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Monday, November 24, 2008

The Cynicism of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State

Compare the positions of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on domestic issues and you will find little difference between the two. Both want some form of universal health care and differ mostly on specifics like whether it will be mandatory for everyone to be covered. Both want some form of middle class tax cuts. Both are in favor significant new government spending on infrastructure, job creation, and green technology. Both believe the spirit of deregulation played a very large part in creating the crisis and so both favor some form significant new regulations. Both are socially liberal. They both favor most abortions. They both favor liberal judges. Neither favors gay marriage though both favor some sort of civil unionship.

If you were a voter that made their choice on positions, there would be little to choose from on domestic issues. On foreign policy, that was a far different issue. First, Obama made the centerpiece of his campaign that he had the wisdom to see Iraq for the unmitigated disaster that Democrats see it as and that his more experienced opponents didn't have the same kind of wisdom. It is this wisdom, in the view of Barack Obama, that was most important in making foreign policy decisions.

On Iran, Barack Obama was the only candidate to say that he would meet unconditionally with their leaders in the first year of his Presidency.

Here is how Hillary Clinton characterized such a policy.

I thought that was irresponsible and frankly naive," she told the Quad-City Times of Iowa.

Later, it was Hillary Clinton's turn to say something controversial about Iran.

"I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran [if it attacked Israel]," Clinton said. "In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

Here is how Barack Obama characterized that statement.

"It's not the language we need right now, and I think it's language reflective of George Bush," Obama told NBC's "Meet the Press."

In February of 2007, Barack Obama made his first major foreign policy speech in front of the Council on Foreign Relations. He indicated that if Pakistan wasn't ready to act against Al Qaeda stationed within their borders, the United States, under his command, would act with or without their permission. Here is how Hillary Clinton characterized such language.

White House hopeful Hillary Clinton slammed her Democratic rival Barack Obama Tuesday for suggesting he would order a raid against Al-Qaeda inside Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf failed to act.
Clinton, who has sought to paint Obama as lacking the foreign policy experience to be commander in chief, questioned the wisdom of Obama's threat during a key debate here before crucial nominating contests in Ohio and Texas.
"Last summer, he basically threatened to bomb Pakistan, which I don't think was a particularly wise position to take," Clinton said.
"I have long advocated a much tougher approach to Musharraf and to Pakistan and have pushed the White House to do that," she said ahead of next Tuesday's do-or-die nominating contests.

There is a rather perverse cynicism in having Barack Obama choose Hillary Clinton for his Secretary of State. If she were chosen for his HHS Secretary that would have been one thing. Here, Barack Obama spent an entire primary staking out a foreign policy position that differentiated from Clinton's on most major points. He criticized her on more than one occasion, and he even said often that her vote to authorize the war showed she wasn't fit to be President. She called his policy toward Iran naive, and he called hers much too much like George Bush's. Yet, now he has put her in charge of his entire foreign policy platform. What will Hillary Clinton do if Barack Obama follows through on his threat and attacks Al Qaeda without the permission of Pakistan? What Will Hillary Clinton do if she is directed to broker a deal between Barack Obama and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Some of these things are natural criticisms made in a campaign. Certainly, if a President could only pick those that never disagreed with them that would leave very few people to choose from in a cabinet. Still, there are fundamental differences here between how these two view geopolitics. Barack Obama believes that voting in favor of the Iraq war indicates an individual doesn't have the judgment to be President. Hillary Clinton thinks that unconditional Presidential level negotiations is a naive and dangerous policy. Yet, these two will come together to make foreign policy. Not only is this cynical, but it is the sort of cynicism that Barack Obama promised to get beyond.


Anonymous said...

I agree in part. The pick is cynical in that Obama is aiming to remove Clinton's "teeth."
Hillary will now have to do as she is told or risk looking like a traitor.

However, there can be no argument she is a very capable woman and the differences between them were inevitable.

From the Times in England
"The real import of the decision, though, may not be understood until the Obama administration tackles the Israel-Palestine question. The Clintons are well known and respected on both sides. They have prestige to cash in and a Rolodex to use in trying to move a potential deal forward. Bill’s 2000 blueprint for a two-state deal is still the best working proposal. If any combination could achieve a breakthrough, it would be the force magnifier of the new and charismatic president allied with the skill and experience of a former one’s wife. And, of course, we all long to see Clinton in a veil....The common thread is managerial competence and intellectual heft and governing experience. He senses, I think, the kind of moment that Margaret Thatcher and Reagan once sensed: a quickening of the times, a reckoning – financial, economic, military and diplomatic – that could lead to dramatic change enduring a generation.

He wants to make sure that, unlike George Bush, he has the quality of personnel he needs: people who know how to pull the levers and check under the machinery of government if they don’t seem to work. He is change enough. What he needs is a way to make the government work effectively again.

After eight years of arbitrary improvisation run out of the vice-president’s imperial office, we have the possibility of a cabinet of real individuals, able to push back internally but govern efficiently. There will doubtless be bumps on the road and grem-lins in the engine. But this newbie seems pretty serious to me."

mike volpe said...

There's plenty of argument to be made that she is capable. I don't know what foreign policy accomplishment she has made. She's made zero. She has no foreign policy experience. Zero. Drinking tea with the wives of world leaders is not experience.