PLAYING GAMES WITH CHRIS HILL…. President Obama recently nominated Christopher Hill to be next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and as nominations go, this should be one of the easier ones. He’s an experienced diplomat who enjoys bipartisan support. There are more than enough votes to confirm him, even if he’s subjected to a filibuster. And yet, several Senate Republicans are playing an annoying game.

For a while, Hill’s GOP critics complained that Hill doesn’t speak Arabic and lacks experience in the Middle East. That argument fell apart when we realized that those same Republicans voted to confirm John Negroponte as ambassador to Iraq in 2004 — and Negroponte doesn’t speak Arabic and lacked experience in the Middle East.

The same Republicans suggested Hill lacked institutional support needed to do the job. This, too, fell apart when Negroponte, Zalmay Khalilizad, and Ryan Crocker endorsed Hill’s nomination, which was followed by support from Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

But several conservative Republicans — most notably John McCain and Lindsey Graham — continue to fight a losing battle against a qualified nominee anyway. Laura Rozen reports today that the GOP obstructionism is starting to annoy U.S. military leaders.

Sources tell The Cable that Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus, top Iraq commander Gen. Raymond Odierno, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are frustrated by the delay in getting a U.S. ambassador confirmed and into place in Iraq, and support Hill’s confirmation proceeding swiftly. […]

Since the previous ambassador, Ryan Crocker, left the job Feb. 13, Odierno has complained of doing double duty: serving as the commanding general and the de facto ambassador.

The power vacuum in Baghdad comes at a critical juncture in Iraq’s transition, sources noted. The U.S. mission is becoming increasingly focused on political stabilization and economic development over military missions; Arab-Kurd tensions are rising in the north; struggles for dominance within and across sectarian groups are heating up in the aftermath of January’s provincial elections; the Baghdad government is facing tough budget choices due to declining oil prices; and national elections that will determine whether Iraq can consolidate its democracy are due by year’s end.

Keeping a lid on such political tensions is “crucial to consolidating the security gains from the surge,” a Washington Iraq hand said, “yet the advocates of the surge want to slow down the process of getting an ambassador to Iraq.”

Let me get this straight. Hill is qualified and has the bipartisan support needed to win confirmation. He supports the same U.S. policy that’s won plaudits from policymakers in both parties. He’s ready to get to work, and U.S. military leaders believes his service is needed right away.

And John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Sam Brownback are still playing partisan games?

A Senate Democratic foreign-policy staffer told Rozen, “Why are they dicking around and not putting an ambassador in there if Iraq is so important?”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.