The revolution in Egypt may have just revealed U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ new role in the coming GOP race for president.
On matters of foreign policy and national security, Chambliss could become the man who serves as a reality check for the likes of Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin — reining in those who cast chunks of red meat over the line.
Last month, Chambliss was named the ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, responsible for oversight of the CIA and such. Should the GOP seize control of the Senate in ‘12, he could very well be the committee’s next chairman.
That makes Chambliss an official member of secret Washington, privy to the unspoken details behind every crisis of note. Much of his business will now be conducted over secure phones — which have just been installed in his office, the senator said last week during a visit to the state Capitol.
Chambliss isn’t known for speaking off the cuff. But now more than ever, what he says could have real impact on world events. And it will be assumed that he knows something we don’t.
Take, for instance, an Arab revolution that holds in its hands both Israel’s future and crucial U.S. access to the Suez Canal. During that chat at the state Capitol, Chambliss invited a few questions on Egypt.
Two Republican presidential presumptives had already weighed in. Palin, in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview, declared that “we should not stand” for a new Egyptian government that includes the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gingrich said that to encourage the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country’s future political structure was “fundamentally wrong.” And he declared that the Obama administration’s handling of the Egyptian crisis was “the most amateurish foreign policy I have seen I think in my lifetime.”
Chambliss disagreed — with Gingrich, Palin and most of Fox News. “I don’t know if we could say if the [the Muslim Brotherhood] as a whole is made up of radical Islamicists. But that part of the world has a lot of extremists in it. And some of those extremists are members of the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “It is a concern, but it looks like they’re going to have to be part of the mix.”
As for Barack Obama, the Republican said he thought the president has handled the situation “pretty well.”
“It’s a very sensitive issue. You can’t get too far out. The last thing the United States needs to do is inject itself in telling the Egyptian people how to run their country,” Chambliss said. “We don’t even need to be perceived as doing that.”
Reminding voters (and candidates) of the limits of U.S. influence isn’t a happy task — especially at the outset of a presidential campaign. But it is a necessary one.
There are other downsides. While the position Chambliss has accepted offers the lure of being one of Washington’s true insiders, the post gives you very little to bring home to your constituents. Chambliss is giving up his ranking position on the Senate Agriculture Committee — which means he won’t be at the center of negotiations over the next farm bill.
“Most of this difficult work is done in a classified setting, which dictates that it cannot be shared with constituents or trumpeted for political gain,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who offered the position to Chambliss.
But before Chambliss accepted it, he sought advice from former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn — who indicated that Chambliss could be in for a rough ride from rank-and-file Republicans.
More than any other in the Senate, the Intelligence Committee requires the chairman — in this case Democrat Diane Feinstein of California — and the vice chairman to work closely together, Nunn said in a telephone interview.
“You’ve got to have someone who is willing to rise above partisanship,” he said.
“If handled correctly,” the former senator said, leadership of the Intelligence Committee can enhance one’s standing in the Senate tremendously. “And I think Saxby’s very capable of doing that,” Nunn said.
“But he’s not going to get back-home credit for it. And I think the people of Georgia ought to feel proud he’s being put in that position of trust,” Nunn said.
Chambliss is clearly pleased with his new status. While there have been whispers of primary opposition, Chambliss recently told a group of reporters that he was ready to run for re-election in 2014.
“Oh, yeah. I’m planning to run. My health is good. I’m beating this prostate cancer [diagnosed in 2004]. I’m cured. As long as I like what I’m doing, and my family’s still excited about coming to the White House now and then …” he trailed off.
Then there’s the new job. Decisions to be made about Guantanamo and the many fronts of the war on terror. “We truly are going to be at the point of the spear,” Chambliss said.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider