Why Obama Betrayed Susan Rice

She has been loyal to the president from the start. But at the first sign of trouble, Obama bails on her bid to succeed Hillary. Peter Beinart on 44’s calculating side.

What’s the point of being Barack Obama’s friend? I bet Susan Rice—who just withdrew from the secretary of state chase--is asking that question right about now.

Think about it. Rice signed on with Obama early in the 2008 campaign, a risky proposition when he was a relative long shot and it was assumed that when Hillary Clinton won the White House, she would remember those who had been disloyal. Rice’s bet seemed to pay off: She co-chaired the Obama campaign’s foreign-policy team and when he won, she seemed to be a strong contender to become national security adviser. But Obama gave the NSC job to Gen.James Jones, a man who hadn’t even endorsed him in 2008, because Jones gave Obama cover with the military and the GOP. Rice couldn’t get a high-ranking position at the State Department because Obama gave the top job there to his ex-nemesis, Hillary Clinton, who promptly filled most of the plum positions with her loyalists. So Rice decamped to Turtle Bay, where she bided her time until Jones retired at the NSC. But instead of appointing Rice, Obama chose Jones’ deputy, Tom Donilon, who during the primaries had supported Joe Biden.

Finally, Hillary leaves State and Rice’s time appears to have come. Except that she comes under a brutal assault led by John McCain, whose wrath she earned while stumping for Obama in 2008. And what does Obama do? He throws Rice to the wolves in order to husband political capital for the budget fight.

In a sense, the Rice saga exemplifies everything we have come to admire and distrust about our president. He’s calculating, strategic, and totally unsentimental. What you did for him yesterday always pales in comparison with what you can do for him tomorrow. And that’s why although he’ll always be admired, even revered, by the people around him, he’ll probably never be loved.