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The buzz about Hillary Clinton...Updated X2

by papicek 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.

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Crossposted on Daily Kos.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire
by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 11:18:24 PM EST
I posted on Foreign Policy Magazine's Passport blog.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire
by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Tue Nov 18th, 2008 at 11:40:05 PM EST
A key concern would be whether she still harbours Presidential ambitions of her own. (In my view that would disqualify her).  A Secretary of State is the nations top diplomat who must often take responsibility for the messy compromises that negotiated solutions almost always involve.  A SoS more concerned with grandstanding to a domestic political audience is not going to be able to negotiate such agreements.

A key consideration in appointments must also be whether they are sackable if things go wrong or if unpopular decisions have to be made.  If Obama finds himself stuck with an unpopular SoS whom he also can't sack because of the political fall-out to his own Presidency, then you have a lose-lose situation.

I would have been more comfortable with her as VP than as SoS, because a VP doesn't have to DO anything.  Cabinet members have to be sackable to prevent the Presidency being damaged when things go wrong - and not "too big to be sacked".  

I appreciate her stature would also provide Obama with political cover if unpopular or tricky decisions have to be made, but that presupposes that she would be prepared to make those decisions (however damaging to any further Presidential ambitions she might have).

Bill might be a complicating factor, but the real issue is Hillary.  Who will she be working for?  Obama or herself and her own Presidential ambitions?

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 08:49:52 AM EST
I suppose, to stay away from domestic politics, since I've seen nothing but how this plays out in America. This diary is more about how it might play internationally.

That being said, you raise an excellent point. The popular foreign policy debate in America runs something like this: either you're ready to send troops anywhere at any time to kick ass on anyone or you're less than the perfect patriot, and unfit for the presidency.

What if, given that debate, as a future White House contender she offered nothing as SecState that might jeopardize her future chances? She'd serve the country - and the world - poorly indeed.

If she's hypothetically considering a future white house run, she should decline. It is almost certain that there will be situations ahead as SecState where she'll have to make the choice: serve well, or harbor your ambitions?

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 09:46:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If Obama is smart he will have offered her the position on the basis that she has already decided not to run again - as a way of ending her career on a high - and rewarding her for her support with the highest position available to him.  She is probably better off staying in the Senate if she does want to run again - that way she will not be tarnished by the inevitable erosion of popularity even good Presidents endure.

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 09:52:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know if that's a reasonable request to make of Senator Clinton, but it may well be a conclusion she came to on her own.

On the whole, I think she could eventually be a good, even great SecState, based just on her qualities of character. She does have some baggage coming out of the starting gates, though nothing that cannot be overcome.

As a matter of personal style, her stridency makes her the wrong face to put on US public diplomacy. That's absolutely the wrong way the US needs to go on public diplomacy in the near future.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 10:43:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the key thing is that they have mutual confidence in each other and aren't pulling in opposite directions -  see http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/opinion/19friedman.html?ref=opinion

notes from no w here
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 03:25:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Secretary of State in the US is forgotten domestically about 20 minutes after being sworn in.  Remember that the current Secretary of State is CONDOLEEZA RICE.  If anyone took this job seriously this would of course not be the case.
by paving on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 02:24:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Certainly, Putin has made criticism of the United States a cornerstone of his public diplomacy, but this blanket statement seems overly harsh.

And that's nothing compared to what she had to say about his soul!  LOL!

I support the nomination.  She's kind of evil, but incredibly smart and effective.  So the best place for her, like Rahm, is on a short leash serving at the pleasure of the President - Obama.  Who, by all accounts, is not evil.  

I also don't think his foreign policy will vary significantly depending on who is Secretary of State, given all his FP advisors are, well, actually, I can only speak about Russia.  It's not a pretty picture.  Actually, aside from initially opposing the invasion of Iraq and wanting to close Gitmo, you know, aside from being generally not in favor of abominable war crimes, Obama's foreign policy is annoying as all get out regardless who you put in that cabinet position.

Anyway, Hillary is intelligent and experienced and perfectly qualified for the position.  She's firm and an impressive debater.  If Obama wants her to be his messenger, I'm down with that.  SoS is not about winning international popularity contests.  Besides, Obama has already done that.  

Come, my friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

by poemless on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 12:08:53 PM EST
The thought crossed my mind that what BushCo had in mind was the creation of a new cold war with the rising Islamic tide (with obvious domestic political advantages for the republicans). For awhile, he was largely successful with this policy domestically, but since no other countries were going along with it by 2003, it was ultimately a monumental waste of time, effort, money and tragically, of lives. A significant part of the US electorate still believes in this policy. This is expressed in both Clinton and Obama's official campaign policy positions, and it is the cornerstone of almost all (and there's lots) of the current literature out there on the direction of US foreign policy going forward.

I don't know what his foreign policy will turn out to be, just how far, if at all, he moves off center. I only know that almost the entire foreign policy community is out there calling for change, most everyone calling for beefed up diplomacy. Right now, if the US so chooses, Syria is approachable, Iran is approachable, and much work needs to be done in the new Europe, the Balkans, with Russia, Africa and in Latin America (for instance, Evo Morales just recently told US Drug Enforcement Administration personnel in Bolivia to pack their bags and get out).

Supposedly his campaign had some 300 foreign policy advisors, and I would've like to been a fly on the wall during their internal debates. No, I take that back. It would likely have left me mighty pissed off.


"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 09:11:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... being discussed for Secretary of Defense ... she is being talked for the at most Number 3 ranked position (after President, Defense), sometimes Number 5 ranking position (President, Vice President, NSA, Defense, in whatever order).

And so the main job in front of any Secretary of Defense in any administration that was really serious about even the "kinder and gentler hegemony" line of Pres-elect Obama would be to rebuild State and wrest influence back from Defense.

After the primary season, Pres-elect Obama knows Senator Clinton a boatload better than I do ... p'raps he thinks she really is the right Department Executive to take on that task.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Nov 19th, 2008 at 02:33:49 PM EST


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