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Rice v. Kerry is Foreign Policy Trivia

Yesterday’s meeting between United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and leading Republican members of the U.S. Senate did nothing to defuse the controversy over her misleading statements about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Senators Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte and John McCain were not pleased with Rice’s explanations and appear poised to lead a spirited opposition to Rice should, as many expect, she be tapped by President Obama to be the next secretary of state. Along with other members of the administration, Rice has much to answer for when it comes to Benghazi, and Democrats should not be under the impression that the GOP will knuckle under to the president’s attempt to intimidate them or patently false charges of racism. But conservatives need to think carefully about what the key issue at State is before they decide to go all in on an attempt to stop Rice’s appointment.

As tempting a target as Rice is, there are far more important issues at stake in determining the future of American foreign policy than whether Foggy Bottom is run by her or Senator John Kerry, the other leading candidate for the job who is obviously favored by his Senate colleagues. The impending confirmation battle needs to be about something more than just an attempt to take down a vulnerable friend of the president. It is an opportunity for Republicans to initiate a debate about the direction taken by the administration in the Middle East. On Secretary Clinton’s watch the administration has done more than merely pretend that al-Qaeda was as dead as Osama bin Laden when its affiliates are alive and well and killing Americans. It has made nice with Islamists in the region, such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and allowed a crucial nation to slip from the hands of a friendly authoritarian to an Islamist dictator linked to Hamas. It is on these big-picture issues that the Senate ought to take its stand and not just on what Rice said in September about Benghazi.

The real issue at the State Department is not whether Rice lied about Benghazi. Everyone in the administration lied about it from the top down and that is something that Congress should thoroughly explore. Senator Graham was right when he said that there ought to be a hold put on the promotion of anyone involved in Benghazi until there is a complete investigation of a scandal that can’t be buried by Democrats eager to move on now that the president has been re-elected. But Rice’s confirmation hearing, assuming that the president does nominate her, can’t substitute for the sort of special committee probe that is needed on that issue.

The administration’s eagerness to portray the terror attack on our diplomats in Benghazi as a spontaneous protest stemmed from an agenda which required that nothing be allowed to disrupt the president’s politically-motivated narrative that bin Laden’s death meant the end of the threat of Islamist terrorism. However, the willingness of this administration to acquiesce to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and even to go on sending billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Morsi regime should not be passed over in the zeal to nail Rice on Benghazi.

Allowing Rice to be rewarded for her deceptions rightly rankles Republicans, but no one should be under the impression that substituting Kerry for her will improve American foreign policy. In fact, her willingness to throw her weight around at the UN during her tenure there may mean she will be a tougher exponent of American interests than a weak figure like Kerry who was well known as Bashar Assad’s best friend in Washington. Derailing Rice to help Kerry may make sense to John McCain, but it’s not clear why other Republicans should care. There needs to be accountability for all of the administration’s errors, including the shocking tilt toward the Brotherhood, and not just Benghazi.