It was Tuesday morning in Phnom Penh when Barack Obama decided to dispatch Hillary Clinton to the Middle East to try to help defuse the mounting conflict in Gaza. Clinton had been traveling at Obama’s side on his swing through Thailand, Burma, and Cambodia—but now duty called, and she was off to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Cairo. So peripatetic has Clinton been as secretary of State that it seemed perversely fitting that what was billed as her final foreign trip with her boss would be cut short this way. And while news of cease-fire talks in Gaza came hours before she touched down in the region, the sequence of events was a vivid reminder of the stature that Clinton has gained in the job: For the past four years, she has been Obama’s go-to gal in any global crisis.
Clinton’s impending departure, in other words, presents the president with a massive pair of pumps to fill—and a domestic political skirmish far less bloody than, but nearly as bloody-minded as, the one in the Mideast. At the center of this conflagration is U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, one of the prime candidates to replace Clinton, and a series of Sunday-show appearances she made after the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, in which she declined to call it a terrorist incident but instead deemed it a “spontaneous” protest that had been “hijacked” by “clusters of extremists.” For this, Rice is being flayed by John McCain, who has called her “not … very bright” and “not qualified” to be secretary of State, and pledged to do “everything in my power” to block her from the post, as well as being denounced by 97 House Republicans, who in a letter to Obama declared that Rice’s “misleading statements” about Benghazi “caused irreparable damage to her credibility both at home and around the world.”
Beyond the spectacle of gratuitous spleen-venting, does any of this Republican fulmination matter in the least—or, as the headline of a recent Maureen Dowd column in the Times put it, “Is Rice Cooked?” As a rule, your columnist avoids predictions, but in the spirit of holiday indulgence, I will make an exception here: Not only will Obama appoint Rice to succeed Clinton but she will be confirmed. And though I offer this forecast without the aid of polling averages to lend a patina of statistical certainty to the endeavor, I do believe there are at least five sound reasons to think it will come true: