The president had nominated a foreign policy adviser named Rice to serve as Secretary of State. But the opposition party was raising concerns about her role in what it saw as the administration’s deceptions over terrorism in the Middle East. And that made Sen. John McCain mad.
“I can only conclude we are doing this for no other reason than because of lingering bitterness at the outcome of the election,” he declared on the Senate floor. “We need to move on. The people of the United States made their choice last November and they expect their elected officials to govern accordingly.”
McCain added: “We all have varying policy views, but the president, in my view, has a clear right to put into place the team he believes will serve him best.”
This was January 2005. The Rice in question was Condoleezza, and it was Democrats who were making a fuss, noting that she’d been a key player in the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence to push for war in Iraq.
These days, the Arizona senator appears to see things differently. U.N. ambassador Susan Rice hasn’t yet been nominated to serve as Secretary of State, but already McCain has been lambasting her for downplaying the role of terrorism in the September attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“I will do everything in my power to block her from being United States Secretary of State,” McCain said on Fox News Thursday.
Asked about the seeming contradiction by Matt Lauer on The Today Show Thursday, McCain said the two situations are “entirely different,” because “every intelligence agency in the world, including the British, believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.”
It’s not just McCain, though. His close Senate ally Lindsey Graham has been equally vehement in opposition to Susan Rice. “I don’t trust her,” Graham said last week, citing the Benghazi episode. Like McCain, Graham was a staunch defender of Condoleezza Rice back in ’05.
“The words like ‘misleading’ and ‘disingenuous,’ I think, were very unfair,” Graham said on Fox News at the time, in reference to Democratic criticisms of Condoleezza Rice’s role in pushing for war in Iraq.
Asked about one Democratic senator who had called Rice a “liar,” Graham declared: “That’s even more unfair. Because it was all in terms of weapons of mass destruction and misleading us about the war and what was in Iraq. Well, every intelligence agency in the world was misled. And to connect those two to say that she’s a liar is very unfair, over the line.”
It’s true that the situations aren’t entirely analogous. By stoking misplaced fear over Saddam’s non-existent WMDs, Condoleezza Rice helped grease the skids for war for a war that cost the U.S. thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.
“There will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” Rice told CNN in September 2002—a formulation the Bush White House liked so much that they put it into a speech by the president weeks later.
Susan Rice’s suggestion that the Benghazi attacks were triggered by an anti-Muslim video rather than being a planned terror attack now looks at best incomplete and at worst erroneous. But it appears to have had less serious consequences.
And despite the scattered opposition to Condoleezza Rice that so angered McCain at the time, most Democrats ultimately came around: She was confirmed by a vote of 85-13. Several praised her. Sen. Dianne Feinstein declared Rice would “enhance lost credibility among many nations.”