Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Lady in the Pant-Suite Gets a Shot.

The possibility that Hillary Rodham Clinton might get the nomination for Secretary of Sate caused a furor in the news cycle. Some in the blog world were of the opinion that the whole idea was a set up. PUMA types who are forever suspicious that Obama always has bad intent when the subject of Ms. Clinton comes up were in deep paranoia about the leak. The possible offer was a way to insult Ms. Clinton or a way to permanently destroy her by putting her in a no-win situation. The move was either Lucy with the football ( pulling the offer at the last minute to make Hillary look ridiculous) or a more nefarious way for Obama to ruin Ms. Clinton’s career. Others pointed out the role of SoS would be an excellent way to constrain Ms. Clinton’s room for political maneuver. Accepting the possibility that Obama does want to contain the force of nature that is Hillary Clinton is that the only explanation? Is this all about keeping one’s friends close and one’s possible enemies closer? In one respect no. Hillary while a advisory in the primary of Obama is not an enemy.

Hillary worked her heart out for the junior Senator from Illinois. By the end of the campaign there was no separation between them; she was the biggest asset for team Obama other than the Candidate himself and his wife. Even before the unity convention the differences between Hillary and Barack were slim. Take health care. Their policies were very similar. Hillary did make some odd noises about mandates which when you looked at them were rather emaciated things. Barack was against mandates but failed to mention how that place a whole cohort of people out reach of his program. Neither candidate would have had much to say about health care until John Edwards came out so forcefully for it. Obama did not even have a plan early on; Hillary having been beaten to an inch of her life on the subject way back in the early nineteen- nineties was justifiable reticent. Even the subject that probably sunk Hillary in the end – Iraq was much less than it seemed. Policy wise Hillary was a little to the right of Barack on foreign affairs and a little to the left on Domestic affairs. There were some sharp elbows thrown by the Clinton campaign but the mostly ended throwing Hillary off balance and doing damage mostly to her reputation. In the end Hillary made nice to Barack because there was more uniting her with him and the Democratic Party.

Now that Obama is the president-elect all Hillary’s hard work may be rewarded. Hillary may be a finalist for Secretary of State or the job may be hers for the asking. Looking at other names it is Hillary in a walk. John Kerry suffers from a severe case of foot-in-mouth disease. As much as some people loved his Presidential Run, most others were not impressed. He was especially atrocious in the 2006 election where his lame attempt at a joke landed him in scalding water. You did not see much of Kerry in 2006 after that; and for good reason. A secretary of state has got to have his messaging under complete control. Kerry while not as loquacious as Biden suffers from the same tendency to run his mouth when his brain is engaged elsewhere. Bill Richardson, the other name mentioned has exactly two things going for him : his extensive resume and the fact he is Hispanic. Unfortunately for Richardson there are mobs of Clintonites screaming for his scalp, never a good thing. They rightly point out that while Richardson’s resume may be thick it is weak when it comes to foreign policy bone fides. Rumor has it that Richardson reinforced these doubts in his less that stellar interview with Obama.

Part of the case for Hillary staying where she is her role in the Senate. It is argued that she can have an impact on the health care debate in the Senate. Hillary has pull in the Senate, she should stay there so she can make a run in 2012 or 2016. Sane Hillary supporters, hello Ms Taylor Marsh, know that 2012 was not Ms Clinton’s year unless she was running for reelection as Senator from New York. Hillary supporters understood that her running for President after four years of a McCain President, the only option after Obama’s win in the primaries, would be a disaster for Clinton, for the party and for the nation. Less rational Clinton “supporters” , PUMA please take a bow, were more than willing to “punish” the nation for rejecting “our Hillary” by inflicting it with four more years of Bush / Republican rule. The loopy PUMA types are still spewing about Obama, screaming how Hillary will save the nation in 2012 from the clutches of the evil “chosen one.” There really is not enough time in the day to outline how pathetic and delusional this notion is.

Let us return to the light of day and happier thoughts. As much as some may love Hillary, they must come to the realization her position in the Senate is no great shakes. She is more than competent, she gets things done, she helps crafts laws. Her influence is mainly due to her willingness to do the grunt work. Yes, it helps to be the former First Lady. Yes, it helps her to have Bill on her side. But it helps a lot less than Hillary’s supporters realize . She is still a very Junior Senator who is only barely into her second term. In the very clubby and very tradition bound Senate where sonority matters her scope is quite limited. She wants to be a major player on health care but that is not a ceiling she can crack. That particular ceiling is not made of glass but of bast-hardened, steel-reinforced concrete. Health care belongs to Ted Kennedy, the lion of the Senate. As this is the Lions last roar before he lies down to sleep in soft grass he is will be reluctant to share that last great vocalization with any one else. Hillary just seems too classy and bit too impatient to play vulture to Teddy’s Lion King. Even if Teddy is unable to see health care to completion there are far too many other Senators ahead of Clinton to pick up the crown from Kennedy. Health Care is Clinton’s signature issue, but that is all the more reason why she might not want to see it to completion in the Senate. Her role and her input will be far too limiting for Clinton to really be excited about. If she really wanted to be a player in health care she could do more at HHS.

With the executive firmly in view, let us take a look at State. Those who claim that State would somehow be a step down for Senator Clinton need to seek professional help. State is a huge responsibility. It’s area of responsibility is merely the entire world. Every nation in the world has an US Embassy and each and every one of those embassies reports via the chain of command to the Secretary of State. Hillary will have ultimate authority and ultimate responsibility for the actions of a staff numbering in the tens of thousands. She will be responsible for a budget in the Billions of dollars. She will have substantive conversation with diplomats and world leaders. She will be the diplomatic face of the United States the world over.

Politically the nomination make sense. The argument against Clinton never was that she completely lacked foreign policy bone fides. The real case against Clinton is that she exaggerated her competence in the area. The best example of this was the Tuzla kerfuffle. It was a distillation of all that was wrong with Hillary’s claim of experience. Both the danger and importance of Hillary’s little visit to the Balkans was way overblown by the former First Lady.


As the campaign is now over, the questions of whether Obama showed better judgement in foreign policy and whether his judgment trumped Hillary experience (what ever the depth of her experience really was) are all moot questions now. Her possible nomination now is not an admission that Obama does not have the competence to run the foreign policy of his administration. Lawrence Eagleburger can go blow bubbles in the bathtub

Hillary brings a lot to the table. Not the least the old dynamic duo of her and Bill. Bill could help his wife by doing the glad-handing while she buries herself in policy wonk heaven. Hillary has always been the detail person of the team. She was the work horse to Bills show horse. Hillary also has the well earned reputation of being a hawk on National Security issues. Barack and Bill can play nice-nice while Hillary plays Mother Superior with the 36 inch steel ruler. Hillary does have that whole Margaret Thatcher, Iron Lady demeanor thing down pat. Hillary will be more than willing to use her enforcer image to push her other signature issue: woman’s rights.

As the woman who almost won the Presidency of the United States Hillary has heft in the issue of woman’s rights. It is a subject near and dear to her heart and a subject that dovetails nicely with one of Obama’s main concerns. One of the more dishonest claims still being forwarded by disgruntled PUMA types is that Obama is a misogynist. The guy has a fiercely independent wife and two daughters to ride herd on him; hardly the profile of a rank misogynist. Handing over the keys of the State Department to Hillary would finally put that silly talking point to rest.

Of course rabid PUMA types are having none of it. How dare Hillary even consider accepting the consideration?! After Obama relentlessly slandered her! It is obviously a trap, he is only doing this so he can pull the nomination and thus further humiliate Hillary. If there was even the slightest chance of such a scenario don’t you think a political operator as savvy as Hillary would have failed to smoke it out? The idea of Hillary as some ill informed babe in the political woods is an insult to this battle-scared political veteran. Hillary Clinton, the woman who fought off Ken Starr, the Republican Party and the Riche-Wing media ,is going to be laid low by the machinations of the Obama team? In what parallel universe?

This is not about neutralizing her run in 2012 or 2016. 2012 is not an option for Hillary. No candidate in modern times has run against a sitting President of their party and has won in the Primaries. As a matter of fact every time this has happened since Eisenhower it ended with the sitting President’s party losing in the General. 2016 is far, far away, it is an open question if Hillary will want run then. Hillary most likely wants to make a impact now, not wait for 2012 or until 2016. A perch at State would offer her such a chance. One has to look far back to find a possible nominee with the skill, ambition, intelligence, seasoning and personality that matches the former First Lady. She is right up there with such heavy-weights as Dean Acheson and George Marshal. She could really shine by ending George W. Bush’s Mission Un-Accomplished in Mesopotamia in a quick, clean, honorable way.

South of Iraq some commentators are claiming that Clinton’s possible nomination would be a calming signal to Israel. This is not really an issue. Both Obama and Clinton are staunch supporters of Israel. Both kissed the collective rings of AIPAC with a fervor that was off-putting to many observers. Our Mideast policy is still safely held captive by the Israeli lobby to a degree that harmful to both us and the state of Israel. That is the one consistent guiding star that the Ship of the U.S. state will continue to follow. The American Gulliver will continue to tied down in the Levant by the antics of the Lilliputians residing there. The main characters in this tale, the hapless Israelis and the hopeless Palestinians, will continue to argue amongst themselves about the proper way to break an egg. The Palestinians will continue to find new and novel ways to foul their own nest and the Israelis will continue to find ways to exacerbate the problem. Hamas and the Likud will continue the dance of extremism, feeding off of each others hate. Obama will find out how difficult compromise is in a land were people can not come up with a rational solution to removing a ladder on a church ledge. A ladder that has been there since at least 1852.

In the campaign neither Obama nor Clinton’s advanced much further than pat bromides on the Middle East. Both have left all options on the table with Iraq and both have been reliably for the continuation of the war on terror. Both offer a return to Satus Quo policies of the Bill Clinton era. It is a sad comment on the excesses of the NeoCons that we long for the days of Real Politics. Our foreign policy is in such a bad state that we will accept mere competence in its formulation.

Still if competence is what we need, Hillary Clinton offers it in spades. Both Clinton and Obama offer small c conservative governance in foreign affairs. After eight years of NeoCon Revolutionary idealism, boring, staid, conventional thinking may just be what we need. We need to fix the reputation of the United Stated before we charge off into any new policy adventures. We need to get back to first principles. Hillary as National Security hawk and a nuts-and-bolts policy technician will be a boon to Obama who can delegate the Operational details to her while he tackles the bigger picture and makes the top level decisions. Their world view is not all that different, more a matter of emphasis and timing than anything else. Obama and Clinton will be foreign policy pragmatists.

This is not all bad news for progressives. Pragmatic considerations will eventually force the Obama team to pull back from some of the grander aspirations of American foreign policy. It will be a matter of economics more than anything else. Both Hillary and Barack will forced to pull back from hemogenic rule by its shear cost. The cost in lives and treasure is unsupportable. The operational tempo of two wars (three if you count the “war” on terror) is shredding the U.S. military. The occupation in Iraq has to end, the operations in Afghanistan have to come to a conclusion. The U.S. can not go it alone. To get real allies the U.S. is going to have to surrender both power and responsibility to others. Instead of being the lone hyperpower the U.S. will have to accept the position as first among equals. Such a position requires a cautious, and consultive mindset. It is ,as stated before, a small c conservative mindset. In this brave old world of diplomacy, a world where we join together and hammer out mutually beneficial agreements to issues that face all nations ,Clinton may have a major role to play. Is she ready from day one? Let us hope so for both her and our nations sake.
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