Monday, November 24, 2008

Is Hillary Obama's Colin Powell?

The likely nomination of Hillary Clinton as Barack Obama's secretary of state is baffling to many.

How could two supremely ambitious rivals bury competing agendas and political differences for the common good of a new era of Democratic power? Or, more frankly, why would Hillary want to subordinate herself to a President Obama, who she clearly bested during the primaries on questions of readiness to lead in foreign policy?

I still haven't figured it out myself, but I have the feeling that a Secretary Clinton may end up being the Obama administration's Colin Powell. At times, Powell was
more popular the President Bush, and as a foreign policy realist outside of the neocononservative cocoon driving the administration's war on terror and Iraq policy, his stature protected a foreign policy independence that might have gotten a lesser contemporary fired.

We may see a similar dynamic under the new administration.

For some perspective, check out today's Los Angeles Times, "
Clinton's Potential Pitfalls Seen in FDR's Secretary of State." The article examines Franklin Roosevelt's relationship to Cordell Hull, who was a marginalized as something as an administration outsider who fell out influence in the president's inner circle:
Cordell Hull was a veteran lawmaker with a worldwide reputation when Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him secretary of State in 1933, in part to win needed support from Hull's army of Democratic admirers.

But the dignified Tennessean was never close to FDR. As time passed, he was "muscled out by others in the administration," said Michael Hunt, a diplomatic historian at the University of North Carolina.

Barack Obama's election as president has drawn other comparisons with Roosevelt's, especially for the economic crisis he inherits. But the example of Hull, a marginal figure despite the fact that he served into the 1940s and later won the Nobel Peace Prize, may point to potential pitfalls for Hillary Rodham Clinton if she takes the top diplomatic post, as seems increasingly likely.

Clinton would come to the role with global star power, a first-name relationship with world leaders, and a long familiarity with foreign policy.

But her relationship with the president and the new administration -- so key to success in the job -- is coarsely mixed. And her future ambitions could affect her pursuit of the administration's goals.

"I can imagine lots of room for friction," Hunt said, adding that strains between presidents and their top diplomats have been "a leitmotif of U.S. history."

The presence of her husband, former President Clinton, raises a range of additional questions.

From all outward appearances, Sen. Clinton and Obama have made peace. Yet they were rivals in the most protracted presidential primary in history, and that battle is certain to tint her arrival in the administration and on the world scene.

Throughout a long career, Clinton has been known for her diligence and grasp of details. Like the president-elect, she is thorough and methodical.

She met world leaders on a ceremonial level as first lady, but also knows many from her last five years as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who dealt with Iraq and Afghanistan. International leaders are aware that she is one of the most influential politicians in the United States.

"She'll bring stature and seriousness to a job that needs a real heavyweight," said former Ambassador Nancy Soderberg, who held a series of top-ranking foreign policy positions in the Clinton administration.

Top foreign policy experts of both parties, including former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, have praised her skills. In her campaign, Clinton was supported by a large team of experienced foreign policy experts, many of whom she could bring to the State Department.

But world leaders who are impressed by her high profile also may wonder whether she speaks for Obama, said one former Clinton foreign policy official who spoke on condition of anonymity when assessing her aptitude for the diplomatic post.
The article notes that successful secretaries have been close to their bosses, like James A. Baker III was to the first President Bush, and how Condoleeza Rice is to Bush 43.

Colin Powell stepped down after one term in office, largely from the deep strain he endured in the diplomatic run-up to the war. Michael Hirsch, in "
Hillary Rodham Powell?", says a future Obama-Clinton relationsip may indeed end up like that of Bush-Powell:

Foggy Bottom is simply too far away from the White House to be an independent power base. As secretary of state, Hillary would take over a huge, prestigious organization. But it would, for the most part, be a gilded cage. And to the extent that she might fail to do Obama's bidding, she would be ignored, neutralized and ultimately rendered irrelevant. Perhaps she ought to give Powell a call before she accepts the job.
For some additional perspective, from the policy side, see Ross Douthat, "Getting Out of Iraq."


Norm said...

I see an appointment of Clinton to State as a sign of Obama's deep insecurity. He won the election and now has the proverbial tiger by the tail. He is hit with the question of what do you do with the cat now you got a hold of it? And his lack of experience is making him insecure.

I have noticed that since the election he has twice taken questions from the press. He does something that I have never seen a President do at a news conference. He calls the name of the reporter off a sheet on his podium instead of picking someone's raised hand. Obviously,
his insecurity is causing him to answer questions that he already prepared to answer.

Hence the choice of Clinton. He is the captain of the ship, but he refuses to sink alone. So if he makes the wrong policy decision Clinton will sink with him. Boy, oh Boy is Hillary going to give him a rude surprise when she grabs a liferaft and points her guns at him.

Tom the Redhunter said...

Norm may well be right. For all Obama's arrogance he may have finally realized he's in over his head.

What gets me is why Hillary would want a foreign policy job. It just isn't her. She's Mrs. Health-care Queen. Foreign policy is so un-Hillary like.

My guess is it just plays to her vanity.

Laura Lee - Grace Explosion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CKAinRedStateUSA said...

No, Hillary is the co-vice president, given the way she's negotiated her access to Obama and the way there appears to be a purge of the Obama staffers who opposed her.

BTW: Perfect position for her, given that Obama, because of choosing her and all the Clintonistas he has, really should change his name to Barack Hussein Clinton.

Certainly, we who thought we were going to get Jimmy Carter II will not only get that, but also Clinton III.

Yessir, that Obama fellow is new politician bringing change.

Seems no one cared enough to ask in which direction change pointed though, eh?