There’s no doubt she’d know what she was talking about, and I’m not sure I agree with Michael Tomasky’s pre-requisite of a close relationship with the president. Although the logic of keeping your friends close and enemies closer might seem apt for Hillary, who was Obama’s only truly effective nemesis in the election process, I’m not sure I buy the rumours either that she and Bill are already preparing the groundwork to attack Obama within the next two years; it’s just too fanciful. I suspect he’s going to have political capital which will last for a considerable time, and doesn’t need to placate her. She may be owed a great deal from the campaigning which by many accounts affected the outcomes in the Appalachian states, but to give her State as a reward?
For me the nagging question is would she actually be a good Secretary of State? I’m not convinced she would be, unless of course you buy the argument that Obama intends to be far more hawkish in his foreign policy than many on the left would wish. His wish may be to exit Iraq quickly, but has declared a desire to redeploy to Afghanistan – the usual neoconservative nonsense, or for other reasons? Remember it was Hillary who advocated nuking Iran, with Obama declaring a desire to talk to and perhaps use America’s enemies strategically. We have moves, backed up by chief hypocrite Tony Blair, for Obama to repair the damage caused to America’s relationship with the EU, and despite an initially aggressive Russian response to his election, a soft line on the so-called ‘missile defence shield’ which so soured the US’ relationship with Putin’s Russia. Hillary may support these positions, she may not, but what I can’t get past is her near-unquestioning support of the Bush administration in voting for the war in Iraq. She was either hoodwinked (in which case her judgment is as dreadful as McCain’s) or actually agreed with it; I don’t want a Secretary of State in the Obama administration who did.
The other problem isn’t so much the Clinton psychodrama, which would no doubt continue to play out in and around the White House just at a time when Obama and the country need it the least, but the question of probity. Bill’s pre- and post-presidential business dealings have a shady reputation at best, and at a time when the Obama transition team is priding itself on being the most ethical in history, bringing the Clintons back into the fold would undermine the new team’s reputation before it even began. Obama’s ‘change’ surely must involve a departure from connections such as this, although this is an issue with Bill rather than Hillary.
Nancy Cohen identifies where Obama’s foreign policy thinking is coming from, and argues that Hillary’s appointment could indeed be revolutionary if it were to enact Obama’s belief that foreign policy itself needed to be rethought for the 21st century, to deliver change on the international issues which he’s already called for bipartisan engagement with. One of his top foreign policy advisers – Susan Rice, wrote the preface to a report in 2007 by the Phoenix Initiative, a group of foreign policy Democrats who got together in 2005 to come up with a strategy to wrest control of the foreign policy narrative from the GOP once and for all. Nicholas Lemann quotes Rice that the report:
“breaks away from such traditional concepts as containment, engagement, and enlargement and rejects standard dichotomies of realist power politics versus liberal idealism.” It “offers bold and genuinely new thinking about America’s role.” The report lists five top “strategic priorities” for the United States. The first three are issues that governments, or even international organizations, can’t handle on their own: counterterrorism, nuclear proliferation, and, taken together, climate change and oil dependence. The other two are regional: the Middle East and East Asia. The report barely mentions great-power diplomacy, the traditional core concept of statecraft. It is not just post-Cold War but post-war on terror and, arguably, post-American hegemony.
Obama will not choose Hillary to make party peace, nor to bring warmed-over Clintonism into the inner sanctums of the new administration. He will not choose her because she is a woman. If Hillary is the one, she will have been chosen because she has shown visionary leadership on two of the critical international (and moral) questions of our age: climate change and the human rights of women.
Anyone who followed the campaign and the policy debates realizes that Clinton was stellar on climate change and energy independence. (Barring the one foolish gas-tax holiday delusion.) Obama and Clinton share views on the subject, and if anything, Clinton has rightly shown more skepticism than Obama on nuclear power and “clean coal.”
Less well known is the fact that Hillary Clinton was one of the pioneers of the principle that women’s rights are human rights and that women’s status in the world is one of the critical international issues.
If it’s to be Hillary, which Hillary is it going to be? Hawk Hillary? Or feminist Hillary, putting a new, 21st century international relations strategy into action for her former nemesis which just might deliver ‘change’? Lehmann believes not just that Obama’s own thinking mirrors the Phoenix Initiative’s, but that he’s been road testing the ideas for some time. If Hillary can see where hers and Obama’s thinking overlap, watch her snap the job up. Considering she’s good friends with foreign policy supremo, Vice-President-Elect Joe Biden, maybe she really is the right choice, despite the dangers.