Barack Obama Foreign Policy National Security Politics

Why Hillary Clinton Should Not Be Secretary of State

[digg-reddit-me]Hillary Clinton is not the best candidate for Barack Obama to choose as his Secretary of State.

She has the necessary gravitas; she has the experience; she has a similar worldview (more on that later); she has significant political weight in America; she has many established relationships with worldwide leaders; she has an undeniable star power since her primary campaign; she has been a workhorse in the Senate; she knows – at almost all times – the proper and diplomatic answer to preserve the status quo.

There are a few obvious obstacles to placing Hillary in this position:

  • She made a big issue of her disagreements with Obama on foreign policy during the primary campaign, going so far as to call his policies “naive” and “irresponsible.” Now she would be expected to carry out these policies and not undermine them.
  • She has her own foreign policy team which she could easily fill the State Department with, starting with Richard Holbrooke; it would be a fight for Obama to get a significant number of his own foreign policy team at State; in addition, there is bad blood between the Hillary camp and a number of Obama’s advisors – especially those who worked initially for the Clintons – complicating who could be appointed where and possibly the working relationships.
  • Given these two above factors, there is a considerable chance that Obama could face a struggle in enacting his foreign policy agenda – and Clinton and her team of insiders could plausibly mount a bureacratic struggle undermining Obama’s agenda – much as Dick Cheney and his team were able to undermine Colin Powell.
  • She and her husband have always been surrounded by drama – from Arkansas to the White House to her primary campaign – in stark contrast to the No-Drama-Obama team.
  • She caused a serious international incident during the primary season causing both our strong allies to criticize her and our enemies to complain to the United Nations; everyone makes mistakes, but in this instance she seemed to choose to cause this incident to gain political capital – not the best attitude for a potential rival who would be acting as your Secretary of State.
  • Her husband and his Clinton Foundation make for a huge amount of potential conflicts.
  • She has often seemed physically uncomfortable with Obama and Obama has often seemed less certain of himself around her.

All of these obstacles can and should be overcome – if she is the best candidate for the job.

But she isn’t. There is in fact another high profile candidate who brings considerable assets Hillary lacks while also lacking her deficiencies: Chuck Hagel.


I think Hillary Clinton is – of the possible choices I have heard mentioned – the second best of all the options. But Hagel is far better – because he agrees with Obama on these significant matters of controversy.

The ideal place for Hillary would be in the Department of Defense. She would be a ground-breaking pick – and one that would burnish the national security creditials she will want to use again in her almost inevitable retry.

It would make even better sense to leave Robert Gates in as Secretary of Defense for the next year or two – and work with him to start those tough spending cuts on big, Cold War era projects that will be needed. Then, after those cuts have been pushed through – get Hillary in as Secretary of Defense. This would also have the secondary effect of keeping her extra busy mastering her new position in the run-up to the 2012 election, helping prevent any potential mischief. In the meantime, Hillary could spend the next two years in the Senate working with Ted Kennedy on the project that she started her political career working on: health care. She could also focus on infrastructure improvements – as she has been – and which are extremely important if less than glamorous.

Update: Ken Silverstein over at Harper’s has his own list of reasons Hillary shouldn’t be Secretary of State.

His number 2 is a very important point I overlooked:

  • It would be impossible, politically, to fire Hillary. No matter what she says or does, or how insubordinate, Obama will be stuck with her as long as she wants to stay.

H/t to Andrew Sullivan on the link.

[Above image by Angela Radulescu.]

Barack Obama Foreign Policy National Security

What’s Next: Secretaries of State and Defense

It seems as if Hillary Clinton is going to be the next Secretary of State. And it seems like a done deal at this point – with the coy public statements and influentials lining up behind it.

I’m not thrilled. I think she’s a better choice than John Kerry or Bill Richardson, whose names were also being bandied about. 

But the candidate I think would be truly brilliant for Secretary of State would be Chuck Hagel. Obama is certainly going to do some controversial things in foreign policy – common sense things really that became political fodder for attacks – such as engaging in direct diplomacy with Iran, being more aggressive with regards to Pakistan, etcetera. A Republican as Secretary of State would help help provide political cover for these controversial decisions; but more importantly, it would make it clear that Obama is not taking “liberal” positions – but common sense ones. It would serve as notice to the world that Obama’s foreign policy is bipartisan, reflecting not just this president but a broad consensus across political parties. In fact, Chuck Hagel is perfect for this role as defended Obama’s foreign policy positions against both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. 

The position I would reccomend for Hillary would be Secretary of Defense. Obama could come to some agreement with Robert Gates that allows him to stay for a year or so – and offer to put Hillary in after that. She’s tough enough; it would give her important credentials for a later run for president; it would be breaking yet another glass ceiling.

Barack Obama Election 2008 Foreign Policy McCain National Security Obama Politics

The Scowcroft Conspiracy

Not quite a conspiracy – but Joshua Micah Marshall just reported on the final piece of the puzzle I seem to have been missing  that helps explain:

  • the endorsement of Obama by Colin Powell;
  • the constant chatter about keeping Bob Gates on as Defense Secretary since at least September; and
  • the tacit support of Obama by Chuck Hagel – from his criticisms of McCain during the election to his accompanying Obama on his European tour during the campaign.

The final piece being – Brent Scowcroft (h/t Andrew Sullivan), the former National Security Advisor under Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush and a former Lieutenant General in the Air Force, and a guy so personally close to George H. W. Bush that he co-wrote Bush’s memoirs with him.

Hagel, Powell, and Gates all have been close allies of Scowcroft, especially in fighting against neo-conservatives in the George W. Bush administration. And he has apparently been working behind-the-scenes with Obama and his foreign policy team since the summer at latest.

Indeed, the roots of this defection of foreign policy realist Republicans to the Obama camp can probably be seen in this April 2008 article in the New York Times in which Lawrence Eagleburger, of the realist camp himself, describes a battle going on for McCain’s “soul” between the realist and neoconservative Republican foreign policy camps. By the summer, it became pretty clear which side had won that battle – as McCain embraced one neoconservative position after another and surrogates claimed he wanted to “kill the United Nations.”

By the summer, Scowcroft had begun to unofficially advise the Obama campaign; there was talk of Bob Gates staying on at Defense; Senator Hagel began to criticize McCain while praising Obama; and Powell decided to endorse Obama publicly.

Election 2008 McCain Morality National Security Obama Politics

The World Is Blowing Up. We Can’t Be One-Issue Voters Today.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican, is quoted in the most recent New Yorker in a piece by Connie Bruck:

There was a political party in this country called the Know-Nothings. And we’re getting on the fringe of that, with these one-issue voters—pro-choice or pro-life. Important issue, I know that. But, my goodness. The world is blowing up everywhere, and I just don’t think that is a responsible way to see the world, on that one issue. And, interestingly enough, that is one issue that stopped John McCain from picking one of the people he really wanted, Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. [my emphasis]

Election 2008 Foreign Policy New York City

A Night With Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel


Update: The Hagel event has been postponed due to vote that the Senator will need to be present for on that date.  I’ll let you know when the event is rescheduled to.

Senator Chuck Hagel, long-shot potential Vice President for Obama, likely Cabinet member for McCain or Obama, and the independent maverick that McCain claims to be, will be doing an event in Manhattan next Monday.  It’s well worth going.  The event should be relatively small – so it will allow participants a decent chance to ask a question or to talk to the Senator.

It is being sponsored by the American Business Forum on Europe and has been organized by my good friend, Tobias Dose.  If you can make it, you really should go:

The American Business Forum on Europe

Sven C. Oehme, President
Henry G. Meyer-Oertel, Exec. Director

cordially invites you to a discussion with

The Hon. Chuck Hagel

U.S. Senior Senator from Nebraska (R)


America and Europe in Today’s World

The Major Political and Economic Challenges We Face

Senator Hagel is the author of the just released book “America: Our Next Chapter”

Monday, July 7, 2008
Reception: 6:00 p.m. Presentation: 6:30 p.m. (promptly) <
Networking Reception following the presentation and at the McCann-Erickson Building, NYC, 622 Third Avenue between 40th & 41st Streets
Please RSVP and send payment by 7/2/2008

There will be a charge of $35 for non-members
(This amount can be applied to a $180 annual ABFE membership)

Fax Response sheet is enclosed or e-mail to

The Hon. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska’s senior U.S. Senator, is serving his second term in the United States Senate. He is a member of four Senate committees: Foreign Relations; Banking; Housing and Urban Affairs; Intelligence and Rules. Senator Hagel is the author of “America: Our Next Chapter”, a straight-forward examination of the current state of the United States. The book provides substantial proposals for the challenges of the 21st century. Alan Greenspan says, “America: Our Next Chapter should be required reading,” Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn declared the book “a must read.” Journalist Tom Brokaw states, “this is a book for people who care about their country”.

The American Business Forum on Europe, 405 Lexington Avenue, 37th Fl., New York, NY 10174