Hillary at State? Not so Fast

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Will  President-Elect Barack Obama pick Sen. Hillary Clinton, his vanquished rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, as secretary of state?  Two weeks ago, experts scoffed at the idea, but a meeting between the two in Chicago on Thursday has set political tongues wagging.

On the surface, there are  numerous obstacles to such an appointment, starting with the fact that it might be hard for Ms. Clinton to play second fiddle to the man she once charged was unprepared for the presidency.

And despite all the “Team of Rivals” talk, referring to the Doris Kearns Goodwin book about Abraham Lincoln’s inclusion of some of his presidential rivals in his cabinet, it might be a little awkward for Obama to hire his most vociferous Democratic competitor, an independent political force who might not be the strongest team player in town.

There’s also the Bill factor; would the former president, never particularly restrained, be a problem for the nation’s top diplomat? It’s a little hard to picture the former president retiring to a quiet life of diplomatic dinners and innocuous pleasantries while his wife does the  heavy lifting of U.S. foreign policy.

And until her campaign for the Democratic nomination this year, Sen. Clinton was known primarily for her domestic activism, not her foreign policy expertise.

But there would be a certain drama to a Clinton nomination. She is known around the world; she is regarded as smart and tough.  She’s not seen as a mushy-headed liberal on issues like terrorism and Iran.

A Clinton appointment could have some interesting repercussions in the Jewish world.

Although she had problems with the pro-Israel community during her 2000 Senate run, Clinton spent the next eight years learning the ins and outs of Jewish politics and developing a strong Jewish network – which stood her in good stead during this year’s primaries, when the woman who once kissed Suha Arafat was transformed into the pro-Israel hawk in the view of many Jewish voters.

As secretary of state, she would start with a level of connection to that politically potent segment that few of her predecessors have had.

But the appointment would also infuriate left-of-center Jewish groups that disliked her cozying up to the pro-Israel lobby during her Senate years and her initial support for the war in Iraq.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, leader of the liberal Shalom Center in Philadelphia, wrote this week that “the serious possibility that Hillary Clinton might become Secretary of State” has “alarmed many progressives who fear that as President, Obama will deliver not change but much the same foreign policy –  with  a hugely expensive, self-defeating, unwinnable  war focused now on Afghanistan rather than Iraq and the resulting paralysis of domestic change as well.”

Jewish pro-peace process groups clearly expect a shift to more active U.S. peacemaking in the Obama administration; the feeling among many is that Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, might continue the Bush administration policy of big talk and little action.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.