Susan Rice vs. The Cult of John McCain

If diplomacy is the gentle art of saying the most unpleasant things in the most tactful way then Susan Rice is a consummate diplomat.   As Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, Rice is the face and voice of America’s foreign policy whether it is right, wrong or somewhere in between.

Foreign policy is usually not an issue that impacts presidential elections, but following the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Libya and the deaths of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens,  the nation wanted answers.  Rice was dispatched by the White House to appear on ABC’s  This Week and other Sunday morning talk shows.  Rice told ABC’s Jake Tapper, “…our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present, is that, in fact, what this began as, it was a spontaneous — not a premeditated — response to what had transpired in Cairo. In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated.”

“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to — or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons, weapons that as you know in — in the wake of the revolution in Libya are — are quite common and accessible. And it then evolved from there.”

There is nothing wrong with Congressional oversight over what happened in Benghazi, but the heavy-handed sledgehammer approach McCain and his Mini-Me partner Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) have taken seems based upon an opportunity to launch their own attack on the Obama Administration in general and Ambassador Rice specifically.

“I don’t trust her,” Graham said about Rice during a Capitol press conference, calling her “more a political operative than she is anything else when it comes to Benghazi.”   McCain has said Rice is “not very bright,” an interesting observation coming from the man who chose Sarah Palin as his running mate for vice-president.

McCain says Susan Rice is “not qualified,” but Sarah Palin was.

The increasingly cranky senior senator from Arizona is still bruised by the 2008 presidential election.   McCain has never fully healed from his loss to the upstart Obama and has never fully stopped running against him.   Backed by the fawning loyalty of the Beltway press, McCain has become one of the president’s most resolute enemies.

In 2008, McCain took his campaign on the road and dropped into Iraq to shake the hands of a few perplexed soldiers and reinforce his tough guy persona.   Rice, an advisor to Obama in 2008, dismissed McCain’s press junket saying, “His tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later; it is dangerous, and we can’t afford four more years of this reckless foreign policy” is just one vintage example of the form.”

Chances are McCain has not forgotten nor forgiven Rice for those remarks.

The Senate is a club restricted to 100 members and no one senator is first among equals.  But if anyone tries to project the persona as “the Senator” it’s McCain.   There are 52 weeks in a year.   Rachel Maddow reported on her program that in 2012,  McCain has appeared on the Sunday talk shows for 21 weeks.   The senior senator from Arizona rarely turns down an opportunity to pontificate.

If McCain really wants to pick a fight, in Rice he has a worthy adversary.   Foreign described Rice as “gracious and charming” but someone who can curse like a sailor when it suits her.  “Rice cursed with such conviction that it made you wonder what she sounds like behind closed doors.”

Rice met with the GOP senators leading the opposition,  McCain, Graham and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-Conn) to discuss their concerns as to the possibility of the president nominating her as Secretary of State.  Graham emerged from the meeting unimpressed and broadly hinted Rice was being challenged as pay back for Democratic opposition to John Bolton.

The blunt and blustery Bolton was George W. Bush’s recess appointment to the United Nations.  Senate Democrats objected to Bolton based upon his confrontational approach to diplomacy.  Bush was notorious for appointing activists whose philosophies were in direct opposition to the posts they were filling.   When Bolton quipped,  “There’s no such thing as the United Nations. If the U.N. secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference,” it was apparent he would continue the Bush Administration’s “up yours” approach to foreign countries.

“I remember the John Bolton episode pretty well,” Graham said. “Our Democrat friends felt like John Bolton — they didn’t have the information needed to make an informed decision about Ambassador Bolton’s qualifications — John Bolton to be ambassador — and Democrats dug in their heels and said, ‘We’re not going to vote, we’re not going to consider this nomination until we get basic answers to our concerns.’”

Rice has said her remarks about Bengahzi were based upon the intelligence reports available at the time, but McCain and his cohorts remain unmoved.  Following Tuesday’s kiss-and-make-up meeting.   The back-scratching friendships McCain has cultivated with the Washington press corps is serving him well now.   Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, lamented in 2010,  “I miss John McCain” and wrote mournfully, ” I was an original McCainiac, riding with him in his SUV through the back roads of New Hampshire in ’99. Even as other McCaniacs drifted away, I tried to find excuses for him.”

Boys on the side.

Boys on the side.

On November 16, Milbank’s McCain mancrush was displayed in a hit piece entitled, “Susan Rice’s Tarnished Resume” where he sneered,  “Obama’s over-the-top defense of Rice was surprising, particularly in contrast to the president’s relative indifference in accepting the resignation of CIA chief David Petraeus, one of the most capable public servants. And it was disappointing, because McCain, even if wrong on the particulars, is right about Rice. She is ill-equipped to be the nation’s top diplomat for reasons that have little to do with Libya.”

The grandstanding extends to the House of Representatives.  The task of vetting nominees to Cabinet positions is reserved for the Senate and the House has no part to play.   That didn’t stop 97 House Republicans from signing a letter to President Obama saying Rice “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world…we strongly oppose any efforts to nominate Ambassador Susan Rice for the position of Secretary of State”

The yapping of 97 Republicans will have no effect on whether Obama nominates Rice.  In fact, it may have the opposite effect.   Obama almost has to nominate Rice or look like he backed down to McCain’s threat.   The president respects McCain, but he’s beaten him straight-up.  McCain has to defer to Obama’s authority, not the other way around.

“If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after someone, they should go after me,” Obama said at his first post-reelection press conference. “And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the United Nations ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intel she had received, and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous.”

Despite the grousing of a handful of conservative obstructionists, if Obama really wants Rice to replace Hillary Clinton, he’s going to win that fight if he wants it.  The overt partisan bias of the right-wing media was outed by Thomas Ricks, an expert on defense policy who appeared on Fox News and blasted Rupert Murdoch’s network,  “I think the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political, partly because Fox is operating as the wing of Republican Party.”

Following her unsuccessful meeting with the Republican senators, Rice released a statement,  “While we certainly wish that we had had perfect information just days after the terrorist attack, as is often the case, the intelligence assessment has evolved.  We stressed that neither I nor anyone else in the Administration intended to mislead the American people at any stage in this process, and the Administration updated Congress and the American people as our assessments evolved.”

In the aftermath of a long and bruising presidential election, few outside of the Beltway are focused on an partisan fight between the president and one of his defeated rivals.  This is simply the opening shot of what appears to be a continuance of the Republican strategy to obstruct Obama at every opportunity.

Rice is resigned to the prospect that if nominated, her confirmation process will be a long, tough slog with her opponents determined to make her sweat.  Yet even McCain knows it comes down counting the votes and the president’s party picked up seats in the upper chamber.   Rice is inevitable as the next Secretary of State and if Republicans still touchy from Obama’s reelection were looking to pick a fight, this looks like a losing one.

Will it be Kerry or Rice replacing Clinton?

Will it be Kerry or Rice replacing Clinton?

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