Not much is expected to change at the State Department when John Kerry replaces Hillary Clinton. That’s especially true in terms of the Middle East, where Kerry is not expected to be any more eager to push Iran than Clinton. Nor is he likely to take a more jaundiced view of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt, which was been the particular object of U.S. affection in the latter half of 2012 as Mohamed Morsi consolidated power without much in the way of protest from an administration that continues to funnel billions in aid to Cairo. Kerry appears to share the State Department consensus that Morsi and the Brotherhood are deserving of continued American largesse and regards the Islamists as a moderating force in the region rather than as the enablers of Hamas.
It remains to be seen whether his former Senate colleagues will press Kerry much on the subject. But in case anyone on the Hill is inclined to buy into the happy talk about the Brotherhood that is being sold by the State Department and mainstream media outlets eager to portray the Brotherhood as the Egyptian equivalent of the Islamist government of Turkey that President Obama is so fond of, they ought to take a look at this video uncovered by Memritv.org, the indispensable window into the Arab media. In this 2010 appearance on Lebanon’s Al Quds TV, the Brotherhood leader and future Egyptian president not only denounces any peace negotiations with Israelis, whom he called bloodsuckers, warmongers, and “the descendants of apes and pigs,” but also called for a boycott of U.S. products.
Hillary Clinton is returning to work next week, and apparently some Senate Republicans are considering holding John Kerry’s confirmation vote hostage unless she testifies on Benghazi. Sounds to me like an empty threat, but over to Josh Rogin:
Clinton has pledged to remain in the job until Kerry is confirmed, which Obama said he was confident would happen “quickly.” The Senate is expected to take up Kerry’s nomination in early January, but multiple Republican senators have already said they won’t agree to a vote on Kerry’s nomination until Clinton testifies about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Illness and a concussion has prevented Clinton from appearing thus far.
For the sake of accountability, Clinton should testify—but to be honest, she probably wouldn’t add much more than what her deputies have already said. The real benefit of her testimony for Republicans would be that she might say something self-incriminating that could be used when she runs for president in 2016. She probably knows this, which is why she’d be crazy to do it unless she’s compelled to. After all, if the GOP wants her to testify badly enough, the House foreign affairs committee can always issue a subpoena.
Many of those coming out in favor of Chuck Hagel’s presumptive nomination to be Secretary of Defense appear motivated less by love for Hagel and more by dislike for his opponents. The trend follows a common one in Washington. During the Cold War, there were anti-Communists and anti-anti-Communists. In the aftermath of 9/11, there were anti-terrorists and anti-anti-terrorists. The drawback in Washington is that the policy debate is often driven less by principle than by standing in opposition to perceived opponents. Nothing shows this more than the ad hoc coalition rally around Chuck Hagel who see nothing wrong with a man whose interpretation of honest policy disagreement is to question the loyalty of those who have the temerity to disagree with him.
It is likewise ironic to see progressives so obsessed with “neocons” (though most of those they label as such are not neoconservative) that they, in effect, form a coalition that makes a mockery of their own philosophical positions. I believe in a colorblind society in which jobs are based on qualifications rather than superficiality. The quotas often put forward by those on the left sound often sound like reincarnations of the infamous James Watt quote. Still, many progressives do believe in quotas and diversity of skin and sex rather than diversity of opinion. Therefore, it is ironic to see the pro-Hagel coalition in effect becoming the lobby for old, white, multimillionaires.
Ted Kennedy Jr., son of the late senator, appears to be floating his name for a potential senatorial bid to replace John Kerry. A “friend and adviser” to the Kennedy scion emailed the following to Mike Allen this morning:
“It’s no secret that Ted is interested in entering politics, after a long and successful career as a disability rights advocate and businessman. Numerous people in Massachusetts have reached out to him to ask him to consider running for office there, and, if Senator Kerry is nominated to a Cabinet post, it’s fair to say that he will be giving this very serious consideration.”
Finally, some good news to come out of John Kerry’s likely secretary of state appointment:
Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) anticipated move to the State Department would leave the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the hands of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who has consistently bucked the White House on Cuba and Iran.
Menendez is next in line to take over the panel if Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) opts to keep her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, as is widely expected. That would give Menendez a key role in approving diplomatic nominees and international treaties — crucial leverage to demand a tougher stance against America’s foes.
“You can’t work around the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he’s willing to dig in his heels on important issues,” said Roger Noriega, a former assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs under President George W. Bush who’s enthused by Menendez’s possible promotion. “At the same time, he’s going to be expected to be a team player — but that has its limits.
“I think he’ll give folks in the administration something to think about before they cross him, frankly.”
Surprisingly enough, Michael Dukakis apparently doesn’t want to upend his schedule for the next few months to play placeholder for a bunch of Democratic Senate hopefuls. He waved off rumors that he’d accept a temporary appointment to the seat until a special election is convened, in an interview with WBZ-TV yesterday (h/t HotAir):
Former Gov. Michael Dukakis says he will not be a candidate for appointment as interim senator should Sen. John Kerry resign to accept appointment as Secretary of State.
In a brief State House interview Monday, Dukakis told WBZ-TV: “I’m headed for the West to teach,” alluding to his annual spring-semester teaching duties at UCLA.
“That’s a no,” said Dukakis in reference to a possible appointment by Gov. Deval Patrick to fill the seat until a special election can be held. Dukakis also said he had not been contacted by the governor’s office in regard to a possible appointment.
The Hill reports that Governor Deval Patrick may appoint Michael Dukakis to Senator John Kerry’s seat if Kerry is nominated for secretary of state. Choosing Dukakis as a temporary placeholder until the special election isn’t a bad idea. He’s a trusted figure in state Democratic circles, and, even better, he doesn’t appear to have long-term ambitions for the seat. That’s a huge benefit since Patrick doesn’t want to appoint anyone who would run in the special election, according to The Hill:
Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, may be headed back to the political spotlight as he’s considered a likely interim replacement for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).
President Obama is set to tap Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, according to media reports.
This means Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) needs to find someone to fill Kerry’s seat until a special election can be held in the late spring or early summer. …
The Democratic primary for Kerry’s seat will be intense and Patrick is expected to tap someone as an interim replacement who would promise not to run in the special election.
Though there has been no official announcement, it appears John Kerry will be nominated to serve as the next secretary of state. This isn’t surprising, and one of the reasons newspapers feel so confident reporting it is that there have been no other names mentioned seriously for the post since conventional wisdom solidified around Susan Rice and Kerry as the two main choices. (Earlier in the process there were indeed other names floated, but the same process that brought down Rice’s shot at the post elevated Kerry.)
The question, then, is not who will be nominated but why there isn’t any such question. One answer is that President Obama had a clear first choice–Rice–and never intended to use her understudy. Kerry’s name was bandied about as an easier way to flatter the longtime senator. Since Kerry was always the bridesmaid but never the bride, having been passed over for this position before, it would have seemed cruel to make him compete for second place. Like a football team that goes into a game with only two activated quarterbacks and then loses its starter, the second-string quarterback gets the ball without much fuss. But that raises another question, posed by Yochi Dreazen in the Washington Post: Why would the Democrats have so few options in the first place?
It is no secret that when it comes to staffing, the most famous U.S.-based human rights organizations are skewed more toward Democrats than even universities. The most professional organizations try not to allow partisanship to corrupt analysis, but they are seldom successful. They loved to hate George W. Bush, never mind that many of the policies to which they most objected had their roots in the Clinton administration and have been continued by the Obama administration. When it comes to broader foreign policy, Bush did more to stand up to dictators and thugs than his predecessors. Reagan sought to appease Saddam Hussein, and Clinton repeatedly tried to cut a deal with the Taliban. When it came to unilateral sanctions, Clinton took a far tougher line on Iran than George W. Bush. And when it came to Africa, Bush did more than all his predecessors combined: Clinton’s Africa legacy was his ineffective response to the genocide in Rwanda and the civil war in Sudan.
The coming four years, however, should force real soul searching among the human rights community. President Obama’s reported pick of John Kerry to be secretary of state and the looming choice of Chuck Hagel to be secretary of defense will cement in his cabinet two figures that lack a moral compass in international affairs. If Kerry considered Bashar al-Assad “a dear friend” and a genuine reformer because they had a nice coffee and bike ride together, sympathizes with Latin America’s new populist dictators, and believes human rights should be shunted aside because Vladimir Putin is a sincere democrat, dictators will understand they have a free pass and democratic dissidents will realize they have no friend in the U.S. government.
I wrote yesterday that Susan Rice’s decision to withdraw her name from consideration to be the next secretary of state was as much the result of a steady campaign against her from the left as it was a result of John McCain and the GOP’s campaign against her from the right. I wrote that the GOP side hadn’t been really driving this campaign for a while now. The Atlantic Wire offers a timeline that backs this up.
The timeline shows McCain shifting his criticism as early as November 20. But as I noted, by that time Democrats had latched on to the fight and the bipartisan effort doomed Rice. But events also make a convincing case for what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, in defense of Rice: this was D.C. insider politics on a grand scale. Rice didn’t just lose to McCain or Hillary Clinton; she lost to Washington. It’s worth recalling, then, just how the elements of the capital worked against her.
It looks like Senator John McCain’s strong opposition to Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination set off a chain of events that could end up leading to Chuck Hagel’s nomination for the top role at the Pentagon.
You can’t exactly blame Republican critics of Rice; they had legitimate concerns about her role in Benghazi. But some have speculated McCain’s long-time friendship with John Kerry–now the most likely candidate for secretary of state–may have also played a role.
NBC News has the exclusive:
Embattled U.N. envoy Susan Rice is dropping out of the running to be the next secretary of state after months of criticism over her Benghazi comments, she told NBC News on Thursday.
“If nominated, I am now convinced that the confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive and costly – to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities,” Rice wrote in a letter to President Obama, saying she’s saddened by the partisan politics surrounding her prospects.
“That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country…Therefore, I respectfully request that you no longer consider my candidacy at this time,” she wrote in the letter obtained by NBC News.
The most vocal opponent of Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, John McCain, is joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just in time for the confirmation hearings. Josh Rogin reports:
MANAMA – The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue. …
It’s unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice’s potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president’s choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.
“I’ll wait and see if she’s nominated and we’ll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We’ll see what happens in the hearings,” he said.
Senator John McCain’s quip yesterday pushed his colleague Senator John Kerry’s ambitions back in the limelight. If President Barack Obama nominates Kerry to be secretary of state or defense, chances are his nomination would sail through the senate. The Senate is a club, and many members would consider it professional courtesy to give one of their own a pass. Ignore his positions and his track record for a moment: personality matters, and Kerry is perhaps the one senator least suited for any executive position.
The problem is, according to some of Kerry’s former staffers, that he is serially indecisive. Simple decisions regarding which of two candidates should receive a promotion on his staff could take six months. The problem was not Kerry’s busy schedule or his frequent travels, or that the memo got lost on his desk. Rather, it was that Kerry simply could not determine which candidate should get his blessing. In the end, he split the difference and announced co-directors. The result was predictable: turf wars and confusion as each sought to negate the other. Running a bureaucracy is not like attending a Quaker meeting; sometimes consensus is not the least-bad option. The example his own staffers gave was the rule, not the exception. They complained they would be waiting for Kerry’s decisions long after others on both side of the aisle had made up their minds.
Susan Rice may have more problems than just the Benghazi talking points. The potential secretary of state nominee also holds investments in energy companies that have done business with Iran, reports the Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo:
The portfolio of embattled United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice includes investments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in several energy companies known for doing business with Iran, according to financial disclosure forms.
Rice, a possible nominee to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she steps down, has come under criticism for promulgating erroneous information about the September 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans. …
The companies in question appear to have conducted business with Tehran well after Western governments began to urge divestment from the rogue nation, which has continued to enrich uranium near levels needed to build a nuclear bomb.
Financial disclosures reveal that Rice has had $50,001-$100,000 in Royal Dutch Shell, a longtime purchaser of Iranian crude oil. Royal Dutch Shell currently owes Iran nearly $1 billion in back payments for crude oil that it purchased before Western economic sanctions crippled Tehran’s ability to process oil payments, Reuters reported.
Susan Rice is still lobbying hard for that secretary of state post, but she struck out again with Senate Republicans yesterday. After meeting with Rice, Senators Susan Collins and Bob Corker said they still had concerns about her potential nomination:
Corker, who will be the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the new congressional term, implied that he considered Rice too much of a partisan and urged Obama to pick a more “independent” person as chief diplomat.
“All of us here hold the secretary of State to a different standard than most Cabinet members,” he said. “We want somebody of independence.”
He implied that Rice, who is close to the president, was, instead, a “loyal soldier.” Corker also seemed to contrast Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with whom he said he has had a positive and “transparent” relationship “from day one.”
Collins said that after a 75-minute session with Rice she still had many unanswered questions and remains “troubled” that on the Benghazi issue Rice played “a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign.”
Two weeks ago, I asked a question about the administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack and its aftermath to which we have yet to get a response: Why does Secretary of State Hillary Clinton still have her job? The CIA made mistakes in Benghazi too, and the agency’s director has since resigned (mostly over an affair, but the point is that he’s no longer in charge of the CIA). President Obama’s evasions and misdirections after the attack were brought up in the second presidential debate and were even briefly a campaign issue. And now Susan Rice, who became the public face of the administration’s false talking points, is fighting for her reputation and her political future, which she hopes will involve running Foggy Bottom.
Yet we still hear nothing about Clinton, who should own the lion’s share of the blame. That our ambassador had to even request adequate security (requests that were denied) in a war zone testifies to Clinton’s incompetence on the issue. And so while it’s absolutely appropriate to seek answers from Rice–who volunteered to be the administration’s point person on this–there is something unseemly about the focus on Rice and the threats to hold up her possible nomination at State.
It’s not, as the Washington Post’s thoroughly reprehensible editorial suggested, about Rice’s race. (Republicans have been far more inclined than Democrats to nominate African Americans for secretary of state.) It’s not about gender either, of course. It’s about a certain chummy Washington insider mentality. Here’s Politico yesterday:
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.
Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain didn’t waste any time responding to President Obama’s claim that they are “going after” Susan Rice because “they think she’s an easy target.”
In a statement, Graham blasted both Obama and Rice, saying she’s “up to [her] eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle”:
“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi. I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.
“We owe it to the American people and the victims of this attack to have full, fair hearings and accountability be assigned where appropriate. Given what I know now, I have no intention of promoting anyone who is up to their eyeballs in the Benghazi debacle.”
On Greta Van Susteren last night, McCain pushed back on the president’s comments, calling them “juvenile”:
Ross Douthat takes a look at Mitt Romney’s stagnating poll numbers and concludes, in part, that Romney is being held back by his hesitation to offer more clarity and creativity on economic policy and refusal to break more clearly with the Bush administration, especially on foreign policy. I find Douthat’s argument on economic policy compelling, but his estimation of the Bush administration’s drag on Romney less so.
Douthat is right to call attention to the weaknesses in the Romney camp’s favorite analogy: 2012 is just like 1980. There are parallels, of course, but their utility is limited and create the danger of Romney’s overreliance on them producing overconfidence. According to most major metrics, the Carter economy was in noticeably worse shape than the current economy. This recovery is still far too weak and unemployment far too high, and Romney has a very strong hand to play here. But Romney chose vagueness at his convention address, just as Reagan did at his, while voters seem to want more from Romney. He may very well have to respond to that.