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Jamie Stiehm
Past and Present
11 Feb 2016
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29 Jan 2016
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The Town's Table Talk Over Rice


The drama over Susan Rice is the other Washington cliffhanger.

Does Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, deserve to become his pick for the next secretary of state, the successor to Hillary Clinton, global rock star? No, I don't think so.

The president personally likes Rice and has defended her from critics, but diplomacy is not her strong suit. Making peace with Sen. John McCain, leading the charge against her over the Benghazi debacle, proved out of her skill set. Rice, not yet 50, is more rough than ready to be the face of America to the rest of the world. It's not worth the White House political candle to do any more in this shadow drama.

It should be as simple as that, clearing the path for Sen. John Kerry's nomination as "SecState." The polished, eloquent Kerry is the perfect statesman for the season, and the Senate is urging Obama to choose the Foreign Relations Committee chairman. Don't forget Kerry gave the unknown Obama the opening to his political fame, choosing him to address the 2004 Democratic convention when Kerry was the presidential nominee.

But this drama goes much deeper than that. True to "The Godfather," it's all personal, on every side. Strangely, there's even a ghost in the Oval Office conversation about Clinton's successor, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who died two years ago to this day. The finest diplomat of his generation, he ended the war in Bosnia with the Dayton Accords. Hillary Clinton respected that and asked him to serve as "AfPak" — special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But Obama never learned to love Holbrooke.

Let's start with Rice. Unjustly, she may face opposition because of the cultural fear of an angry black woman. When Rice came to Capitol Hill to meet with McCain and two New England Republicans, Sens.

Susan Collins and Kelly Ayotte, things only got worse. She failed her first test. Amends were not made for something she said about McCain in 2008, when he was visiting Iraq, that he was "strolling around the market in a flak jacket."

McCain has a famous temper, which flared at this scornful remark. He's a grudge-holder, too. He and Obama have a strained relationship, because McCain took his 2008 loss personally. McCain is said to seek a move to the Foreign Relations Committee, perhaps so he can torpedo Rice's nomination, if Obama chooses to do battle over her. He, after all, doesn't want to be seen as surrendering to that old warrior, McCain.

Meanwhile, Rice's old teacher at Washington's National Cathedral School wrote a letter to The Washington Post about what an outstanding student she was. As if that would end the tempest at the town table talk. Just as McCain remembered Rice's cut in 2008, Hillary would not forget Rice openly supported Obama in 2008.

Further, as Maureen Dowd hinted, "wily" Hillary let Rice go out on five Sunday talk shows to discuss the troubling Benghazi attack on Sept. 11, which resulted in our ambassador's death. With her sharp political antennae, well-defended Hillary was right not to make the rounds herself.

Finally, we come to the exuberant, relentless Holbrooke. Profane at times, Rice was really rude to him once, flipping him her third finger. That's not a good way to climb Foggy Bottom — except for one odd thing. Did it help, not hurt, her standing with the president?

Obama never cared for Holbrooke's hot style, temperamentally his opposite. He got impatient whenever Holbrooke connected Afghanistan to the lost Vietnam War, as he was wont to do.

See, this is how small the town is — and how long people's memories are in the palace intrigue. Please pass the Rice. Whether or not she wins the day, just now before the winter solstice, the world feels duller and darker without Holbrooke.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit



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