“I find it really sad. I love Washington, and I just don’t like what has happened at this point. It’s just very unpleasant and sad and something that a very, very good public servant doesn’t deserve or nobody deserves, frankly.”

One reads Madeleine Albright's reaction to Susan Rice's withdrawal from consideration as the next secretary of state and thinks, so what if she “loves Washington”? The answer, on reflection, is ... everything.

L'affair Rice is the repeat of a strange Washington ritual, which calls for the public humiliation of some strong personality for the scoring of political points, in a game which only insiders understand or care about. The condemned is forced to come face to face with a team of inquisitors – usually in one of the Senate hearing rooms – and answer a lot of insensitive questions without squirming or telling the interrogators to take a hike. It happened to John Bolton a few years back and everyone felt purified afterwards. There are, no doubt, lots of people in Washington who are disappointed that Ms. Rice has deprived them of the spectacle. Just a letter to the president saying, essentially, take my name off the list. A letter that she knew, one way or another, that the president wanted her to write.

So, no hearings. No auto de fe. People who love Washington have every reason to be sad. They had been so looking forward to those hearings.

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