A Tale of a Foreign Minister and a Would-Be Secretary of State
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Both the U.S. and Israel suffered a shake-up in their current and future international operations as a result of events last week, but the truth is Rice’s withdrawal as a potential U.S. Secretary of State in Obama’s second term as well as Lieberman’s resignation from the Israeli Cabinet really have more political implications than foreign policy ones. For Bibi it could present an immediate potential effect on his election campaign in the forthcoming elections, while for Obama it means he will not be able to have his close friend and advisor managing affairs at Foggy Bottom.
Susan Rice recognized the handwriting on the wall after her meeting with Republican Senators prior and during her congressional testimony concerning her public statements during the Benghazi tragedy. She concluded that the President would need to expend extraordinary political capital– and he still might not succeed—to get the Senate to confirm her nomination to be Secretary of State. Given the number of congressional confrontations he is and will be fighting in the weeks ahead, she read the political tea leaves and withdrew her name from consideration–or obeyed the political advice of the White House politicos.
Her decision was made a bit easier knowing that despite the likely political jockeying that will occur now in Massachusetts, John Kerry already had pressed his striped pants in preparation for the job at State which he actually already had wanted four years ago; plus his confirmation would be a cinch. Her withdrawal also suggests–despite the fact that many observers felt she was inappropriately roasted by some Republican Senators–that even after the fiscal cliff battle will be history, the Congress is still not of a mind blithely to advise and consent on presidential nominations as a matter of Senatorial courtesy.
In the Israeli Foreign Office the resignation of Avigdor Lieberman, after receiving the announcement that he was facing indictments for breach of trust and fraud, has legislative and political ramifications beyond the legal ones. Resigning from the Government was the easy, with the Knesset elections scheduled for January 22, but whether he will remain head of the his Party and hold the second position in the joint Likud-Yisraeli Beiteinu election list remains an open question. (For Netanyahu it could give him a basis to call for the removal of Lieberman from the joint list and thus lower the leverage of the Likud partner in the next Knesset.)
Lieberman has carried a lot of baggage into his political career, but many people had begun to calculate that if the joint list garnered the projected 40 (one-third) seats in the new, then Lieberman was positioning himself into position as Netanyahu’s heir apparent for this intense right-wing Knesset faction. This legal trouble, even as has been speculated Lieberman might be able to obtain a plea bargain before the election, may well tarnish his and his supporters’ future aspirations.
There is one other curious aspect to Lieberman’s actions. His acceptance of the prosecutors’ charges was done without any public, demonstrative protest or attack. Either Lieberman is trying to show he has discarded his brashness and bullying personality in preparation for a loftier political career; or he and his Russian cohorts are planning a more direct confrontation on the Israel political system, should he not be granted a prompt exit from this legal annoyance.