The controversy over Ambassador Rice’s nomination for the position of Secretary of State has been the biggest story of the week. Although much of the discussion thus far has regarded her comments following the Benghazi attacks, the real issue is whether Ambassador Rice can succeed as Secretary of State without a strong working relationship with congressional Republicans:
Both Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton worked very hard to build bridges to the opposition and, wherever possible, to depoliticize the debate over foreign policy in the upper chamber. The next secretary of state will need to do the same thing.
Whether Ambassador Rice’s attempts to build better relations and win the confidence of key Republican senators succeed is directly related to her ability to do the job that the president wants to give her. In particular, she needs to meet with members of the Foreign Relations Committee and see whether it’s possible to build a good working relationship with those senators. If for whatever reason she can’t get this done, then the president should think long and hard before appointing her to a job in which she may not be able to succeed.
If the president is genuinely committed to her candidacy, he ought to be helping her build those relationships. Instead of criticizing the senators who oppose her, the White House should reach out to them. The campaign is over, and President Obama will not be running for reelection. The president has everything to gain from turning down the political heat over foreign policy. He wants his next secretary of state to succeed, and there’s no way to do that without the ability to work with conservative Republicans in the Senate.
Turning to the question of Ambassador Rice’s possible nomination and confirmation: Her statements on television after the Benghazi attack are not the real issue, though she needs to reassure key senators that the information they get from her will not pass through a partisan filter. To fulfill its constitutional duty of providing advice and consent on foreign policy, the Senate needs to be confident that the information it gets from the administration, any administration, is real.
In Asia, China continues to provoke its neighbors on the Pacific Rim, announcing plans to stop and search foreign ships passing through Chinese waters, prompting a stern rebuke from the ASEAN nations. Chinese tourists have also stopped travelling to Japan in response to the two countries’ dispute over the Senkaku Islands. These provocations are having the usual effect: Driving China’s neighbors into the arms of the U.S. and increasing Asian support for a Japanese military buildup. China’s economic news is also bad: The IMF reports that China is heavily overinvesting and inflating one of the largest bubbles in history, even as the country becomes increasingly dependent on foreign food imports. But China isn’t the only one with an economic crisis on its hands—India’s growth rate has fallen yet again, and the country is set to post some of its lowest annual growth rates in recent memory.
The ongoing conflict in Syria continues to dominate reports from the Middle East. Rebel forces continued to gain ground as an internet blackout swept across Syria, but the Assad regime has still managed to cling to power. Meanwhile, Obama’s position on the conflict appears to be evolving, as the administration prepares to recognize the Syrian opposition and the president contemplates a deeper American role in the conflict. Elsewhere, the conflicts between Egyptian liberals and the Islamist government have continued, as President Morsi calls for a referendum on a new constitution which will give the Muslim Brotherhood and the military far-reaching powers and a good chance to solidify their control over the country.
On the home front, the situation in California got worse this week, as San Bernardino and the Calpers pension fund prepared for a major showdown in court over unpaid pension benefits with the city sliding into chaos as police layoffs opened the doors to a crime wave. The California Treasury Department is gearing up for a conflict of its own, this time against Wall Street financiers who are saddling school districts with unpayable debt. Elsewhere, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appealed to the feds for post-Sandy aid, Texas posted some inspiring data on education, and a group of Memphis teachers were implicated in the worst cheating scandal yet. Meanwhile, small-business owners are losing confidence in the economy, e-medicine is taking pressure off doctors, and the potential Medicare savings from Obamacare are turning out to be less than meets the eye.