Susan Rice, McCain, Obama and the Next Secretary of State

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, center, accompanied by fellow committee
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, center, accompanied by fellow committee members, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, where he said he would do all he could to block the nomination of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton because of comments she made after the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Easily the most dramatic sequence in a rather strong press conference performance today by President Barack Obama was his vehement defense of UN Ambassador Susan Rice against attacks by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Those two worthies said that they would go all out to prevent Rice's confirmation by the Senate should Obama appoint her to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This due to Rice's comments on a Sunday chat show about the Benghazi disaster several days after. Rice said then that the attack grew out of a protest against the notorious hate-Islam video Innocence of Muslims.

Obama was outraged by the McCain/Graham attacks on Rice.

"Let me say specifically about Susan Rice: She has done exemplary work. She has represented the U.S. and our interests in the U.N. with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace," said Mr. Obama. "If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador? Who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? To besmirch her reputation is outrageous."

Clearly Rice was wrong, and just as clearly the attack was simply that, an attack. Nobody brings machine guns and rocket launchers to a protest demonstration. And of course, it turns out that not only was the protest not simply a cover for the attack, it turns out that there was no protest at all.

Yet Rice had intelligence reports indicating otherwise. And there were multiple reports at the time, especially early on, indicating that it was all a protest gone very sour.

I think Rice has been a creditable UN ambassador. I haven't been especially impressed by the Stanford grad -- who is also a Rhodes Scholar with a doctorate from Oxford -- but she's advocated effectively for the U.S. position in tumultuous circumstances at the UN.

Savvy and common sense should have told her to disregard the intel suggesting that Benghazi was a protest gone wrong. For one thing, though later the Islamic world was rent by violent (and short-lived and smaller than advertised) protests over the hate-Islam video, on the anniversary of 9/11 there were significant protests in only two places: Cairo and Benghazi. The former made perfect sense, as the video got heavy play in the Egyptian media. But Benghazi? That never made any sense.

And, once again, who brings machine guns and rocket launchers to a protest?

So Rice fails a test of politico/military judgment.

Which does not mean that she deserves to be demonized. I can think of quite a few times that, say, John McCain has gotten things very wrong.

So should Rice be secretary of state? It certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. And she might make a good one, especially since making mistakes is a good way to learn things.

But I would much rather see Senator John Kerry as the next secretary of state.

He's highly qualified and very experienced as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with varied service on such bodies over the past few decades. He's a Vietnam War hero. And, oh yes, there is something else.

Obama owes Kerry. Big time.

In fact, without John Kerry, there is no Barack Obama. Or at least the Obama we know now.

It was Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry who selected Obama to give that fateful 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address that shot him into the stratosphere of American politics.

I had never heard of Obama before that, and was incredulous when I learned that he was the keynoter. Who the hell is that, some state senator from Illinois?

That was before I heard him speak, of course.

But the party, the nation, and the world would never have heard Obama in such a perfect, high-profile venue in which to introduce himself had John Kerry not placed him there.

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