Hillary Clinton plans to resign as secretary of state as soon as President Obama’s choice to replace her has been confirmed by the Senate. Although Clinton and Obama were rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination four years ago, they have worked together remarkably well, and Clinton’s reputation — globally as well as here in the United States — has grown on account of her impressive performance at the State Department.
The Obama-Clinton team has been especially impressive during the current crisis between Israel and the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and while the cease-fire was brokered primarily by Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, the Americans influenced the negotiations.
There are clear indications that Obama’s first choice as Clinton’s successor would be the current American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. But that possibility has created an unlikely political firestorm on Capitol Hill, so there has been speculation that Obama might turn instead to Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who many believe has long aspired to be secretary of state.
The average American citizen may have insufficient knowledge of either Rice or Kerry to know which would be the better nominee, but there are issues surrounding the nomination process that suggest it has become cynically enmeshed in partisan politics. Some, perhaps many, Republicans appear determined to deny a Democratic president his first choice for a vitally important position.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are leading the charge against the nomination of Rice, but they are doing so for reasons that defy logic — unless their logic includes the calculation that putting Kerry in charge at the State Department would give Republicans a chance to capture his seat in the Senate and thus weaken the Democrats.
Curiously, several years ago during another nomination debate, McCain famously said this about the process: “We all have varying policy views, but the president, in my view, has a clear right to put into place the team he believes will serve him best.” He apparently has changed his mind.
But the strangest part of this drama playing out in Washington is that 97 Republican members of the House recently fired off a letter to the president challenging the rumored nomination of Rice, even though they know that the House has absolutely no say in the process. Under these circumstances, how could the American people see that letter as anything but a purely political ploy by the president’s diehard opponents who were still wringing their hands over the election results?
The principal objection to Rice, at least as expressed by her Republican critics, is that she was less than truthful when, prior to the election, she told several television interviewers that to the best of her knowledge the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was not an act of terrorism, but of course we now know that in fact it was. The point that must be emphasized is that at the time she spoke on television, Rice did not know this.
Initially, the fact there was controversy over what Rice said was neither surprising nor unfair, but subsequent authoritative disclosures have proved that what Rice said was, as far as she knew at the time, totally truthful and that she couldn’t have honestly said anything else.
If McCain, Graham and their colleagues were fair and honest, they’d concede that and let the president select his nominee unimpeded by their partisanship. Also, the 97 members of the House who wrote that scathing letter to the president should apologize.
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