Things maybe aren’t looking so great for Susan Rice. The throw-down yesterday by Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who extended the Republican case against Rice back to the Clinton years, is one of those Washington smoke signals, and it’s not a positive one. Let me therefore set aside for a day the question of the merits of Rice and raise another one: Who would make for some credible, interesting, outside-the-box choices to run Foggy Bottom? There are ample non-Rice options that would provide the nation with a strong chief diplomat and would piss off the wingnuts in the bargain. Here are half a dozen.
1. Al Gore. I first heard this suggestion from my friend David Greenberg, the historian who writes for Slate, and I though, nahhh. But it grew on me pretty fast. Tell me why not. He’d be great. He’s known around the world. He’s respected around the world, about 90 percent of which surely wishes he’d been the president instead of the guy he beat. I’m not saying he’d change the world; no one can do that. But he’d get a hearing everywhere. He knows a huge number of world leaders, and he knows the issues cold. He could dive right into the pool’s deepest end, in the Middle East, on Iran, you name it.
What about his climate-change crusade, you wonder? Far from having to drop his signature issue, Gore could use his new position to push it with even greater vigor in a global context. Gore, and probably Gore alone, would be capable of elevating the climate change issue to the position it deserves on the national and global stage.
What we don’t know that much about is the Gore-Obama relationship. In 2007 and 2008, Gore clearly tilted toward Obama (Gore’s mere refusal to endorse Hillary Clinton over Obama indicated as much). Gore didn’t endorse Obama until right after he’d secured the nomination, but the two were said to have talked regularly. That’s good enough.
Finally: Man, would I love to see the Republicans try to swat down a Gore nomination. How? They’d poke around in his finances, remind America that he’s now divorced. But unless there were some kind of smoking gun on the former point, no one would care. They could not really block Gore; too much stature, too obviously qualified. Can you imagine? John McCain would grind his teeth, assuming those still are his teeth, down to dust. That would be awesome to watch.
2. Jon Huntsman. A Republican reviled by the wingnuts, Huntsman has already served the anti-Christ in a diplomatic capacity, as his ambassador to China. He seems to have done an acceptable job in that posting, so why not just continue and augment the relationship? He clearly likes Obama pretty well and obviously (between the lines) was cheering for his reelection over a man he clearly dislikes.
It’s hard to see Huntsman having confirmation problems. There would be a number of no votes and a lot of kvetching, but he couldn’t be blocked. He might even do a good job, too. And putting him at State would clear out of Hillary’s way in 2016 the GOP’s leading sane candidate.
3. Richard Lugar. Yes, he’s a pretty conservative Republican. But to mad-dog conservatives, he’s a sell out, an Obama apologist, a treacherous Decembrist. He was defeated, as you’ll recall, by a primary opponent who ran to his right, who defeated him on the basis of just such accusations. Those were absurdly exaggerated, but in fact, on a mere personal level, he was one of Obama’s best buddies while Obama was in the Senate. So the president likes and presumably trusts him.
True, this one wouldn’t go down so well with liberals. But hey, the president’s the boss. If Lugar doesn’t listen to his boss, his boss can just fire him. But I doubt Lugar would do that. He’s Midwestern nice. He is rather old, though. Eighty. Travel is probably too grueling.
4. Colin Powell. Yet another Republican turncoat, Powell obviously endorsed Obama twice. And, uh, yeah, he held the job once before. Maybe this time he could tell the truth instead of make up fairy tales and undo the one black spot on his otherwise praiseworthy escutcheon.
Liberals would not like this by and large, so Powell would have to address that infamous U.N. briefing at any confirmation hearings. But all he’d have to do is find the right words with which to throw the blame back on Dick Cheney, and much (not all, but much) would be forgiven from the left. The right would go nuts.
The attacks on Rice may reach a point (and maybe very soon) where the president has to conclude that he’s going to spend his political capital elsewhere.
5. Dianne Feinstein. OK, nothing about this pick would make Republicans go beserk. They kind of like her, at least on foreign-policy questions, on which she’s awfully hawkish. She has been way too pro-Israel to be the honest broker in the Middle East the United States needs, but maybe that could work to her advantage—because the Israelis trust her, she could tell them things others can’t and they’d listen.
6. Jim Webb. Also not a choice to anger Republicans at all, but possibly an interesting thought. Actually, maybe Webb makes more sense for the Pentagon, no? The more that I think about that, it makes all kinds of sense. Maybe the Army people wouldn’t want a Navy man calling the shots, I don’t know. But Webb to the Pentagon seems like a decent idea to me.
There you have it. I’m sure there are others (but no, not Bill Clinton—an ex-president holding a lower office is just a little too odd). Unsupportable as these attacks on Rice are, they may reach a point (and maybe very soon) where the president has to conclude that he’s going to spend his political capital elsewhere. I’m not yet saying he should or shouldn’t conclude that. But if he does, he has other places to turn.