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.