Monday, November 24, 2008

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer?

Love her or hate her, Senator Hillary Clinton is now one of the most recognizable faces in American politics. She knows how to act gracefully and she knows how to throw punches. She also knows how to rally the support of millions of Americans…but what about the support of the rest of the world? In the last few weeks, there has been anxious chatter concerning the nomination of Sen. Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State to the Obama administration. Though it is still unclear as to whether she will accept this position, many analysts on both the left and the right agree that she is qualified for the position.

However, many are concerned that the quarrelsome history and diverse ideologies of Obama and Clinton could undermine the administration’s cohesiveness on foreign policy, much like that of the Bush administration. After all, Senator Clinton did criticize Obama for his willingness to negotiate with leaders of Cuba and Iran. Also, during the primary election, Obama was quick to mention the Sen. Clinton had voted in support of the war in Iraq. In fact, Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, declares that appointing Senator Clinton would be a “downright betrayal” of those “who supported Obama during the campaign because of his early opposition to the war” and due to his persistent argument that “judgment is more important than experience.” Several political analysts assert that constructing a “team of rivals” such as this will not be conducive to the change that Obama promised during his campaign. Nonetheless, if the rumors are true and the Obama team does choose Clinton as the Secretary of State, there must be a reason. But what is it, exactly?

Some pundits suggest that Obama’s gesture is not as benevolent as it may seem. David Frum, one of Bush’s former speech writers, claims, “he's putting her into his Cabinet in order to control her” and that it is a “pretty impressive display of tough politics.” As the argument goes, as long as Hillary Clinton is working for an Obama administration, the less time she will have to work against him in 2012.

Perhaps, however, the Obama administration believes that she can play the role of team member as effectively as she did that of adversary. Lawrence Wilkerson, a chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, proposes that Senator Clinton and President-elect Barack Obama have the potential to be a “good team” as long as she was appointed to be a partner of the president and was not simply appointed in order to “neutralize” her. She is, after all, respected in the international community and has been known to take a harder line on foreign policy issues than Obama. Many suggest that they can form a “good cop/bad cop” relationship, which would allow them to make more international breakthroughs than either former President Bill Clinton or President Bush by utilizing “coercive diplomacy.” In order to not send mixed signals, however, Senator Clinton may need to tone down her rhetoric concerning key issues like nuclear Iran if she is actually appointed as Secretary of State.

Senator Clinton, nonetheless, is an ideal candidate for the position, since she is “competent, learns fast, knows how to work the diplomatic ropes and is unlikely to repeat any errors that she made in the past.” Even though they have had conflicts in the past, adding Senator Clinton to an Obama team does not mean that the Obama is diverging from the course he has outlined. Though it will be tricky, it is possible to maintain a functioning Cabinet of critics as opposed to only appointing “yes-men” (and women). Remember Lincoln?

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