BY MUNIR UMRANI
CHICAGO, USA -- Interest in U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton serving as the American Secretary of State under President Barack Obama has foreign affairs pundits speculating and pontificating on whether the two former rivals for the right to be the Democratic Party candidate in the November 4, 2008, presidential election in the United States can work together. Some critics say it's not a good idea to have her as America's top diplomat. Other say it's an excellent idea. Some of Mr. Obama's advisers reportedly think it's a disaster waiting to happen. See "Barack Obama's aides believe he has made a mistake in hiring Hillary Clinton." Only time will tell.
The Times of London Washington Correspondent Sarah Baxter, writing in the November 23, 2008,
Sunday Times, contends that the appointment of Ms. Clinton "as US secretary of state will place a two-for-one power couple at the heart of Barack Obama's cabinet, which could tie the president-elect’s fortunes to the conduct of Bill Clinton, the former president." See "Hillary will be ‘mother-in-law the president cannot shift’".
It has not been officially announced that Ms. Clinton will succeed Condoleeza Rice as the next secretary of state. That's supposed to happen after November 27, the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. However, few who closely follow Washington politics would bet that she won't be Mr. Obama's secretary of state. Why? The New York Times says she will. It's a great way for Mr. Obama to reward Ms. Clinton for her valuable work during the his contest with Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain. She worked hard to get Mr. Obama elected after he defeated her in the marathon Democratic Primary. So did former President Clinton, her husband. But can the two really work together?
Some pundits say yes and some say no. Some say maybe. I say yes. Why? because she will have a direct pipeline to the president. She would not take the job if she had to go through foreign policy experts in the office of the national security adviser, who will probably be retired general James Logan Jones, currently Chairman of the Board of the Atlantic Council of the United States. Washington Post Staff Writer Karen DeYoung reports otherwise in a November 19, 2008, article:
The heaviest betting is on James B. Steinberg, the former Clinton deputy national security adviser and State Department official who is currently dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.
Retired Marine Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO commander and current executive at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has been an informal foreign and defense policy adviser to Obama and is highly respected.
A third possibility is Susan E. Rice, a State Department veteran who signed on early with Obama as a senior foreign policy adviser. Although she has been close to Obama much longer than the others -- Steinberg joined the campaign after the primaries -- Rice is considered a more likely choice as deputy national security adviser.
I also can't see Ms. Clinton playing second fiddle to Vice-President-Elect Joseph Biden
, who is regarded as an expert in foreign affairs. And, reportedly, she has received assurances that she alone would hire her immediate State Department staff. See "Hillary Plays Hardball
." In other words, none of those Obama foreign policy advisers who discredited her claim of sterling foreign policy credentials during the Democratic primary should expect to be a part of her inner circle.
Also, Ms.Clinton knows she can't freelance. She can argue positions contrary those of the president all she wants inside the policy planning bubble. However, when she goes abroad she is representing the world-view of the Mr. Obama's administration. Of course we will learn about any contrary position she takes. And it will be blown out of proportion. That's because it's almost impossible to keep a secret in Washington, D.C. and the media loves controversy. Expect her people to do a lot of leaking.
Steve Coll, author of the brilliant and highly recommended Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, raised this concern in a November 21, 2008, post in The New Yorker. He thinks Ms. Clinton's selection is a good idea but worries about those who will surround her. See "Secretary Clinton."
"I do worry about her entourage," he wrote. "My first reaction to the news of this prospect a couple of weeks back was: Bob Woodward wins. The natural concern would be that her State Department becomes unto the Obama Presidency what the Powell-Armitage State Department became unto the Bush Presidency—a locus of selective but detailed, dissenting, and ultimately debilitating drip-drip about the White House and its sausage-making. But the Obama people presumably have calculated the costs and benefits and have decided in favor of the latter. It’s all about Lincoln these days, apparently, so we’re left to root for the better angels of everybody’s nature." See
But that's Washington. Not even Mr. Obama will have enough plumbers to stop leaks in that town.