Hillary Clinton would bring star power to State Department

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 21, 2008 

WASHINGTON — She's been a mother, a lawyer and a first lady, an aggrieved wife, a U.S. senator and a nearly victorious candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now Hillary Clinton appears set to take on a new role: secretary of state.

The New York Times reported Friday afternoon on its Web site that she will accept the job, and that it's been offered to her. Neither her office nor the transition office of President-elect Barack Obama would confirm the report, though insiders in both camps acknowledged that the job negotiations between the two were "on track."

The junior senator from New York appears to bring much to the job, assuming she is nominated and confirmed, not the least of which is instant international name recognition.

Whether it's flying into war-torn foreign capitals, trying to convince Arabs and Israelis that she means what she says, or presiding over international conferences, star power is a potent weapon, as the last two secretaries of state, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, well knew.

However, Clinton has never — at least publicly — been a global visionary or foreign policy intellectual, leaving it unclear how she would steer America's role in the world or act as steward of U.S. alliances.

A 2007 article she wrote as a presidential candidate for Foreign Affairs magazine was filled with familiar calls to rebuild alliances and restore U.S. leadership, but was spare on details.

Moreover, it remains to be seen where Clinton and the long-underfunded State Department will fit in an Obama administration where, it appears, much foreign policy will be run out of the White House and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden is a heavyweight on international affairs.

There's another, bigger wild card: Never before has a secretary of state had a former president for a spouse. The role of Bill Clinton, with his network of international friends and financial connections, could be a study in tightrope-walking.

Clinton and her new boss-to-be, President-elect Barack Obama, fought bitterly over national security issues during the Democratic presidential primaries.

Clinton attacked Obama's willingness to talk to leaders such as Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as naive. Obama seemed to mock the depth of her experiences, saying his worldview was based on more than "what world leaders I went and talked to in the ambassador's house, who I had tea with."

Now, Obama seems certain to have the final say.

If she's confirmed by the Senate as the 67th Secretary of State, Clinton will settle into her formal office on the State Department's 7th floor to find her inbox crowded with problems from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, global warming to global financial meltdown.

None, however, might be as urgent or treacherous as Iran.

A report this week by the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran continues to enrich uranium that could be used to fuel a nuclear weapon, in defiance of the U.N. Security Council, and has stymied international inspections.

Under the most dire scenario, Iran could have the material for a nuclear weapon, if not a working device itself, sometime soon after 2010.

In her Foreign Affairs essay, Clinton harshly criticized the Bush administration's refusal to engage with adversaries such as Iran. "True statesmanship requires that we engage with our adversaries, not for the sake of talking but because robust diplomacy is a prerequisite to achieving our aims," she wrote.

Yet Iran's multi-headed government has refused a steady stream of sweeteners offered by Europe and the U.S. to persuade it to halt uranium enrichment, often seeking to string out negotiations in an apparent play for time.

If Iran doesn't comply, Clinton wrote, "all options must remain on the table."

In an April television interview, Clinton was much less diplomatic. If Iran launched a nuclear strike on Israel, she said, she would "totally obliterate them."

The comment illustrates Clinton's tough, almost pugnacious style, which she will need in the new job.

The next secretary of state seems likely to be less burdened by Iraq that Rice and Powell were, leaving more time and energy for other problems, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Getting out of Iraq will enable us to play a constructive role in a renewed Middle East peace process," Clinton wrote.

As a senator and before, Clinton has been known as a strong supporter of Israel. But she has also pledged greater involvement in Middle East peace negotiations than President George W. Bush played in his early years.

And while Rice fell far short of achieving a deal in a renewed bid that began a year ago, she leaves talks in place where Clinton could pick up.

DIPLOMATIC MANEUVERS

The news that Sen. Hillary Clinton was President-elect Barack Obama's choice to become secretary of state emerged in a dizzying series of news reports based on sightings, leaks, counter-leaks, rumors, qualified confirmations from the Obama transition team — but still nothing firm and authoritative from either Clinton or Obama. A partial review of how the news emerged:

  • Thursday, Nov. 13: Andrea Mitchell of NBC News reports that Obama is considering Sen. Hillary Clinton as a potential secretary of state. News reporters see her motorcade outside Obama's Chicago headquarters that night.
  • Saturday, Nov. 15: The Associated Press reports that former President Bill Clinton's foreign deals could cause complications if Obama picks Hillary Clinton. This becomes the prime point of media speculation for days.
  • Sunday, Nov. 16: Bill Clinton, speaking at an economic conference in Kuwait, says that his wife would be a "really great" secretary of state.
  • Monday, Nov. 17: The Guardian, a London newspaper, reports that Hillary Clinton has decided to accept the post of secretary of state.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 19: Bill Clinton offers concessions about opening previously private data about his donors to the Obama camp if that'll help Hillary Clinton become secretary of state.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 19: The Associated Press reports that Clinton engaged lawyers to help Obama "vet her candidacy."
  • Thursday, Nov. 20: The New York Times reports that Bill Clinton is said to agree to conditions set by Obama's transition team regarding potential conflicts of interest if Hillary Clinton becomes secretary of state. It also reports of growing tensions between the Clinton and Obama camps over all the leaks.
  • Friday, Nov. 21: Senate Democratic leaders, The New York Times reports, have discussed giving Clinton an "undefined leadership role" in the Senate if she doesn't become secretary of state.
  • Friday, Nov. 21: The New York Times, citing "two confidants," reports on its Web site in the afternoon that Clinton will accept the position. Neither Clinton's office nor Obama's camp would neither confirm nor deny the report.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Stocks soar on word of Obama's choice to lead Treasury

Israel's newest bid to isolate Hamas pushes Gaza to crisis

Regulators fired, disciplined for taking gifts from oil firms

Even if Democrats get 60 Senate seats, they'll need help

Congress 'bails' on helping the auto industry. Now what?

Obama moves to defrost relations between White House, Congress

McClatchy Newspapers 2008

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service