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A tale of two Rices: For McCain, it's personal

More than two months after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, it seems there are some senators searching more for someone to blame th

More than two months after the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, it seems there are some senators searching more for someone to blame than someone to explain.

Of those senators, few have been more vocal than Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

His target? U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

Five days after the attack, Rice hit the Sunday TV shows and said the assault on the Benghazi compound was the result of a spontaneous demonstration related to an inflammatory anti-Muslim film. The explanation was based on preliminary intelligence information, which later turned out to be incorrect. Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified Friday that he believes that attack was in fact an act of terrorism, not a protest gone awry.

McCain has made clear this week that he believes Rice’s initial assessment reflects either a cover-up or incompetence, and that either explanation should disqualify her for consideration to be the next Secretary of State.

“Susan Rice should have known better, and if she didn’t know better, she’s not qualified,” said McCain Wednesday on Fox News. “I will do everything in my power to block her from becoming the United States Secretary of State.”

It is hard to ignore, however, the very different approach McCain took back in 2005 when another Rice’s nomination for Secretary of State was under sharp scrutiny.

“I wonder why we’re starting this new Congress with a protracted debate about a foregone conclusion,” said McCain during Condoleezza Rice’s confirmation hearing in January, 2005, just after President George W. Bush won re-election. “I can only conclude we’re doing this for no other reason than lingering bitterness at the outcome of the elections.”

Why the difference? Why is McCain seething with anger at the thought of Susan Rice becoming the next Madam Secretary of State when he jumped to defend Codoleezza Rice’s nomination for the exact same position eight years ago, even though the latter played a central role in designing our Iraq policy based on the bad intelligence that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear weapons? Is it possible that McCain’s personal animosity for the Obama administration is clouding his political judgment?

“I think [McCain] never got over 2008,” said msnbc political analyst Ron Reagan on Hardball Thursday. “He’s got a double standard going on between the two Rices here, and it’s apples and oranges. Susan Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi; Condoleezza Rice has a lot to do with the war in Iraq.”

“In the last three years, [McCain] has turned into a cranky and unreliable analyst of American foreign policy,” concluded Jonathan Alter, Bloomberg View columnist and msnbc political analyst. “The whole thing is totally trumped up. It’s not just political; it’s also personal.”

Tune in to Hardball Friday to hear more about McCain’s lingering bitterness, and how it may be bleeding into matters of national security.