Neocon Own Goal

12.13.12

McCain Scuttles "Pro-Israel" Nomination

Susan Rice just withdrew her name from consideration to be this country's next Secretary of State. There's a little twist here worth mentioning: Rice turned out to be an assiduously pro-Israel diplomat at the United Nations, a forum not exactly known for its warmness to the Jewish State. And by pro-Israel, in this context, I mean frequently defending the Israeli government and taking positions in line with America's right-leaning pro-Israel community. Neoconservatives also consider themselves to be vociferously pro-Israel in this way, and yet it was one of their standard bearers in the Senate, John McCain, who ended up spiking Rice's candidacy for the top State post. The closeness of liberal internationalism and neoconservatism seems self-evident: that the U.S. must police the world and engage, not infrequently, in the use of military force to do so. "The irony here is that so many neocons like Rice," a liberal D.C. foreign policy hand wrote to me today. "They think she shares a lot of their interventionist tendencies." Whichever potential nominee takes Rice's place at the top of the list could yet hold dear her values, but, with Rice, the cards were already very much on the table. Pro-Israel Washington had a sure friend in Susan Rice; by virtue of being as yet unknown, the next name's credentials are uncertain.

Some history: Rice faced some early opposition from right-leaning American pro-Israel groups, but she's since won (most of) them over to her side. The early battles over rejoining the U.N.'s rights council and objections to Israel's settlement policies faded in favor of her vigorous defenses of Israel and courting of Jewish groups. Some in the Jewish press, however, remained suspicious of a speech Rice gave as she vetoed a February 2011 Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. But the complaints from some neocons at the time ignored that Rice's speech—which lamented the "folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity"—was fully in line with not just the Obama administration, but previous administrations, including Republican ones (the vote itself was out of whack with the policy). Since then, Obama—and, accordingly, Rice—barely ever mention settlements, let alone criticize them. And recently, when the U.S. voted against the Palestinians' recent successful bid to upgrade their status at the U.N., there was no such confusion: an official from B'nai Brith International bragged, in Ron Kampeas's words, that Rice "incorporated many of the talking points conveyed to her by pro-Israel groups."

Because McCain can never admit that he's wrong about anything, he continued to pursue Rice's role as having been the diplomat assigned to convey the administration's talking points to the world after the deaths of Amb. Christopher Stevens and three others near the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. McCain carried this almost certainly politically-motivated election attack beyond the vote tally until eventually Rice and the administration buckled under pressure. Turns out McCain took the right-leaning pro-Israel world's sure-thing, and cast it aside. We all wait eagerly to see who the next nominee will be.