Now, as President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to be secretary of state, the former first lady faces the prospect of subsuming her political identity yet again — this time on behalf of the man who dashed her hopes of returning to the White House in her own right.
Friends said the potential loss of her independence, hard won by her election to the Senate from New York in 2000, caused Clinton to waver last week as she considered Obama’s offer. But advisers said the discussions got back on track after he promised she would have considerable input on staffing decisions and plenty of access to him.
Aides said that while the deal is not yet final, the president-elect is on track to nominate Clinton as the nation’s top diplomat after Thanksgiving.
Obama’s decision to choose Clinton has stunned many observers riveted by the two Democrats’ epic primary battle, leading some to question how this high-profile partnership might work.
Among the issues: Why would Obama choose someone he repeatedly criticized for voting for the U.S. invasion of Iraq to be the face of his administration’s foreign policy? Why would he abrogate his famous “no drama” policy and embrace Clintonian theatrics?
And why would Clinton subordinate her strong personality and views to be a global ambassador for Obama? Throughout the campaign, she insisted he didn’t have the experience to be president and dismissed his willingness to meet with rogue leaders as “irresponsible and frankly naive.”
Obama’s advisers said the matter is simple: The strengths Clinton would bring to the job would outweigh the drawbacks.
“Hillary Clinton is a demonstrably able, tough, brilliant person who can help … advance the interests of this administration and this country,” Obama strategist David Axelrod said Sunday in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
He added that Obama, as president, would set U.S. policy no matter how many strong personalities he had in his cabinet and on his staff.
Indeed, perhaps as a counterweight to the Clinton pick, Obama is likely to name James L. Jones, a widely respected former Marine Corps commandant and NATO commander, to be his national security adviser. Jones would lend a powerful voice on foreign policy matters right in the White House, while Clinton was at the State Department or overseas.
To be sure, not everyone is happy about the Clinton pick. Many bloggers at the liberal Daily Kos Web site have been venting frustration, decrying her campaign attacks on Obama and her repeated defense of her Iraq war vote.
While Obama and Clinton’s primary battle was often fierce, friends say it was professional, not personal, and that they enjoy a mutual respect. And while they do not share the close bond President George W. Bush has with the current secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, or that Bush’s father shared with his widely respected secretary of state James Baker, they have a similar world view and know how to make strategic use of their shared celebrity.
“The tension and rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was very intense and very brief. It doesn’t go back 20 years, which is sometimes true in politics,” said Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter for President Bush and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s easier for politicians to get along when they’re part of a winning team. There’s an opportunity there for real reconciliation.”
Obama has had Clinton in mind for secretary of state for some time, his advisers said, believing that her visibility and the respect she commands from many world leaders would lend immediate heft and credibility to U.S. diplomatic efforts.
Bill Clinton, whose network of business dealings and global philanthropic efforts might have complicated his wife’s efforts, has also done his part to make the partnership work. He’s agreed to step away from day-to-day operation of his foundation while his wife serves and to submit speeches and business deals for administration vetting.
Obama and Hillary Clinton’s views on foreign policy are for the most part very similar. Both advocate a timetable to remove U.S. troops from Iraq and for increased U.S. focus on Afghanistan, which has largely fallen back under Taliban control. Both support Israel but favor a robust Middle East peace process. And both have warned of the dangers posed by Iran, vowing to prevent the country from developing a nuclear arms program.
Baker, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said such common ground is essential for the Obama-Clinton partnership to work.
“She will be successful depending upon how seamless she is with her president and how they operate together and how he protects her back. And vice versa, how he formulates foreign policy, she picks up on that formulation, and she implements it,” Baker said.
Friends say that even though Clinton would be relinquishing independence to become secretary of state, the position confers enormous responsibility and importance that being one of 100 senators doesn’t match.
“She’ll represent the president but she’ll also represent the United States. Anybody would be proud to serve in that position,” said Wesley Clark, the former NATO commander who has known Clinton for more than two decades. “It’s a great opportunity for her to be involved in national decision-making at a crucial time in America.”
Copyright © 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.