Tino Calabia (Peru, 1963-65) who rallied all of us RPCVs in support of Ambassador Christopher Stevens sent me this note over the weekend.
The 2012 elections are history. Finally. Yet the tragic deaths of RPCV/Ambassador Chris Stevens and his three colleagues in Benghazi, Libya remain part of the controversy fueling partisan wrangling on Capitol Hill. Besides ensnaring U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, the dispute has now dragged in former CIA Director David Petraeus; even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had to accede to requests that she soon come before a Congressional committee.
Meanwhile, Senator John McCain last Wednesday, Sept. 14th, roundly dismissed Susan Rice as “not qualified” to serve as the next Secretary of State, the post for which President Barack Obama is reportedly considering Rice. Tying Rice to the increasingly heated controversy over what actually transpired in the 9/11 attack on two diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, McCain further urged setting up a Watergate-style investigative committee to look into a possible cover-up of the facts leading to the killing of RPCV/Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans and the government’s response.
Rice’s earliest September statements during five Sunday TV talkshows were that the attack in Benghazi came during a spontaneous protest of an anti-Muslim video and not because of a premeditated attack by terrorists. Subsequent information from the CIA revealed that no demonstration had taken place. Instead, a rogue militia resorted to heavy weapons in a premeditated attack on the U.S. facilities. Though suddenly retiring from the CIA under a tawdry cloud related to an extramarital affair, the disgraced Petraeus was summoned back to The Hill to disclose what he learned on his visit to Benghazi shortly before leaving the CIA.
Back to McCain, two days after his statement about Rice, the incoming chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ohio Representative Marcia Fudge, and other female Black Caucus members objected to McCain’s claim that Rice is “not qualified.” Fudge obliquely referred to McCain’s self-admitted low standing in his Naval Academy graduating class - he had finished fifth from the bottom. In contrast, Rhodes scholar Rice earned a Stanford University B.A. and an Oxford University Ph.D. Wisconsin Representative Gwen Moore called into question McCain’s own judgment about qualifications for high office, considering that McCain named Sarah Palin as his 2008 Vice Presidential candidate.
Nonetheless, on Fox News, McCain declared that he will filibuster any nomination of Rice for Secretary of State. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said he would do likewise.
Last Sunday’s national newspapers and TV talkshows kept up the drumbeat about what Rice had first reported about the Benghazi tragedy and whether or not being complicit in any cover-up of the facts renders her unfit to succeed Clinton as Secretary of State.
Meanwhile, David Weigel, in his recent column in “Slate,” noted a parallel between Republican objections to Susan Rice’s possible nomination to Secretary of State and objections by Democrats to President George Bush’s nomination of Condoleezza Rice to the same cabinet position. Weigel wrote:
“Eight years ago, Democrats tried a version of this play with Condoleezza Rice. She’d been the president’s national security adviser during a period of stunning intelligence failures. Liberals blanched at the idea of promoting her and wanted to make George W. Bush suffer for it. But in the end, 30 Democrats voted to confirm the Original Rice. Among them: Joe Biden and Barack Obama. They were spared the scorn of a Republican senator who endorsed Rice and accused her opponents of being sore losers.
“‘I wonder why we are starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion,’ McCain said [in 2004]. ‘I can only conclude that we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness over the outcome of the election.’”
The irony between McCain’s statement after George W. Bush’s reelection and his 2012 statement after Barack Obama’s reelection - embarrasing as the irony might seem - may not quickly cool down the controversy over the attack in Benghazi. Perhaps more interesting will be how the controversy will eventually affect Hillary Clinton during and after her appearance on the Hill. Will Clinton, like Susan Rice, end up as damaged goods? If so, are the potential damages intended to dissuade Clinton from campaigning for the Presidency in 2012 - assuming she accedes to the wishes of many who want Clinton to run?
When, oh when will the partisan politics over the tragedy in Benghazi ever end? Or is the question really: how long will the politics go on? Until after a new Secretary of State is confirmed next year? Or through 2016, if Clinton decides to face off against candidates for the White House at that time?