Thursday, November 29, 2012

Conspiracy theories - maybe not so conspiratorial.

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There is a theory floating around that Senate Republicans are so against the nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice because they want Senator John Kerry (of Massachusetts) to be picked instead. Why? Because this will trigger a special election in Massachusetts which they think Republican Senator Scott Brown might win (Brown lost his seat in the recent election to Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren).

Up until now I haven't really bought into this theory because Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham, along with their new recruit, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (who has replaced Joe Lieberman in their triumvirate) are a combination of bitter and difficult (McCain), hawkish (Graham) and inexperienced (Ayotte). They are blaming Rice for going on TV and reporting the views of her administration relating to the 11 September attack in Benghazi, in which four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed. These views turned out to be incorrect, but Rice claims this was the intelligence available at the time - which is actually a pretty reasonable excuse as the correct story broke before the election. 

But yesterday usually reliably intelligent and reasonable Senator Susan Collins of Maine (who serves as ranking member on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs) met with Rice. 

Politico reports:
Collins, the top Republican on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, accused Rice of playing a “political role” during the height of the presidential election, making the rounds on the Sunday shows and reciting administration talking points just days after the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

The administration’s response to the incursion, Collins said, had an “eerie echo” of the 1998 bombings of two embassies in Africa, which occurred under Rice’s watch when she was an assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Bill Clinton administration.

“Those bombings in 1998 resulted in the loss of life of 12 Americans as well as many other foreign nationals, and 4,000 people were injured,” Collins said.

A spokeswoman for Rice declined to comment Wednesday on the criticism by Collins. The Maine senator said she would not join other GOP colleagues who have vowed to hold up her nomination. But that doesn’t mean she would vote for Rice if she is nominated, Collins said.

“I would need to have additional information before I could support her nomination,” she said. “There is much to be learned and I think it would be premature for me to reach that judgment now.”

Not only is Collins spearing Rice's nomination for doing what Rice's boss told her to, she is bringing up  something that happened 14 years ago when Rice was "an assistant secretary of state for African Affairs in the Bill Clinton administration", which bears virtually zero relevance to the attack in Benghazi. In 1998 a series of bombs exploded at US embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, and Osama Bin Laden was found to have planned it all. Let's contextualise that quickly: Condoleezza Rice was a United States National Security Advisor to President George W Bush when the World Trade Center was attacked in 2001 - did that disqualify her from being Bush's second Secretary of State from 2005?

Not for Susan Collins. Lookie here - she backed the appointment of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State in 2005, saying "She has both the professional experience and the personal integrity to be a strong Secretary of State." Hmmm, there's a yawning double standard here from someone who is usually a solid voice of reason.

Which lends credence to the theory that Republicans are trying to do little more than get Kerry into the Secretary of State post to force a special election in Massachusetts. Incidentally, the Democrat most likely to contest that hypothetical election is state attorney general Martha Coakely (who lost to Brown in the special election in 2010 after Ted Kennedy died).

According to Foreign Policy, should Kerry be picked by Obama, next in line Senator from California Barbara Boxer will pass the chairpersonship onto third in line, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, whose favourite bug bear is Iran - he is likely to be rougher when it comes to sanctions on Iran than the Obama administration, and will be in a position to push for such things, which suit the hawkish folks on the Republican side of the table somewhat.

There is considerable Republican benefit to Kerry getting a position in Obama's cabinet, and Rice being sacrificed for it.

UPDATE: I am watching Rachel Maddow from last night on DVR who makes this point too. For the record I wrote this before I saw her show (which I usually watch when I eat lunch the day after it is broadcast). 

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