I’m not a Hillary Clinton fan. But I must say she has surprised me with the depth of her subservience to the Obama foreign policy vision, and her ability to compromise whatever integrity she might have had left as she goes about doing so.
Of course, maybe she never actually had a foreign policy vision of her own to begin with. Maybe her more muscular foreign policy statements during the campaign were just strategic political positioning. But if any of it actually was sincere, that’s all gone now.
Hillary was one of Obama’s very first Cabinet appointments, announced not long after his election. It seemed a transparently political appointment even at the time, a way to placate a strong rival while at the same time keep her from being a threat. It was a good example of the principle expressed in LBJ’s famous statement about J. Edgar Hoover: “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than have him outside the tent pissing in.”
Although Hillary’s gender makes the colorful phrase a little difficult to picture, you get the idea: to co-opt a difficult person by having him/her on your side.
Understand that I’m not blaming Obama’s foreign policy debacles on Hillary’s influence; that responsibility is his alone. But Obama’s naming of Hillary as Secretary of State in the first place shows not only what a wholly political animal he is, but also his utter disdain for the need for expertise in the field. He also probably calculated that someone more experienced and knowledgeable in that arena than Hillary would be likely to give him more trouble and disagree with his policies even more, and that someone less politically ambitious than she would be more likely to resign in protest sooner.
In Obama’s eyes, Hillary may have had the perfect combination of qualities (ignorance and ambition) for the job. And so far, his faith in her ability to be his willing handmaiden no matter what abomination she’s forced to implement has been well rewarded.
Obama lack of interest in conventional expertise is reflected in his boundless confidence in his own knowledge of foreign affairs, despite his own extreme inexperience. I wrote the following about this flaw of Obama’s way back in April of 2008, noting the following extraordinarily juvenile, ignorant, and arrogant statement of his:
…[F]oreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain.
It’s ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know…[W]hen I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa––knowing the leaders is not important––what I know is the people. . . .”
“I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college–I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. . . .”
Although I am in complete agreement with Obama that experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world, neither is a trip to Pakistan as a college student nor several years spent as a child in Indonesia—and neither of those have anything whatsoever to do with understanding geopolitical realities, power plays, strategy, and diplomacy.
Obama could have made up for his deficits by appointing as Secretary of State a Democrat with a background in world affairs (of course, there was always the danger that it would be former president Jimmy Carter, so at least we dodged that particular bullet). Instead, Obama chose to appoint someone who was as devoid of experience in the field as Obama himself. He must have thought he neither needed nor wanted much help from a Secretary of State. And if he actually has gotten any from Hillary, my guess is that he’s ignored it.
What will Hillary do now? I can’t figure out her game plan, but my sense is that she feels she may have miscalculated in taking on this job. I don’t believe she bargained for her relative powerlessness as Secretary of State, or to what depths Obama would make her sink. Although she’s had a certain amount of experience with men humiliating her (Bill comes to mind), what’s going on now must sting.
Hillary appears to be caught in a trap of Obama’s devising. She can’t become a rogue Secretary, defying the President—at least, if she did so, she wouldn’t last long in the post. The real question is why she would want to continue in it under the present circumstances. It’s hard to see how her current state could lead her to a presidency of her own some day; the window of opportunity for that seems to have passed. But if she quit, where would she go and what would she do?
Hillary’s old Senate seat is not up for grabs, unfortunately for her, and being out of power (even if her power right now is illusory) is not her cup of tea. The New York governorship might be available if she quit and challenged Paterson, but somehow I don’t think she has much interest in that job. Moreover, if she were to abandon her present post so soon, her own party would probably turn on her as having been a traitor to the Obama administration because of her personal ambition.
The only chance I see for Hillary to free herself from Obama’s web is to bide her time. If Obama weakens more and more, and his unpopularity rises even with Democrats, quitting at that point could make her a heroine and position her for a primary challenge against him in 2012, as well as allowing her to claim experience in foreign affairs from her stint as Secretary. But if that’s her intent, before that moment comes she will have to swallow more and more pride and do more and more of Obama’s distasteful bidding, which will further weaken her. And that may be part of the web that Obama has intentionally spun for her.