Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Clinton, and Obama's Character Flaw

Barak Obama's serious consideration of Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State speaks volumes - all of it disappointing.

First, it points to Obama's excessive tendency to avoid conflict: to want to appear reasonable and nice, at almost any cost. That may be soothing to Americans tired of 16 years of highly polarized U.S. politics, but it is not a recipe for achieving the bold change that most Americans hoped for. Nor is it a recipe for pushing through the challenging policy initiatives that America (and the world) so desperately need. While it is certainly good to take advise from all sides, to be non-partisan, and to prefer practical solutions to ideological bromides, the temptation to smooth over conflict and appear a nice guy are not conducive to the hard work and tough choices ahead.

Why is appointing Hillary a sign of an “appeasement” mentality?

Because she is clearly not the best candidate. In fact she is barely qualified at all. Other than high profile star power, and 8 years of overhearing Whitehouse discussions on foreign policy, what qualifications does she bring to the job? Her expertise, if any, is in domestic policy and health care in particular – that and being a good politician, both with the “masses” and with fellow congresspersons. But none of these skills and experience will do her much good when negotiating with Putin’s Russia, or devising an effective approach to the Israel/Palestine problem, or suggesting an innovative approach to get China to cooperate in applying sanctions to Iran. And that’s what a Secretary of State – or a good one a least – will be required to do. She has zero administrative experience - a Secretary of State also has to mange an unruly department with thousands of employees, many very high-profile themselves. And she doesn’t even have good foreign policy instincts – she initially supported the war in Iraq, and was late to condemn it. She consistently takes the hawkish possible stance among Democrats. (The only Democrat more hawkish was Joe Lieberman and we see were that lead.)

There are a dozen excellent candidates with better qualifications than Hillary: Richard Holbrooke, senior state department staffer in both the Carter and Clinton administrations, American Ambassador to the U.N., and the man who almost single handily brought about the “Dayton Accords” that ended the civil war in Bosnia, is the real cream of the crop. Other names – all more qualified than Hillary include: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, Former Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell, respected academic Samantha Powers, and retired general Antony Zinni.

But of course none of these provide the political cover of appointing Hillary. And that’s what Obama thinks he is buying, by this appointment: co-opting a rival; buying-off her supporters; and getting her “tough” image- such as it is on his credit balance.

He may rue the day. Not only will she not bring him any brilliant policy advice, nor be particularly good at schmoozing up foreign leaders and executing policy, she is likely to be a powerful enough figure that she can – if she wished – strike out on initiatives at odds with the President’s – or at least not on his priority agenda. And what can he do about it. Firing Hillary would not be an easy option. Any move to cut her power, or remove her would be interpreted as vindictive and/or indicative of a major disagreement. As such it would be very expensive in terms of political capital.

Obama may be buying himself, a mediocre foreign policy legacy, and a lot of trouble down the road, all for the sake of wanting to build a coalition now.

He has a strong enough mandate that he doesn’t need to do this. But he wants to appear as Mr. Nice Guy. Lets hope that is not a fatal flaw.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Barack atah Illinois, Eloheinu melech ha'olam,
hoo-ray p'ri ha-electoral landslide.

8:53 pm  

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