Commentary Magazine


Topic: Susan Rice

Susan Rice’s Consolation Prize

The news that Susan Rice will be named to replace Tom Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser is not surprising in the least–indeed, it was close to a sure thing as soon as Rice’s name was dropped from consideration to be secretary of state. But there is irony aplenty in this promotion, and it explains why the New York Times is wrong to cast the appointment as “a defiant gesture to Republicans.” The Times joins many commentators on the left in being completely confused by the complicated politics of l’affaire Rice, so it’s worth reviewing.

Rice’s stock began to drop because of her own attempt to raise her profile. When Hillary Clinton was permitted by the Obama administration to evade accountability for her failures that led to the Benghazi terror attack, the administration needed someone to go on the Sunday morning political talk shows and push false talking points to mislead the American people on the causes of the attack. Rice was happy to step in, hoping to prove herself to the Obama White House and increase her chances vis-à-vis John Kerry to succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. But the false talking points proved understandably controversial, and put Rice at the center of the storm. What happened next is what seems to have the Times so baffled.

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The news that Susan Rice will be named to replace Tom Donilon as President Obama’s national security adviser is not surprising in the least–indeed, it was close to a sure thing as soon as Rice’s name was dropped from consideration to be secretary of state. But there is irony aplenty in this promotion, and it explains why the New York Times is wrong to cast the appointment as “a defiant gesture to Republicans.” The Times joins many commentators on the left in being completely confused by the complicated politics of l’affaire Rice, so it’s worth reviewing.

Rice’s stock began to drop because of her own attempt to raise her profile. When Hillary Clinton was permitted by the Obama administration to evade accountability for her failures that led to the Benghazi terror attack, the administration needed someone to go on the Sunday morning political talk shows and push false talking points to mislead the American people on the causes of the attack. Rice was happy to step in, hoping to prove herself to the Obama White House and increase her chances vis-à-vis John Kerry to succeed Clinton at Foggy Bottom. But the false talking points proved understandably controversial, and put Rice at the center of the storm. What happened next is what seems to have the Times so baffled.

Rice or her allies floated her name as Obama’s choice to be the next secretary of state hoping to build momentum for her (though it’s possible she was actually Obama’s first choice). At the same time, Republicans in Congress were trying mightily to get the administration to answer for its failures in Libya and its decision to mislead the public on the attack. They were also hoping to get the media–which had been so embarrassingly in the tank during the fall election season that they were attacking Mitt Romney over Benghazi–to do their jobs and cover the story. Neither would play ball.

But then, they had a breakthrough. Lindsey Graham and John McCain threatened to attempt to block Rice’s nomination to State until they got answers. “I cannot imagine promoting anybody associated with Benghazi at this point,” Graham had said on CBS’s Face the Nation. It was likely a hollow threat, but the Hail Mary worked: the press grudgingly paid attention and the administration started engaging the GOP. The issue snowballed publicly when Obama gave a tetchy and overly defensive press conference that further piqued the interest of the press–and encouraged McCain and Graham to continue to press the issue of Rice’s nomination.

Graham didn’t actually mean he couldn’t imagine promoting anybody involved in the Benghazi episode. One of the officials who played a role in manipulating the Benghazi talking points that Rice repeated was State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, who has just been named for a big administration promotion that requires Senate confirmation. Yet Graham issued a statement praising Nuland designed to speed her confirmation through the Senate. The point of what Graham was doing was to focus attention on Benghazi. Threatening Rice’s nomination was succeeding on that front, so he just continued doing so even though he probably wouldn’t have been able to stop Rice’s nomination if she were actually nominated.

So why did Obama drop Rice’s name from contention? Because the administration needed a scapegoat that wasn’t Hillary Clinton, whom he has been helping build support for a presidential run, and because the confirmation hearings for Rice would have forced the administration to talk more about Benghazi. Obama was hoping the issue would go away.

Graham’s bluff worked. But not before something coldly and typically Washington took place. When Rice became the center of controversy, Hillary Clinton saw an opportunity. She doesn’t get along with Rice, and didn’t want her to step in as the next secretary of state. So she began making her preference that Rice’s name be dropped from contention clear. Her friends and allies in the liberal media took the cue, and began assailing Rice in harshly personal terms far beyond anything Graham or McCain were saying. That gave Obama cover to ditch Rice.

Graham didn’t really mean it when he said he intended to stop Rice’s nomination, but the nomination was derailed anyway. Obama didn’t mean it when he stepped in to defend Rice, because he was merely trying to shut down the conversation and dropped Rice when that failed. In the end, hearings were held on Benghazi and more information came to light about the talking points, preventing both the Obama White House and Clinton from avoiding the controversy after all.

So promoting Rice to national security adviser isn’t a “defiant gesture” aimed at Republicans at all–Graham and McCain are only interested if the position requires Senate confirmation and thus enables them to control the conversation. It was never about stopping Rice; in fact, Graham and McCain would have been much happier had Obama gone through with Rice’s nomination to State and forced the public hearings.

Additionally, McCain and Graham tend to be pro-intervention on foreign policy, and would probably prefer Rice’s internationalist instincts to virtually anyone else the Democrats would be expected to appoint national security adviser. Clinton probably doesn’t care much either, since what she really wanted was to stop Rice’s nomination to State, and she did so. Rice deserved much better than the treatment she got from the Obama administration, but she probably understands that like the rest of this saga, that’s politics.

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Can Susan Rice Spur Syria Intervention?

President Obama is making important changes on his national security team, which will serve to elevate the status of both Susan Rice, slated to be the new national security adviser, and Samantha Power, who will be nominated to be the next UN ambassador. Both Rice and Power are known for their humanitarian interventionist viewpoints; they were widely seen as two of the key advocates for military action in Libya in 2011. Perhaps in their new positions they can make the case to Obama more effectively for greater American involvement in Syria where the situation continues to spiral downward.

The anti-Assad rebels appeared to have suffered a serious blow with the loss of the strategic town of Qusayr to a joint Syrian-Hezbollah offensive. Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate that Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons: Both Britain and France have added further facts on that score, with the French foreign minister reporting, in the words of one press account, that “samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — ‘prove the presence of sarin,’ a poisonous nerve gas.”

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President Obama is making important changes on his national security team, which will serve to elevate the status of both Susan Rice, slated to be the new national security adviser, and Samantha Power, who will be nominated to be the next UN ambassador. Both Rice and Power are known for their humanitarian interventionist viewpoints; they were widely seen as two of the key advocates for military action in Libya in 2011. Perhaps in their new positions they can make the case to Obama more effectively for greater American involvement in Syria where the situation continues to spiral downward.

The anti-Assad rebels appeared to have suffered a serious blow with the loss of the strategic town of Qusayr to a joint Syrian-Hezbollah offensive. Meanwhile, evidence continues to accumulate that Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons: Both Britain and France have added further facts on that score, with the French foreign minister reporting, in the words of one press account, that “samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — ‘prove the presence of sarin,’ a poisonous nerve gas.”

The use of chemical weapons–supposedly a “red line” for Obama–has also been further confirmed by the UN Human Rights Council, which finds in a new report that the conflict in Syria “has reached new levels of brutality.” According to the report: “Government forces and affiliated militia have committed murder, torture, rape, forcible displacement, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts. Many of these crimes were perpetrated as part of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations and constitute crimes against humanity.” The report also finds that anti-government forces have committed war crimes, while adding: “The violations and abuses committed by anti-Government armed groups did not, however, reach the intensity and scale of those committed by Government forces and affiliated militia.”

Considering that Power and to a lesser extent Rice have argued that the U.S. has a “responsibility to protect” populations subject to genocide or other war crimes, it would be disheartening indeed if the administration in which they serve at increasingly senior levels were to continue to do little as the list of atrocities in Syria pile up. Especially when there is growing support in the region for action. Just this week Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a Turkish academic and diplomat who is head of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called for the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria. However much Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other regional allies would support such a step, they are not going to impose a no-fly zone on their own. That depends on American leadership, which so far has been conspicuously missing.

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The Benghazi Scandal Grows

National Journal’s Michael Hirsh, in writing about the House hearings on the September 11, 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, said, “Benghazi was a tragedy. It will, almost certainly, remain a political issue. What it is not — by a long shot — is a scandal yet.”

To understand why this judgment is wrong, it’s helpful to keep in mind that weeks after the attack the Obama administration claimed the cause of the violence was a spontaneous demonstration, not pre-planned attacks; that the cause of the demonstrations was an anti-Muslim YouTube video; and that there was no terrorist involvement in the attacks.

Now compare that narrative with some of what we learned based on the testimonies of Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya before he became the top American diplomat in Libya after Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered, as well as Mark Thompson, the former deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau and Eric Nordstrom, an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

1. Mr. Hicks confirmed that he received a call from Ambassador Stevens shortly before he died. Stevens said to Hicks, “Greg, we’re under attack.” (Not, “There’s a demonstration outside the diplomatic outpost.”) Mr. Hicks also confirmed that the night of the attacks the Libyan president, Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, called him and said these attacks were led by Islamic extremists with possible terror links. Five days after the attack the Libyan president said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the attacks were “pre-planned” and “pre-determined.” And Mr. Hicks told the House committee, “The only report that our mission made through every channel was that this was an attack. No protest.” Mr. Hicks also emphasized there was “no report” from anyone on the ground that that there was a demonstration. 

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National Journal’s Michael Hirsh, in writing about the House hearings on the September 11, 2012 attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi, said, “Benghazi was a tragedy. It will, almost certainly, remain a political issue. What it is not — by a long shot — is a scandal yet.”

To understand why this judgment is wrong, it’s helpful to keep in mind that weeks after the attack the Obama administration claimed the cause of the violence was a spontaneous demonstration, not pre-planned attacks; that the cause of the demonstrations was an anti-Muslim YouTube video; and that there was no terrorist involvement in the attacks.

Now compare that narrative with some of what we learned based on the testimonies of Gregory Hicks, deputy chief of mission in Libya before he became the top American diplomat in Libya after Ambassador Chris Stevens was murdered, as well as Mark Thompson, the former deputy coordinator for operations in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau and Eric Nordstrom, an official in the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

1. Mr. Hicks confirmed that he received a call from Ambassador Stevens shortly before he died. Stevens said to Hicks, “Greg, we’re under attack.” (Not, “There’s a demonstration outside the diplomatic outpost.”) Mr. Hicks also confirmed that the night of the attacks the Libyan president, Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf, called him and said these attacks were led by Islamic extremists with possible terror links. Five days after the attack the Libyan president said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the attacks were “pre-planned” and “pre-determined.” And Mr. Hicks told the House committee, “The only report that our mission made through every channel was that this was an attack. No protest.” Mr. Hicks also emphasized there was “no report” from anyone on the ground that that there was a demonstration. 

 2. We learned of a September 12 e-mail from Beth Jones, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, who wrote to several key individuals in the State Department that she had a direct conversation with the Libyan ambassador. Ms. Jones wrote, “I told him [the Libyan ambassador] that the group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists.”

3. Asked about the role played by the YouTube video that the administration said had sparked the attack in Benghazi, Mr. Hicks told the House Oversight Committee, “The YouTube video was a non-event in Libya.” He added, “The video was not instigative of anything that was going on in Libya. We saw no demonstrations related to the video anywhere in Libya.”

4. When Mr. Hicks was asked his reaction to Ambassador Susan Rice’s televised account of the events in Benghazi–when she blamed the attacks on the YouTube video; repeatedly characterized it as a spontaneous demonstration; and insisted there was no involvement by terrorist elements–Hicks said he was “stunned,” that “my jaw dropped” and that he was “embarrassed.”

5. According to Hicks, Special Forces were “furious” when they were told to stand down during the Benghazi attack. “I will quote Lieutenant Colonel Gibson,” Hicks told the committee. “He said, ‘This is the first time in my career that a diplomat has more balls than somebody in the military.’” (Lt. Colonel Gibson, located in Tripoli, was ready to board a C-130 to go to help the Americans under attack.) The previous claim by others that “there was never a stand down order by anybody” was false, according to Hicks.

6. Mr. Hicks said that after a long and distinguished career, there was “a shift” in the way State Department officials treated him after he asked why Susan Rice had blamed the Benghazi attack on protests sparked by a YouTube video. 

“In hindsight, I think it began after I asked the question about Ambassador Rice’s statement on the TV shows,” Hicks said. He had asked Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Beth Jones why Susan Rice had said the Benghazi attack stemmed from a demonstration. Jones said that she didn’t know, according to Hicks. “The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning,” Hicks added.

Mr. Hicks went on to tell the committee that Ms. Jones gave a “blistering report” of his performance when he returned to the U.S. to attend the funeral of Ambassador Stevens, though he was given “no indication” there were issues with his work. “She even said she didn’t understand why anyone in Tripoli would want me to come back,” Hicks recalled. “I’ve been effectively demoted from deputy chief of mission to desk officer,” he said.

7. Mr. Hicks testified that he was instructed not to be personally interviewed by Representative Jason Chaffetz, who was visiting Libya to investigate what had happened. He also said he had “never,” in any other circumstance, been told not to talk with Members of Congress investigating an event. And when a lawyer was excluded from one meeting with intelligence officers because he lacked security clearances, Hicks received a furious call from then-chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, Cheryl Mills. According to Hicks, Ms. Mills called him directly. Mr. Hicks described her as being ”very upset.” Mills, Hicks said, demanded to know what was said in the meeting. 

8. Those testifying yesterday said they felt that the investigation of the Benghazi attack by the State Department, the Accountability Review Board, was inadequate because many people who were directly involved in the attacks–including those testifying as well as Secretary of State Clinton–were not interviewed. “They stopped short of interviewing people who I personally know were involved in key decisions,” said Eric Nordstrom.

Add to all this the reporting of Steve Hayes of the Weekly Standard. Thanks to his story, we know that the early talking points produced to explain the Benghazi attacks were accurate–but after the State Department and the White House altered them, the American people were presented with an utterly false account of events.

As I wrote earlier this week, early (accurate) references to “Islamic extremists” were removed. Early (accurate) references to “attacks” were changed to “demonstrations.” And there was no mention of any YouTube video in any of the many drafts of the talking points — even though everyone from the president of the United States to the secretary of state to the U.N. ambassador blamed the attacks on the “awful, “heinous,” “offensive,” “reprehensible,” “disgusting” and “widely disseminated” video. Except that we now know the video was irrelevant to what happened.

It sounds like a scandal to me. 

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The Return of Clintonian Politics

Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information. His article was built around the emails released by a group of Republican House committee chairmen after a congressional investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the September 11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. Those emails detailed the efforts of the administration to craft talking points that downplayed or omitted information the administration already knew about the role of Islamic terrorist actors in the attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

The resulting talking points were designed to mislead the American public about what happened, because then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership at Foggy Bottom was marked by negligence and incompetence, and the new talking points were written to exonerate her. But Hayes provided a key piece of information: names. Specifically, he revealed the authors of some of those emails. As a result, it’s far easier to piece together what happened. Hayes explains that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns that the original talking points too accurately portrayed the incompetence at the highest levels of State. Hayes continues:

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Stephen Hayes’s scoop on Benghazi is probably more significant than it may have seemed at first glance, even though he didn’t provide much in the way of new information. His article was built around the emails released by a group of Republican House committee chairmen after a congressional investigation into the Obama administration’s response to the September 11 anniversary attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya. Those emails detailed the efforts of the administration to craft talking points that downplayed or omitted information the administration already knew about the role of Islamic terrorist actors in the attacks, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, Christopher Stevens.

The resulting talking points were designed to mislead the American public about what happened, because then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s leadership at Foggy Bottom was marked by negligence and incompetence, and the new talking points were written to exonerate her. But Hayes provided a key piece of information: names. Specifically, he revealed the authors of some of those emails. As a result, it’s far easier to piece together what happened. Hayes explains that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised concerns that the original talking points too accurately portrayed the incompetence at the highest levels of State. Hayes continues:

In an attempt to address those concerns, CIA officials cut all references to Ansar al Sharia and made minor tweaks. But in a follow-up email at 9:24 p.m., Nuland wrote that the problem remained and that her superiors—she did not say which ones—were unhappy. The changes, she wrote, did not “resolve all my issues or those of my building leadership,” and State Department leadership was contacting National Security Council officials directly. Moments later, according to the House report, “White House officials responded by stating that the State Department’s concerns would have to be taken into account.” One official—Ben Rhodes, The Weekly Standard is told, a top adviser to President Obama on national security and foreign policy—further advised the group that the issues would be resolved in a meeting of top administration officials the following morning at the White House.

As I’ve written in the past, there is simply no way around Clinton’s failure to address security needs, her dismissal or ignorance of threats on the ground, and the general chain-of-command disorganization and bureaucratic confusion that prevailed during her tenure at State. But Clinton also wants to run for president, presumably, or at least have the option open to her. So her staff demanded the White House tell the public a different story, and the White House complied. (The mainstream media comes out of this looking ever worse, by the way.)

What came next wasn’t very surprising to anyone who has endured the brand of politics practiced by the Clintons. Though it was obviously on Clinton to explain what had just happened, she didn’t want to be within a mile of accountability. So Clinton kept silent and the administration sent out Susan Rice to deliver the misleading talking points on the Sunday shows. That proved a setback to Rice–who should have seen the whole thing coming a mile away–in her quest to succeed Clinton when the latter stepped aside after the election. But Clinton wants to be president and doesn’t want Rice elevating her stature and developing her own power base, so Clinton’s allies in the media fairly brazenly sabotaged Rice’s sputtering nomination.

As Clinton gears up to attempt to return to the White House, the Benghazi episode is worth keeping in mind as a reminder of the Clintonian politics of personal destruction and ruthless dishonesty that would surely return with her. But the Benghazi revelations weren’t the only such reminder in the news recently. MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry drew some attention for cutting a promo for the network lamenting the lack of a “collective” notion of child-rearing, suggesting that “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, or kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

This generated the attention MSNBC was looking for, since it was creepy and mildly totalitarian, and people seemed genuinely surprised that this was the image the network wanted to project of its own programming. (If the public actually watched MSNBC they would probably be less surprised, but they don’t.) Yet if Harris-Perry’s Orwellian idea of who your children belong to sounded familiar, it should: as Jonah Goldberg wrote in a 2007 column, Hillary Clinton once said that “As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child. … For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate.”

Goldberg protested:

But here’s the thing: There really is such a thing as somebody else’s child. I don’t want to live in a country where there’s no such thing as somebody else’s child, because that means there’s no such thing as my child. And the fact is, my child is mine and nobody else’s (save, of course, for her mother). Almost as important, I don’t want to live in a country where I am a “subversive” simply by offering political or ideological debate against this vision.

That objection to Clinton’s worldview was relevant then and is relevant now. Clinton is popular largely because she has stayed out of the partisan fray and enjoyed the approval ratings shared by secretaries of state from both parties (though a lower approval rating than some of her predecessors). But if and when Clinton runs for president again, it’s worth remembering what brand of politics she’ll bring with her.

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John Kerry, Secretary of Retrenchment

An admiring portrait of now-former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the New York Times (is there any other kind of portrait of Clinton in the Times?) over the weekend is in some ways a follow-up to a comment let slip by Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, last week. Kerry told the Boston Globe that President Obama called and offered him the job a full week before Susan Rice dropped her embattled bid for the post and withdrew her name from consideration.

If that’s true–if Obama really always wanted the dour and pliable Kerry over the sharp, independent and tough Rice–the Times profile of Clinton helps explain why. Clinton, according to the Times, was too much of an interventionist for the Obama White House. This insight illuminates the Kerry selection: John Kerry can give you a thousand reasons not to do something. Kerry and Obama both believe it looks thoughtful to appear aloof, uninterested, bored. Clinton and Rice, on the other hand, are always in motion. Kerry will be quite the change of pace, if his statements during his confirmation hearings are any indication, as the Washington Times notes:

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An admiring portrait of now-former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the New York Times (is there any other kind of portrait of Clinton in the Times?) over the weekend is in some ways a follow-up to a comment let slip by Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, last week. Kerry told the Boston Globe that President Obama called and offered him the job a full week before Susan Rice dropped her embattled bid for the post and withdrew her name from consideration.

If that’s true–if Obama really always wanted the dour and pliable Kerry over the sharp, independent and tough Rice–the Times profile of Clinton helps explain why. Clinton, according to the Times, was too much of an interventionist for the Obama White House. This insight illuminates the Kerry selection: John Kerry can give you a thousand reasons not to do something. Kerry and Obama both believe it looks thoughtful to appear aloof, uninterested, bored. Clinton and Rice, on the other hand, are always in motion. Kerry will be quite the change of pace, if his statements during his confirmation hearings are any indication, as the Washington Times notes:

“I’ve had personal conversations prior to being nominated as secretary with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov, which indicated a Russian willingness to in fact see President Assad leave, but they have a different sense of the timing and manner of that.”

He added that he hopes to use his new stature as secretary of state “to really take the temperature of these different players.”…

“China is cooperating with us now on Iran,” Mr. Kerry said. “I think there might be more we could perhaps do with respect to North Korea.”

“There could be more we could do in other parts of the Far East, and hopefully we can build those relationships that will further that transformation,” he added. “We make progress. It’s incremental. You know, it’s a tough slog. And there just isn’t any single magic way to approach it.”

As this shows, Kerry has great plans to tell you about progress you didn’t know we were making at the State Department. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, Kerry believes this of his time in Washington, too. “I accomplished a lot,” Kerry told the Globe. “A lot more than people know.” And his assurance that the Russian government wants Assad out also, but they just have a “different sense of the timing” is classic Kerry; it’s not technically untrue to say that that the difference between now and never is a “sense of the timing.” But that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous.

Yet there is an argument to be made that Kerry is simply being realistic, and will actually helm a much diminished foreign policy apparatus. If diplomacy is the art of saying “nice doggie” until you can find a rock, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had some sobering words about that rock:

The Army would be forced to slash its ranks by an additional 100,000 soldiers over 10 years if the process called sequestration went into effect, Panetta said in an interview with USA TODAY. That reduction would be in addition to the 80,000 soldiers it plans to shed over the next five years to a force of about 490,000. The Marine Corps will drop about 20,000 troops under the current plan, which calls on the Pentagon to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next decade.

Congress has until March 1 to reach a deal to stop the cuts, which were created in a summer 2011 deal between Congress and President Obama to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

“We are the world’s most powerful military, and we use that to promote peace and stability in the world,” Panetta said. “It would be a shameful act of irresponsibility if Congress just stood to the side and let sequester take place. It would turn America from a first-rate power into a second-rate power.”

The story doesn’t make it clear, but that sequester, and its attendant cuts to the military, was an idea cooked up by the Obama White House during negotiations with GOP leadership. Consequently, Hillary Clinton’s interventionist advocacy might have done much to elevate Kerry as Obama’s preferred second-term secretary of state.

Obama, it seems, was tired of being challenged for his inaction, and tired of having people around him who saw the world differently. But even more so, Obama understood he might have had more use for an active secretary of state if he were going to give the military the tools to back up the sense of idealism about American’s role in the world that a Hillary Clinton or a Susan Rice values, but which someone like John Kerry is happy to make do without.

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“What Difference Does it Make?” Plenty

As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.

Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.

The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.

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As Seth noted earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began her long-awaited congressional testimony about Benghazi with excuses and an attempt to misdirect the public about what the administration knew about the incident and when it knew it. But while Clinton happily listened to fawning praise from the Democratic members of the Senate committee this morning, she lost her cool when one senator pressed her closely to account for the false story that had been put out in the days following the attack.

Senator Ron Johnson pointed out that accurate information about the assault that would have easily corrected the misconception, promoted by United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and others, that the attack was merely a protest about a film rather than a terrorist attack was available at the time. Clinton not only refused to answer that question in a straightforward matter, but snapped, “What difference does it make?” about the whole matter of the false account. She then attempted to insinuate that there was still some doubt about the matter.

The answer to her question is clear. An administration that sought, for political purposes, to give the American people the idea that al-Qaeda had been “decimated” and was effectively out of commission had a clear motive during a presidential campaign to mislead the public about Benghazi. The fact that questions are still unanswered about this crime and that Clinton and President Obama seem more interested in burying this story along with the four Americans that died is an outrage that won’t be forgotten.

While Clinton gave, as she has before, lip service to the idea that she took responsibility for the tragedy, throughout her testimony she demonstrated that she regarded the whole idea of accountability as a detail to be shrugged off or pigeonholed along with internal government reports about the matter. Her attitude, when not listening to paeans to her service and frequent trips abroad, seemed to betray her belief that not only were questions about Benghazi unimportant but that she knew the mainstream press would continue to give her a pass for her failures.

The problem here is not just what she considers an irrelevant question from Johnson or a mere “difference of opinion”–as she characterized Senator John McCain’s scathing attack on her record on the issue–but a belief that four dead Americans in Benghazi was really not such an earth-shaking event. Her consistent talking point seemed to be that the committee shouldn’t bother itself trying to find out what happened and why and who was responsible for the mistakes that led to the deaths, but merely to “move on”—to steal a phrase made popular during her husband’s presidency. That’s why she still won’t say who changed the public talking points about Benghazi that led to Rice’s lies and why they were altered.

That’s been the key to understanding the administration’s desire to treat its lies about Benghazi as somehow unworthy of further investigation. In Hillary’s world, lies don’t matter as long as it’s her side telling them. That’s not a standard that she and other Democrats would apply to any Republican. As McCain pointed out, the American people deserve an honest account of events that gets the facts straight.

Senator Rand Paul rightly pointed out that her failure of leadership ought to have led to her dismissal. Saying that the State Department gets lots of cables and she can’t be expected to read them all is not the sort of arrogant answer a Senator Hillary Clinton would have accepted from a Republican administration.

“What difference does it make” is an answer that ought to hang over Hillary Clinton for the rest of her public career. It is just one more indication that what happened after Benghazi in the State Department was akin to a cover up. Should Clinton run for president in 2016, this is a story that won’t go away. Nor should it. 

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Can Immigration Be a Winning Issue for Lindsey Graham?

Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

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Every so often a political event that seems inevitable fails to materialize. One such event that looks to be headed in that direction is a serious primary challenge to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham. Long derided by conservative grassroots as “Lindsey Grahamnesty” for his moderate stance on immigration, the two-term senator has battled his own side enough that most expected the Tea Party primary wave to land on the shores of the Palmetto State with full force in 2014, when Graham’s term is up.

Yet for all such talk, there hasn’t been much noise coming from actual candidates who would challenge Graham. One reason for this, as Politico notes, is Graham’s high-profile opposition to Susan Rice’s potential nomination as secretary of state. Not only did Graham win the battle–Rice withdrew her name from consideration–but it’s also seen as a victory in conservatives’ effort to raise the profile of the administration’s failure in Benghazi and its ensuing evasiveness over misleading statements to the press about it. Graham’s poll numbers have seen a bounce from it as well. But there are other reasons for Graham’s sudden stability.

One underreported aspect of Graham’s relationship with the conservative base is the changing politics of immigration for the GOP. Mitt Romney’s lopsided loss among Hispanics (and immigrant groups in general) in the November election gave new momentum, as well as popular support and political cover, to the GOP’s immigration moderates. Though South Carolina voters are not Florida voters, it would be a strange sight indeed for conservative voters to primary Graham over the issue of immigration but not, say, Marco Rubio–a conservative senator often associated with the Tea Party movement and a beneficiary of the right’s “primarying” strategy himself–who was planning to introduce his own version of the DREAM Act this past year.

John McCain, Graham’s fellow immigration reformer and close friend in the Senate, was also vulnerable on the issue in 2010 and seemed to run to his right on immigration to fend off a primary challenge. Graham may not have to adjust his position on immigration to fend off a primary challenge–indeed, Graham’s enthusiasm for immigration reform is looking to be more like the party’s future than its past. If that shift really takes place, it should take the issue off the table for primary challengers and may make Graham’s moderation seem wise and ahead of its time. That would be a remarkable turnaround for the party and the issue of immigration, yet it is a quite plausible scenario.

There are, of course, other reasons Graham is stronger than he seemed all along. Aside from the Benghazi episode, Graham has the fundraising and party network advantages of incumbency. He has also been one of the party’s leaders on foreign policy, where his views have been closer to his conservative base than on the issue of immigration.

He’s not out of the woods yet. The so-called fiscal cliff debate looks headed for a compromise involving raising taxes, and Graham has suggested the right be open to raising tax rates. Yet if the party caves on taxes as part of a final deal, it may absolve Graham of some of the blame. If conservatives in the GOP end up supporting some tax increases, Graham won’t be an outlier–even among conservatives. That might take the issue off the table, or at least dull its impact, the way immigration went from being evidence of Graham’s apostasy to a GOP mainstream policy position just in time for Graham’s reelection.

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Clinton Won’t Testify on Benghazi, Citing Concussion

State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be testifying on a Benghazi report before congressional committees later this week because of a concussion she reportedly sustained after fainting from dehydration. According to Nuland, Clinton has sent letters to the heads of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, apologizing for her absence.

When pressed on whether Clinton will testify after she’s recovered, Nuland hedged a bit before saying that Clinton has made if clear that if there is an “ongoing conversation in January” that she’s “available for that.”

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State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland reiterated today that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will not be testifying on a Benghazi report before congressional committees later this week because of a concussion she reportedly sustained after fainting from dehydration. According to Nuland, Clinton has sent letters to the heads of the House and Senate foreign affairs committees, apologizing for her absence.

When pressed on whether Clinton will testify after she’s recovered, Nuland hedged a bit before saying that Clinton has made if clear that if there is an “ongoing conversation in January” that she’s “available for that.”

If President Obama announces John Kerry’s nomination for secretary of state this week, as expected, the confirmation hearings could begin in early January, which would immediately tie up the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In other words, Congress is unlikely to hear any testimony from Clinton on Benghazi, ever. Since she’s managed to avoid testifying about Benghazi at any point, that means Clinton–who once said she alone was responsible for the security lapses at the diplomatic mission–will walk away from the whole debacle without a scratch. Somewhere, Susan Rice has got to be shaking her head at the injustice of it all.

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How Washington Rejected Susan Rice

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.

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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.

Barack Obama. We should start with the president, since some have been suggesting that Rice’s withdrawal proves Obama’s weakness. It just isn’t so. If Obama wanted Rice to be his secretary of state, that’s what he’d get. But the president got quite chummy with Bill Clinton just as the former president agreed to try and save Obama’s reelection hopes by giving a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and then campaigning in swing states for Obama. After the attack in Benghazi, Hillary Clinton had some serious explaining to do. After all, it was her State Department that messed up by not providing enough security to the ambassador’s team and then denying requests for additional security.

Yet Clinton was conveniently enabled to avoid the press, the cameras, and in general the spotlight. Susan Rice’s mistakes after Benghazi pale in comparison to Clinton’s mistakes before Benghazi. Susan Rice took Clinton’s place on the Sunday shows, got herself in some trouble, and Obama decided he didn’t want to spend the political capital to protect her the way he protected Hillary.

Hillary Clinton. Clinton made her opposition to Rice known as soon as the latter landed in hot water over the Benghazi controversy. Clinton told her allies on the Hill and in the press that she preferred John Kerry for the job. Message received.

Liberal opinion journalists. Maureen Dowd and Dana Milbank happily obliged, making the fight against Rice obnoxiously personal. Dowd said Rice “rented” her soul. Milbank said Rice was pushy and rude. Lloyd Grove said Rice had a personality disorder. The vicious attacks from the leftists in political media changed the dynamic of the controversy.

Senate GOP. The role of Republicans in the Senate is obvious, but it’s worth drawing attention to one element of it in particular. President Obama wasn’t the only one protecting Hilary Clinton from the glare of the Benghazi fallout; so was John McCain. McCain and Clinton are friends and were fellow senators before Clinton took the job at Foggy Bottom. McCain protected his friend, and was helping another longtime senator as well: John Kerry, who was expected to be the president’s second choice after Rice for secretary of state. McCain wasn’t the only one. “I think John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed by his colleagues,” Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins not-so-subtly said last month after meeting with Rice. “I’d rather have John Kerry,” retiring Senator Jon Kyl had said.

Senate Democrats. John Kerry stayed quiet throughout the debate, and wisely so. He had his fellow Democrats in Washington to critique Rice and complement Kerry. “Sen. Kerry is under consideration for a high position because he’s talented, has tremendous integrity and respect — he also happens to be a senator,” said Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin. “Part of your responsibility in the administration is your relationship with the Senate and House, and obviously Sen. Kerry has an incredible relationship. I think colleagues on both sides of the aisle will tell you that.” Translation: if the White House wants full cooperation from the Democratic-run Senate, Kerry would be a wise choice.

Additionally, Kerry’s nomination would open up a Senate seat in Massachusetts, and Governor Deval Patrick has apparently already reached out to Vicki Kennedy–Ted Kennedy’s widow–to consider taking that seat.

In the end Rice had few allies on either side of the aisle in Washington, and the opposite was true of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. A culture of clubbiness that borders on tribal loyalty was just far too much for Rice to overcome.

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McCain Could Be Key for Old Friend Hagel

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.

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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.

McCain has also been very close with fellow Vietnam veteran Hagel, though it’s not clear how much that relationship was strained by the 2008 election, when Hagel became a vocal critic of McCain’s foreign policy.

Now that McCain has decided to stay on the Armed Services Committee, he will obviously play a role in the next secretary of defense confirmation hearings. As a hawk on Iran and a supporter of U.S. intervention in Syria, McCain could provide crucial cover for Hagel, who is considered soft on Iran and opposed to foreign intervention. Or McCain could do to Hagel what Hagel did to him in 2008. He repeatedly whacked McCain on foreign policy during the election, and promptly joined Obama’s national security advisory board once it was over.

“In good conscience, I could not enthusiastically—honestly—go out and endorse [McCain],” Hagel told the New Yorker in 2008. “when we so fundamentally disagree on the future course of our foreign policy and our role in the world.”

Hagel better hope his old friend doesn’t feel the same way.

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Rice: Confirmation Process Would Have Been “Disruptive”

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.

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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.

John McCain’s decision to join the Foreign Relations Committee may have been the final push. Even if Rice was able to get through the Senate, the confirmation hearings would have been highly contentious and Benghazi-focused, which the White House has good reason to want to avoid.

And now the ballooning speculation that Chuck Hagel is at the top of the list for secretary of defense makes more sense. If Rice was nominated to lead State, Kerry would probably have been the top contender for Defense. Now Kerry is the most likely choice for secretary of state.

I still think Hagel would have problems getting confirmed because of his anti-Israel history and opposition to foreign intervention. The fact that he’s a former senator works in his favor, but conservative hawks and AIPAC would certainly object. While Hagel still considers himself a Republican, there is sure to be some bad blood between him and the party after his vocal support of Obama and recent endorsement of a Democratic Senate candidate.

Either way, Scott Brown may want to start prepping for another Senate bid, because it sounds like there’s going to be a vacant seat in Massachusetts soon.

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The Left vs. Susan Rice

Though the discussion appears to be moot now that Susan Rice has apparently withdrawn her name from consideration to be secretary of state, I agree with Max that the criticism of Rice’s undiplomatic style would seem to be complements when coming from conservatives. But I fear an important point is being lost: this criticism was not coming from the right, by and large. The attacks on Rice’s disposition have been driven by the left. Indeed, what is remarkable about the controversy over Rice is how thoroughly the left took command of it–and greatly expanded the effort to prevent her nomination.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Republicans on the Hill had basically limited their critique of Rice to her misleading statements following the Benghazi attack. Liberals, on the other hand, made it personal. Dana Milbank suggested Rice had an attitude problem. Maureen Dowd said Rice was too ambitious and unprincipled for her own good–or the country’s. Yesterday at the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove launched a bizarre attack on Rice that accused her of having a personality disorder. The left has also been driving the less personal attacks as well. Howard French said Rice’s Africa legacy is the further empowerment of dictators. Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski knocked Rice for essentially enabling atrocities in Congo.

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Though the discussion appears to be moot now that Susan Rice has apparently withdrawn her name from consideration to be secretary of state, I agree with Max that the criticism of Rice’s undiplomatic style would seem to be complements when coming from conservatives. But I fear an important point is being lost: this criticism was not coming from the right, by and large. The attacks on Rice’s disposition have been driven by the left. Indeed, what is remarkable about the controversy over Rice is how thoroughly the left took command of it–and greatly expanded the effort to prevent her nomination.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Republicans on the Hill had basically limited their critique of Rice to her misleading statements following the Benghazi attack. Liberals, on the other hand, made it personal. Dana Milbank suggested Rice had an attitude problem. Maureen Dowd said Rice was too ambitious and unprincipled for her own good–or the country’s. Yesterday at the Daily Beast, Lloyd Grove launched a bizarre attack on Rice that accused her of having a personality disorder. The left has also been driving the less personal attacks as well. Howard French said Rice’s Africa legacy is the further empowerment of dictators. Human Rights Watch’s Tom Malinowski knocked Rice for essentially enabling atrocities in Congo.

Meanwhile, it should not go unnoticed that Hillary Clinton made her opposition to Rice clear to officials in Washington, which may explain the avalanche of leaks and criticism and personal sniping that came from the left as soon as the battle commenced. All of which makes Ben Smith’s piece at Buzzfeed today, headlined “Why The Republican War On Susan Rice Is A Terrible Idea,” so strange. Smith, usually more politically astute than this, allowed himself to be spun by Rice’s few allies to attack the right just as criticism of Rice from the left is everywhere (the Atlantic, for example, can’t seem to stop bashing Rice).

The lack of quotes of actual Republicans criticizing Rice in Smith’s article should be a clue that the GOP had not led this fight for quite some time now. Smith even mentions Dowd’s column as evidence of shifting GOP tactics, knocking the right for “circulating” Dowd’s piece. (Welcome to the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Maureen Dowd!)

In any event, Max is right that conservatives would have found more to like about Rice than most would-be Obama nominees, and that her confrontational style would have been even more needed in an Obama administration promising “flexibility” to Russia. Here at COMMENTARY, we’ve defended Rice from both the left and the right. You won’t find the same evenhandedness at the Atlantic, the Daily Beast, the Washington Post, the New York Times, or the countless other liberal outlets that just killed Rice’s nomination.

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The Virtues of Susan Rice’s “Undiplomatic” Diplomacy

I’m not quite sure why so many of my fellow conservatives have focused so much ire on Susan Rice’s potential nomination to be secretary of state. She would definitely not be my first choice for the job (that would be Joe Lieberman) but compared to some of the other rumored second-term nominations—e.g, Chuck Hagel at Defense or John Kerry at State—the possibility of Susan Rice doesn’t seem so bad. She actually seems to have a more activist vision of American power than many in the Democratic Party who are eager to cut the American role in the world back as rapidly as possible.

Much of the criticism directed at her for her blunt, undiplomatic personality sounds like a virtual replay of the criticisms once made of Jeane Kirkpatrick and John Bolton, both conservative favorites when they served as UN ambassador. Indeed Rice sounded positively Boltonesque (admittedly not something she would consider to be a compliment) when she recently told off the Chinese ambassador, Li Baodung, in a UN Security Council debate over how to respond to North Korea’s missile launch. According to Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy:

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I’m not quite sure why so many of my fellow conservatives have focused so much ire on Susan Rice’s potential nomination to be secretary of state. She would definitely not be my first choice for the job (that would be Joe Lieberman) but compared to some of the other rumored second-term nominations—e.g, Chuck Hagel at Defense or John Kerry at State—the possibility of Susan Rice doesn’t seem so bad. She actually seems to have a more activist vision of American power than many in the Democratic Party who are eager to cut the American role in the world back as rapidly as possible.

Much of the criticism directed at her for her blunt, undiplomatic personality sounds like a virtual replay of the criticisms once made of Jeane Kirkpatrick and John Bolton, both conservative favorites when they served as UN ambassador. Indeed Rice sounded positively Boltonesque (admittedly not something she would consider to be a compliment) when she recently told off the Chinese ambassador, Li Baodung, in a UN Security Council debate over how to respond to North Korea’s missile launch. According to Colum Lynch in Foreign Policy:

Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea’s surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang’s action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that “undermines regional stability.”

Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.

“That’s ridiculous,” Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.

“Ridiculous?” a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. “You better watch your language.”

“Well, it’s in the Oxford dictionary, and [Russian ambassador Vitaly] Churkin — if he were in the room — he would know how to take it,” retorted Rice.

The reference to Oxford dictionary refers to Churkin’s riposte, in December 2011, to a public broadside by Rice, who charged him with making “bogus claims” about alleged NATO war crimes in Libya to divert attention from charges of war crimes against its Syrian ally.

“This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt,” said Churkin to Rice. “Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you?” said Churkin, mocking Rice’s alma mater. Rice, a former Rhodes scholar, later noted that she also went to Oxford.

Frankly any American diplomat who tangles so openly with the Chinese and Russian ambassadors, rather than retreating into the usual mealy-mouthed equivocations, can’t be all bad. Obama can do worse in his choice of secretary of state—and probably will.

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McCain to Join Senate Foreign Relations Committee

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.

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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.

In other words, Obama will have another headache to deal with if Susan Rice gets the nod. Having John Kerry (Rice’s most likely competitor for secretary of state) and Bob Corker (a critic of Rice) as the top Democrat and Republican, respectively, on the committee would be bad enough on its own. But McCain had been leading the charge against her, and having him on the committee will mean a lot more scrutiny into the administration’s Benghazi response.

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Would John Kerry Be a Suitable Secretary of Anything?

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.

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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.

Instincts also matter. Kerry’s public posture toward Syria has been embarrassing enough; his judgment with regard to Syria has come at a far higher cost than Susan Rice’s poor judgment in the aftermath of Benghazi has. And on the peace process, he has already dug himself a deep hole by frequently telling his interlocutors what they want to hear, regardless of the entanglements that leaves behind. The problem is not only his public policy, but also his private: Staffers describe their collective cringe when, after a motorcycle ride with Bashar al-Assad, he returned to Washington referring to Bashar as “my dear friend.” Bashar may be a lot of things, but “my dear friend”—an address Kerry used only with a select few, such as the late Ted Kennedy—should not have been one.

Arrogance may also get the best of Kerry. Should he carry such attitudes to the Defense Department, he may be lampooned worse than this and this. But senior Afghan ministers also lambaste the Massachusetts senator. During a trip to Afghanistan, one related over breakfast how Kerry arrived in Afghanistan, was shuttled from high-level meeting to high-level meeting, struggling to keep awake. Only in his last meeting before departure did he ask the Afghan minister, “Who’s this Marshal Fahim everyone keeps talking about?” Fahim, of course, is one of the most powerful warlords in the country and, since 2009, a vice president as well. It seems Kerry had not read—or had not understood—his background briefings and then was too proud to ask any of his entourage.

Some men and women thrive as senators, and some work best as mayors and governors. Being in charge of an agency is not as easy as simply casting votes and opining on the Sunday talk shows. It is doubtful that anyone will tell the Massachusetts senator that the emperor has no clothes. That is too bad, because the damage an indecisive and arrogant executive can do to the policy and practice of U.S. foreign policy is immense.

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Liberals and the Race Card

In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

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In response to the GOP opposition to Ambassador Susan Rice potentially being nominated to be secretary of state, liberals are doing what is by now second nature for many of them: playing the race card. Never mind that the opposition is based on the fact that Ambassador Rice misled (knowingly or not) the nation about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate. Never mind that Republicans who are critical of Ambassador Rice were supporters of Condoleezza Rice when she was nominated to be secretary of state and, before her, Colin Powell. Never mind the fact that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is admired by many Republicans and most conservatives — and has been treated maliciously by the left.

Those facts don’t fit the libel, so they’re ignored.

The Susan Rice episode is part of a deeper malady. During the presidential campaign liberals time and again accused Republicans of being racists and of using “dog whistles.” They wanted to put African Americans “back in chains,” in the words of Vice President Biden. If a Republican criticized President Obama on his retreat on welfare work requirements, it was motivated by racism. It reached such absurd levels that some liberal commentators like Chris Matthews and John Heilemann argued that referring to Chicago was evidence of racism. (Mr. Heilemann has recently graduated to making gay jokes about Republican senators. Classy.)

About this I wanted to say a couple of things, the first of which is that the left in general — and MSNBC and the Congressional Black Caucus in particular — have used the charge so recklessly and promiscuously that it’s been drained of virtually any meaning. That’s terribly unfortunate, since at some point when the accusation fits, it won’t be nearly as potent as it should be. But to hear someone in politics accused of racism these days is more likely to elicit from a reasonable person a roll of the eyes than anything else. For some liberals, every Republican is George Wallace or Bull Connor. (Both men, by the way, were Democrats.)

My second observation is that I’m more inclined than in the past to believe that the left actually believes the charge. That is, in past years I felt like reflexively accusing conservatives of racism was a political weapon — a charge the left knew was false but which they thought might be politically advantageous. I’m now more of the view that those on the left actually view conservatives and Republicans as animated by malign intentions. For them, the personal is political. It’s not enough to disagree with Republicans; they cannot help but demonize those who hold views different than their own. Politics pits the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness. It is all very adolescent and very Manichean, and it is all quite harmful to politics.

This mindset exists among some on the right, to be sure, and where it does it should be confronted. But as a general matter conservatives tend to ascribe less cosmic importance to politics than do progressives. In any event, the bile that emanates from many liberal quarters is getting worse, not better. It is a consuming rage. And over time, it disfigures the heart and soul of those who are imprisoned by it.

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Rice Has Investments in Iranian-Linked Energy Companies

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.

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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.

Some of the companies, including Rice’s largest holding, Royal Dutch Shell, have stopped doing business with Iran but still owe debts to the country. It’s still a concern that Rice kept those investments, and I imagine she’ll have to get rid of them — or better yet, set up a blind trust — if she’s nominated.

The Washington Post reports that information about Rice’s Iran-linked investments was circulated by Republicans on the Hill, and promoted quietly by Democratic staffers, who suggested it would hold up her nomination:

On Thursday, Republicans on Capitol Hill began circulating information about Rice’s investments connected to Iran. Asked about the disclosure revelations, one senior GOP official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the topic, said, “This news adds to the list of questions about Susan Rice — not only her public statements, but now there are broader concerns about her past record.” Democratic staffers also said on condition of anonymity for the same reason that the investments would prompt questions of her if she is nominated.

Another play by John Kerry supporters? Senate Republicans have appeared to be lobbying for their colleague Kerry — another top candidate for secretary of state — over Rice for the past week. The investment story could hurt Rice with conservative hawks and Israel supporters, so it’s notable it broke the same day as Rice’s aggressive defense of Israel at the UN. She seems to be the favored candidate for mainstream Jewish and pro-Israel groups, and it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this revelation has on that.

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Susan Rice at UN: Resolution Can’t Create State Where None Exists

The UN resolution giving Palestinians nonmember state status passed easily 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions*, a reminder of what a sad joke the United Nations General Assembly is. During the floor speeches, both Canada and the U.S. came to Israel’s defense, with Ambassador Susan Rice vigorously objecting to the resolution.

“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button in this hall,” said Rice. “Nor does passing a resolution create a state where none exists, or change the reality on the ground. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

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The UN resolution giving Palestinians nonmember state status passed easily 138 to nine, with 41 abstentions*, a reminder of what a sad joke the United Nations General Assembly is. During the floor speeches, both Canada and the U.S. came to Israel’s defense, with Ambassador Susan Rice vigorously objecting to the resolution.

“Progress toward a just and lasting two-state solution cannot be made by pressing a green voting button in this hall,” said Rice. “Nor does passing a resolution create a state where none exists, or change the reality on the ground. This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”

Rice emphasized that the resolution would only set back the chances of reaching a two-state solution. “Today’s grand pronouncements will soon fade and the Palestinian people will wake up tomorrow and find that little about their lives have changed,” she said.

The ambassador added that the only way forward was through direct negotiation between both parties.

“There simply are no short cuts,” said Rice. “Long after the votes are cast, long after the speeches have been forgotten, it is the Palestinians and Israelis that still must talk to each other and listen to each other and find a way to live together side by side in the land they share.”

Rice’s remarks were notably strong, and could help her win points with Republicans and conservative pro-Israel groups ahead of her potential nomination for secretary of state.

*Fixed from earlier when I wrote it passed 138 to 41. Final tally was 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions.

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A Fine Mess at Foggy Bottom

Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.

To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:

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Lost in all the speculation about the next secretary of state is the degree to which Foggy Bottom will need someone who can put the pieces back together. While Hillary Clinton coasted for much of her term on the good press that comes with being a Clinton, until the last couple of months she was having a decidedly average run as secretary of state. But the Benghazi debacle–which was in large part the result of Clinton’s incompetence and lack of attention–followed by the expected defection of most of our European allies at the UN vote on the Palestinians today, reveals a State Department marked by ineptitude and surprising irrelevance.

To be sure, as the New York Times has thoroughly documented, diplomacy has always been one of President Obama’s more glaring weaknesses. But the well funded, high-profile State Department’s mission is to be the public face of American diplomacy, and should at least be able to keep the support of our allies. But the reported decision by Germany, France, Italy, and Britain to abandon the U.S., Canada, and Israel at the UN today left Israeli diplomats proclaiming: “We lost Europe”–to say nothing of Washington’s inability to prevent Mahmoud Abbas from going forward with this stunt in the first place:

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, mounted an aggressive campaign to head off the General Assembly vote.

In a last-ditch move Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns made a personal appeal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas promising that President Barack Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013 if Abbas abandoned the effort to seek statehood. The Palestinian leader refused, said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat….

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Wednesday that the U.N. vote will not fulfill the goal of independent Palestinian and Israeli states living side by side in peace, which the U.S. strongly supports because that requires direct negotiations.

“We need an environment conducive to that,” she told reporters in Washington. “And we’ve urged both parties to refrain from actions that might in any way make a return to meaningful negotiations that focus on getting to a resolution more difficult.”

I’m not sure who the fact that Clinton’s State Department is falling to pieces benefits, Susan Rice or John Kerry. On the one hand, Rice’s inexperience and tendency to clash with those around her would seem to argue against her being the best choice to fix things at Foggy Bottom. On the other hand, inflicting John Kerry upon the world doesn’t seem likely to win us back any of the goodwill we’re looking for.

Additionally, either one would have the challenge of serving under Obama; it’s notable that when Burns begged Abbas not to do this, and offered a re-engaged Obama in return, Abbas found nothing remotely enticing about the offer.

One more bit of irony about all this: the one political figure in this episode who followed Obama’s recommendations was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu agreed–wisely–not to punish the Palestinian Authority for its UN gambit. And Netanyahu has been offering to negotiate with the Palestinians face to face with no preconditions for some time now, so if and when the rest of the world decides to work with Obama again, Netanyahu will be ready and waiting.

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Obama’s Libya Policy Is a Disaster–and Not Just in Benghazi

Part of the reason Senate foreign policy leaders–such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and newcomer Kelly Ayotte, among others–have focused so much attention on Susan Rice in the last few weeks is that it is the first time they have been able to keep the press focused on the story and get answers to the many outstanding questions about the Benghazi attack and its aftermath. On that note, the New York Times has a welcome story today widening the scope. The talking points that Rice is getting grilled over are only part of a larger story that needs telling. But moving this discussion away from the talking points probably won’t make it any easier on the White House.

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi was a symptom of a larger problem with the administration’s attitude toward the intervention. “Leading from behind” in Libya succeeded in killing Muammar Gaddafi, but the rush to the exits left a lawless country behind. And that condition persists to this day, and shines a light on the myth vs. the reality of President Obama’s strategy in the North African nation. In the third and final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Obama touted Libya as a success because he seemed to believe that cutting off the head of the snake—Gaddafi—would subdue the unrest in Gaddafi’s wake. When asked about the Benghazi debacle and his larger Libya policy, the president said:

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Part of the reason Senate foreign policy leaders–such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and newcomer Kelly Ayotte, among others–have focused so much attention on Susan Rice in the last few weeks is that it is the first time they have been able to keep the press focused on the story and get answers to the many outstanding questions about the Benghazi attack and its aftermath. On that note, the New York Times has a welcome story today widening the scope. The talking points that Rice is getting grilled over are only part of a larger story that needs telling. But moving this discussion away from the talking points probably won’t make it any easier on the White House.

The death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others in Benghazi was a symptom of a larger problem with the administration’s attitude toward the intervention. “Leading from behind” in Libya succeeded in killing Muammar Gaddafi, but the rush to the exits left a lawless country behind. And that condition persists to this day, and shines a light on the myth vs. the reality of President Obama’s strategy in the North African nation. In the third and final presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Obama touted Libya as a success because he seemed to believe that cutting off the head of the snake—Gaddafi—would subdue the unrest in Gaddafi’s wake. When asked about the Benghazi debacle and his larger Libya policy, the president said:

But I think it’s important to step back and think about what happened in Libya. Now, keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to — without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq — liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans.

And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying, America’s our friend. We stand with them. Now that represents the opportunity we have to take advantage of.

Later on in the debate, the discussion turned to Syria, and Romney used the subject as an opportunity to criticize Obama’s lack of leadership on the world stage. Obama changed the subject back to Libya, and gave a very revealing answer:

But you know, going back to Libya, because this is an example of — of how we make choices, you know, when we went into Libya and we were able to immediately stop the massacre there because of the unique circumstances and the coalition that we had helped to organize, we also had to make sure that Moammar Gadhafi didn’t stay there. And to the governor’s credit, you supported us going into Libya and the coalition that we organized. But when it came time to making sure that Gadhafi did not stay in power, that he was captured, Governor, your suggestion was that this was mission creep, that this was mission muddle.

Imagine if we had pulled out at that point. That — Moammar Gadhafi had more American blood on his hands than any individual other than Osama bin Laden. And so we were going to make sure that we finished the job.

To Obama, “finishing the job” meant getting rid of Gaddafi. That was, no doubt, part of the job, but to Obama that was it. Once we got rid of Gaddafi, the mission was over. This is in full concert with the president’s hearty embrace of targeted assassination; it is a definable mission that requires no follow-up.

But picking off terrorists in Yemen or Pakistan or Afghanistan is much different than taking out a head of state. And we are seeing the full consequence of this approach today. Elsewhere in today’s paper, the Times reports that Libya seems frozen in anarchist chaos:

“It is impossible for members of a brigade to arrest another,” said Wanis al-Sharif, the top Interior Ministry official in eastern Libya. “And it would be impossible that I give the order to arrest someone in a militia. Impossible.”

The violence was thrown into sharp relief after the September attack on the United States intelligence and diplomatic villas. Libyan and American officials accused militants associated with Libya’s ubiquitous militias, and specifically, members of Ansar al-Shariah.

“The killing of the ambassador brought back the true reality of this insecure state,” said Ali Tarhouni, a former Libyan finance minister who leads a new political party. “It was a major setback, to this city and its psyche.”

Justice itself is a dangerous notion here and throughout Libya, where a feeble government lacks the power to protect citizens or to confront criminal suspects. It barely has the means to arm its police force, let alone rein in or integrate the militias or confront former rebel fighters suspected of killings.

It seems to me this is a discussion McCain and the others would like to have. As for the administration, widening the discussion may take the heat off of Rice, but it’s doubtful it would make the issue any more comfortable for the White House.

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