert Bork and Tony Lake to Kimba Wood and John Tower -- Susan Rice's "withdrawal" from consideration for a nomination that was never actually made would rate as an asterisk.

That doesn't mean she wasn't treated remarkably badly, both by her Republican tormenters Senators John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, who were more interested in blood than truth, and by President Barack Obama, who let her play a human pinata while he weighed the pros and cons of her formal nomination as secretary of state.

As unedifying and sordid as this spectacle was, is the U.S. the worse for Rice's withdrawal? I would argue not. Especially for this administration, Susan Rice was the wrong woman for the job. Don't get me wrong. She's clearly smart, tough, capable and experienced. And there's nothing wrong -- and something occasionally so right -- with giving vent to strong disagreements, even if that means flipping off an arrogant colleague. That's just what I'd look for in a national security adviser, someone who has to rap knuckles and crack heads for the president.

But that's not what I'd want in the secretary of state for Obama, a president known more for his tight control of big decisions than his backslapping rapport with foreign leaders. Give Hillary Clinton props for logging the miles, cultivating the relationships (especially in Asia), and not rocking the boat. If some man steps into her Manolos, he could do worse than to follow in her footsteps.

And who better than Senator John Kerry, with his rock jaw, salt-and-pepper hair, deep voice and not very active policy imagination.

So, here's my free advice, Mr. President: Make Rice your national security adviser -- and be sure to invite McCain and Graham to her swearing in. Nominate Kerry as Sec O'State. Take your very smooth, capable Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, former ambassador to Russia and a diplomat's diplomat, and put him at the United Nations. Problem solved. Next?

(James Gibney is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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