Game of Rivals - Rivalry Week


Image by DonkeyHotey.

With a blockbuster movie about Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet (based on a book called Team of Rivals) currently moving tickets in theaters as our recently re-elected president jumps through the typical obstacles to fill the still-vacant Secretary of State position for his second term, it’s hard to ignore the weight of current events on this week’s theme. Especially since so much of this story doesn’t bode well for its indisputable antagonist – everyone’s favorite runner up for the 2008 presidential elections, Senator John McCain.

But first, a recap of the affair: In the weeks after President Obama’s victory in the 2012 election, Senate Republicans on the Foreign Relations began making kind of a big deal over comments made by UN Ambassador Susan Rice concerning the September 11th, 2012 attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. Echoing a familiar narrative that the president himself brought before the UN in his annual address, Rice relayed to Face the Nation that an offensive internet video inspired protests that led to the attack.

As we are now well aware, no viral video of any kind had anything to do with the very calculated terrorist attack that took place that day. As the presidential elections wore on, Benghazi became, most surprisingly, a major talking point for the president, as Governor Romney stumbled over nearly every effort to demand competence from the Obama administration and gain the nation’s trust. Instead, he came off more slipshod and offensive compared to the ever-cool and collected response of the Commander-in-Chief.

After the election, the amplified griping of Senators McCain and Lindsay Graham against Susan Rice for her largely inconsequential comments came off as caddy bickering – especially after it was revealed earlier this week that Senator McCain offered the same explanation of the Benghazi attacks as Ambassador Rice did only three days after the incident. Further, a Senate resolution that passed in mid-September with “unanimous consent” (including both McCain and Graham) never even mentions anything about a terror attack in Benghazi.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no apologist for the administration when it comes to Benghazi-gate, but it’s fairly evident by this juncture that any error on the part of the Obama administration was little else than an institutional misunderstanding between themselves and the intelligence community. The media scrutiny over the error so far after the fact can only be categorized as palpably impotent considering what might have happened.

It feels a bit disgusting to type this, considering the loss of American lives, especially of those who served our country so honorably in diplomatic efforts, but any continued scrutiny over a two-month-old fire fight in a developing nation now comes off as a distraction compared to the impending fiscal cliff (with debt-ceiling talks to follow) that lie on the horizon.

Had the Benghazi cover-up, which was no more an embarrassing display of damage control than an actual withholding of worthwhile information, been as sinister a revelation as say, the president’s drone program or kill lists, I’d be on board with this crusade by Senate Republicans to get the facts. But the trouble is, the right time for questions and the grilling of federal officials was in the immediate wake of the incident, not now.

It’s perhaps even more disgusting to type that if you’re upset that we don’t have more answers for why we were told what about Benghazi, you only have Mitt Romney (his lackluster attitude toward specifics, his haphazard campaign, and the vested interest in his demise) to thank for it.

Instead, John McCain’s unrelenting pursuit for answers and the seemingly bitter vendetta against UN Ambassador Susan Rice becomes an equally embarrassing PR debacle for the political titan. By hopping on a bandwagon far after it had left the station, and doing so immediately after an election that so bitterly muted any energy the GOP had going into the 2013 political cycle, McCain managed to only make himself look like the sore loser we all know he isn’t.

It may certainly be within his record and reputation to be a national security hawk — no one should fault him for that. Yet, given the stark cognitive dissonance between his reasons for denying Ambassador Rice’s nomination for Secretary of State and those for ratifying Condoleezza Rice’s nomination nearly a decade ago (aptly observed by Jon Stewart and Co.), it’s hard to keep from watching John McCain mar the dignity he’s maintained through his later career with petty contrarianism. He may have walked back his initial outright dismissiveness towards Rice’s nomination in the face of laughable charges of racism, but the damage is already done and no amount of ridiculous chyrons that MSNBC can muster can undo that.

To quote an HBO show I’m growing obsessed with – “in the game of thrones, you play to win.” That may be true for monarchal conquests in fantasy universes, but in the game of rivals that is Washington D.C., sometimes it’s worth it to pick your battles and maintain your elder statesman status while you still can.