Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 10:09:42 PM EST
We've all heard it this week, the skillfully leaked report that Senator Hillary Clinton was being considered for Secretary of State in President-elect Obama's administration. Then, details emerged about the Senator's quiet trip to Chicago to confer with Obama, and neither Obama's press office nor Clinton's staff issuing a public correction of the basic premise that she's been offered the post. So it is probable (provided she and Bill pass the vetting process) that she will be nominated, and if so, then she will likely be confirmed as the next Secretary of State.
Machiavelli must be loving what the pundits have to offer on the subject: it puts Senator Clinton inside the tent peeing out, rather than the reverse (Andrea Mitchell) or that it could offer Obama some political coverage in the event he reaches some Palestinian-Israeli accord that pleases nobody (Chris Matthews). All of said punditry probably little more than the talking heads trying to prove how clever they are.
International relations realist Henry Kissinger is also on record as being in favor of Senator Clinton for the post, though I'm more comfortable with Dr. Kissinger as historian than with his vaunted expertise as foreign policy expert.
Obama has left fewer outstanding chits waiting for payback among our domestic pols than anyone else in the Presidency in my lifetime. Consider his fundraising. Consider the grassroots machine his organization built. What Obama's presidential campaign put together amounts to is an independent political party only loosely allied with the official Democratic Party. So the list of politicians, businessmen and special interest groups he owes for getting him elected is remarkably small. Tom Daschle, Ed Rendell, and Hillary Clinton, who really came through for him after the convention, are on that list.
Initially, I was warm to the idea. My first gut reaction was that she'd make a competent, if not inspiring, Secretary of State. She brings a strong work ethic, a lot of energy and focus to whatever she does. Her appointment would be, as we have already seen, largely acceptable across the American political spectrum.
All well and good, but what's her record on foreign policy?
So I've gone back and reviewed selected votes and her public statements, on US foreign policy. All of which, I believe, were tailored to further her presidential ambitions.
The Kyl-Lieberman Amendment was a high profile piece of legislation, a hard line resolution sponsored by an Arizona Republican and the enigmatic Joe Lieberman, democratic hawk, in which Iran was Congressionally demonized as a terrorist nation. During the primary debates she was called on it and had this to say:
"Iran is seeking nuclear weapons."
"I prefer vigorous diplomacy. And I happen to think economic sanctions are part of vigorous diplomacy."
"...[I] support for using economic sanctions with respect to diplomacy."
That first statement was telling, made with Hillary Clinton's typical stridency, and at the time I wish I could have asked her right then and there if she had turned over the evidence she, and apparently she alone, had to support that claim. At the time, Bush was threatening another illegal war of aggression and Mohamed ElBaradei was giving regular interviews
trying to get the word out that he didn't see any active Iranian nuclear weapon program.
On Russia the Senator had this to say:
"Mr. Putin has put Russia on a path of zero-sum competition with the United States and many of our friends and allies."
Certainly, Putin has made criticism of the United States a cornerstone of his public diplomacy, but this blanket statement seems overly harsh. A zero-sum game? Untrue. Putin's stance on America in the world has more to do with forging a domestic consensus in Russia than a resumption of the Cold War.
On American dominance in the global economy see "Democratic contender warns of debt and 'erosion of economic sovereignty'".
Any nation of 300 million people will have an economy significant enough to have a major role in global markets. Evidently, she aims at a global dollar hegemony.
The November/December 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs featured the Clinton campaign's major foreign policy statement. It speaks to the campaign's perception of where the American electorate stood in late 2007, and is aimed at the right wing voter. The subheadings are revealing:
- "A STRONGER AMERICA"
- "WINNING THE REAL WAR ON TERROR"
- "SECURITY THROUGH STATESMANSHIP"
- "BUILDING THE WORLD WE WANT"
- "REVIVING THE AMERICAN IDEA"
First of all, I don't believe the Senator is the actual author of the article. More than likely it was a carefully thought out campaign document aimed at reassuring those concerned with electing a woman and securing the center-right vote.
Fully half of the article expresses the notions of either maintaining US global hegemony and security concerns, and though the piece touches on a wide variety of foreign policy issues, it offers no specifics on how the US should deal with the manifold problems in the world. That in itself shows a serious lack of expertise in international relations. Surely, with her reputed foreign affairs experience she could have easily demonstrated a tidbit of her supposed intimate knowledge. A detailed proposal concerning public diplomacy, for example, would have played well to the target audience and fulfilled my requirement of demonstrating more than a pundit's familiarity with the US foreign policy. Senator Clinton has demonstrated that she is very attentive to the American electorate, and this is the primary reason people are comfortable with her at State. Furthermore, with some of her innate qualities of character, Senator Clinton could be a more than competent Secretary of State. However her tendency to be strident strikes an undiplomatic tone which could only reinforce the perception that America is bent on creating some kind of new colonial era.
In addition, her votes on Bush's War; her public statements on Iran and on Russia; her votes on Kyl-Lieberman and for the American Servicemembers' Protection Act introduced by Jesse Helms which puts the US in opposition to the International Criminal Court all need to be publicly addressed by Senator Clinton. Some real expertise in international relations needs to be demonstrated. Or else I'd look elsewhere for our next Secretary of State. Too much is at stake. With much of the world is ready to address some of the common problems we already share as well as others hovering over the horizon, her supposed experience could very well work against her legitimacy abroad.
UPDATE: Also worth mentioning is the evident pride Senator Clinton takes from insulting China on its policies on women's rights. That should help she and Hu Jintao get along famously.
UPDATE: Just in, Bill Clinton has agreed to disclose donors to his presidential library, open up his books, etc. to help the Senator with her prospective nomination.