Clinton officially the SoS nom? So sez the NYT.
So it appears that we’re about to embark on a new chapter in the Obama-Clinton saga. Motivating the characters is a blend of cold-eyed calculation and gauzy idealism; selfishness and selflessness; the good, the bad, and the ugly—all the stuff that’s made the drama in which they have co-starred as operatic, twisted, and riveting as any in modern political history. What is different now is where Obama and Clinton might be headed: toward a kind of reconciliation that eluded them even after the hatchets were supposedly buried once their nomination fight was over.
No one disputes that the implications of this putative development are huge: for Obama and the Clintons, for foreign and domestic affairs. And opinions differ wildly over whether the pairing would be a stroke of genius or a match made in hell. But what strikes me as most interesting about it—along with the other appointments Obama has made so far—is what it suggests about the president-elect, from his conception of his embryonic administration to the size and contours of his ego.
For some, such as Tom Friedman, who argues that an “airtight relationship” is “required for effective diplomacy,” the sour Obama-Clinton history is reason to worry that installing Hillary in Foggy Bottom would be a one-way ticket to disasterville. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius frets over “subcontracting foreign policy” to a “big, hungry, needy” figure whose visibility would make quiet statecraft “almost impossible.” David Broder is nervous about the presence of the Maximum Canine—“Foreign leaders would inevitably see Bill Clinton as an alternative route toward influencing American policy”—and even more so about Hillary “carving out an independently based foreign policy.” Obama, writes Broder, “needs an agent, not an author.”
But for Obama and his inner circle—notably Rahm Emanuel, his new chief of staff, whose fingerprints are all over the Clinton gambit—Hillary brings an array of strengths to the table, and many of what critics see as her problematic qualities can be viewed instead as assets. Her existing relationships with world leaders and her global star power would allow her to walk into foreign capitals and deal with the president or prime minister on level footing. And in the face of a cratering economy likely to consume the first year (or more) of Obama’s term, handing off the foreign-policy legwork to a savvy, tough, high-profile surrogate with roundly acknowledged expertise on the relevant issues holds no small appeal.
You can easily imagine Obama telling Hillary: A deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians—go bring that sucker home.
But choosing Hillary demonstrates more than merely get-her-done, mission-driven hardheadedness. It demonstrates that Obama has finally learned the political power of magnanimity—or least the perception thereof. It demonstrates strength, whereas selecting her as his running mate would have displayed the opposite (the stories would all have been about how he did it because he had no choice). And it demonstrates a level of self-confidence remarkable even in someone who just won the presidency. One of the cardinal rules of the Beltway is that you never appoint a subordinate who, for all practical purposes, can’t be fired. Colin Powell was very nearly such an appointment, and George W. Bush came to regret it. Hillary Clinton would be another. Obama is wagering that Clinton will do his bidding and not pursue her own agenda because she will see that her future—in electoral politics, in how she’s treated in the history books—will be bound up with his success. He’s not just bringing her inside the tent; he is making her a tent-pole. This strategy is either shrewd or delusional. But timid it is not.
The Clinton we have grown accustomed to over the last year is perceived as a spear-carrier for the Madeleine Albright school of values-driven liberal interventionism. Albright proponents argue that in contrast to the reckless efforts of neoconservatives to spread democracy and promote global justice at the end of a gun, Albright got regime change right in the Balkans.
Obama is the guy who wanted to meet the world's most thuggish leaders, who wanted strategic change, and who wanted to avoid the "wrong kind of experience" -- implying Clinton's team was riveted in the past and not ready for the future. Obama strategist David Axelrod went so far as to tie Clinton to some responsibility for Benazir Bhutto's death for not doing more to stop Bush's wars in the Middle East.
Despite all of these differences, hiring Clinton may be a masterstroke of genius that has all the markings of a high-risk, high-reward move with which this political tycoon Obama has grown comfortable.
By bringing her on, Obama finally gets the keys to the Clinton political franchise, adding it to the Daley, Daschle and Kennedy Democratic party franchises he has already acquired and integrated.
If Obama wants to change the strategic game on Iran, Israel-Palestine, Syria, Cuba, Russia and other challenges, he will need partners who are perceived as tough, smart, shrewd and even skeptical of the deals he wants to do. Clinton is all of these.
Clinton may be the bad cop to Obama's good cop. Because she is trusted by Pentagon-hugging national security conservatives, she may legitimize his desire to respond to this pivot point in American history with bold strokes rather than incremental ones.
This could be a kind of proactive agenda-setting in foreign policy we haven't seen in decades. Obama does not want an ad hoc, reactive presidency -- and he wants to succeed.
Clinton has a lot of reasons to pull cooperatively with Obama and may want to help America achieve a new strategic direction and establish a new global equilibrium -- securing Obama's place in history, and her own.
Much has been made of the supposed conflict that HRC would bring with her if she becomes SoS. I don't think Clinton would try to "undermine" Obama or anything like that (I imagine she's reconciled to the reality that she's not going to be President), but as Spencer Ackerman reports, the real source of tension come from the whole crew she brings with her.
Personally I guess I'm agnostic on whether or not this is a good decision. It could turn out to be a blunder, or a master-stroke. A lot depends on the private assurances the two have made to each other, which are of course private so it's hard to gauge. I feel like being optimistic about it, so I will be.
We shall see how it all unfolds!
Treasury Sec will go to Tim Geithner, not Larry Summers, although he will get some kind of general advisor post. TNR has an interesting profile of both Geithner and Summers.
More on Geithner:
- Here’s Bob Kuttner: “Geithner’s admirers span the spectrum from Republican financial mogul Pete Peterson to liberal Democrat Barney Frank. One can infer from his broad fan base three possible conclusions: Wall Street is so clubby and politically powerful that permissible policy differences just aren’t that great; or maybe Geithner is all things to all people; or perhaps, in a deep crisis, truly talented and effective people can earn broad respect. “
- Here’s Noam Scheiber: “In recent weeks, another financial crisis has ushered Geithner and Summers onto center stage. Geithner has helped guide the government’s response from his perch at the New York Fed; many see him as the most pragmatic voice in a trio that includes Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, two men skeptical of market interventions. “The idea that the Fed did as much as it did–with new facilities, new ideas–the breadth of it is stunning,” says one former Fed official.”
- James Fallows notes Geithner’s background in Asia issues.
- A New York Times profile from back in 2007.
Color them impressed:
Hilzoy is... impressed!
Joe Klein is... impressed!
David Brooks... impressed!