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State of War

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3. Because nothing she did with respect to Benghazi disqualifies her from the job. There remain many valid, pertinent, pressing questions about the Obama administration’s conduct in the weeks leading up to and the days following the September 11 attack that cost the lives of four Americans, including that of Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Given Stevens’s early warnings about how the consulate was unprepared for such an assault, why wasn’t more done to secure it? Why was help so slow to arrive when the diplomats who were pinned down there called for it during the siege? And why did intelligence officials, who now acknowledge that they believed the attack was a terrorist incident from day one, water down the talking points Rice was given before her appearances on the Sunday shows—changing a reference to Al Qaeda to the vaguer “extremists,” for instance?

But none of this has anything to do with Rice, who on the shows was doing nothing more and nothing less than conveying the information that had been declassified and that she was authorized to impart. Had Rice decided on her own accord to go off-script and reveal what she had learned from the still-classified portions of her intelligence briefings at the time, is there any doubt that many of the same Republican lawmakers pummeling her now as unfit to be secretary of State would be using that transgression to reach the same conclusion?

4. Because McCain is being a jackass—and Obama is sick of it. Arguably more than any other national figure, the senior senator from Arizona is driven in every aspect of his public behavior by personal pique. In the wake of the 2000 Republican nomination fight, when he believed Bush and his campaign had defeated him by nefarious means, McCain lunged to the center and became one of the sharpest thorns in the side of the new president from his own party. In the wake of the 2008 election, when he was soundly thumped by a Democratic challenger whom he regarded as a neophyte and a pretender whose experience and valor were no match for his own, McCain immediately shed all traces of mavericky independence and became one of Obama’s fiercest critics from the right.

Now into McCain’s crosshairs has come Rice, who routinely stripped the bark off him four years ago as one of Obama’s most quotable surrogates. (“His tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later; it is dangerous, and we can’t afford four more years of this reckless foreign policy” is just one vintage example of the form.) No one who knows McCain believes he has forgotten these brickbats or that they are not a substantial part of what is motivating him now. Nor does anyone close to Obama not suspect that, after four years of McCain’s truculence, he’s had quite enough of it, thanks, and is indeed sorta spoiling for a fight.

5. Because if McCain insists on pressing that fight, Obama will win. With 55 Democratic votes in the Senate now, the administration is all but assured of having a majority to confirm Rice if Obama puts her name forward. The only way to halt her nomination would be by waging a filibuster, and even that effort might not prove fruitful—since if Democrats were to remain united, only five GOP defectors would be necessary to shut it down, and in the current environment of Republican soul-searching, finding those five votes might not be all that hard.

For the sake of argument, however, imagine the contrary scenario. Imagine that ­McCain does decide to filibuster and that enough of his party rallies around his cause. Imagine the White House and Senate Democrats standing firm, demanding an actual filibuster instead of simply folding at the threat of one, as has become common practice. Imagine McCain and his colleagues compelled to take to the well of the Senate to read the phone book all night long—a bunch of old white guys standing in the way of the ascension of a young, talented, guilty-of-nothing ­African-American woman in order to score cheap political points in a fight that, eventually, they would be all but certain to lose. Imagine how that will help resuscitate the Republican brand. Imagine.

It’ll never happen, I hear you say—and you’re right, and that’s the point. Which is why I estimate there is a 79.4357 percent probability that Susan Rice will be confirmed early next year as secretary of State, and the vote won’t even be close. Just remember: You read it here first—and Nate Silver ain’t got nothing on me.


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