Yes She Can
Hillary Clinton is earning kudos across the political spectrum as a potential-secretary of state. Henry Kissinger says that appointing a strong personality such as Clinton would be an act of "great courage" by Barack Obama. Senator Jon Kyl says she has the temperament for the job. And the new Decider says he could use her to make decisions: "She is somebody I needed advice and counsel from," Obama said on 60 Minutes. "She is one of the most thoughtful public officials we have."
Clinton would bring a lot of assets to the job. She's got a big rolodex. She's traveled around the globe. She would serve, like Obama, as a kind of public ambassador for the United States. Like Madeleine Albright or Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice, she has real star power.
But would that translate into an effective foreign policy? The problems with Clinton are obvious and begin with her husband. If the Clintons are unwilling to divulge their financial interests and benefactors, then her appointment should be a nonstarter. The blunt fact is that the Clinton Library alone suspiciously resembles a kind of Bermuda Triangle of foreign donors, where large sums have been deposited, but no one knows where they're from or how they're being used. They simply disappear.
Another problem is that Hillary Clinton's executive skills have been tested and found wanting. It began with Hillarycare. Clinton oversaw a sprawling staff and concocted an unworkable plan that went down in flames. Sound familiar? It's how her presidential campaign was run as well, with similar results. It would be interesting to learn how she would propose to run the State Department. The likely prospect is that she would roll in with a coterie of aides and tyrannize the place.
Then there is her foreign-policy record. Obama won the election, or at least the Democratic primary, because he opposed the Iraq War. Clinton, who admitted that she never read the national intelligence estimate on Iraq, supported it. She has also stated that the United States could "totally obliterate" Iran if it sought to target Israel with nuclear weapons. Clinton was determined to run as a foreign-policy hawk for president, convinced that this would allow her to avoid the fate of previous candidates who were portrayed as "soft" on foreign policy by their GOP rivals. Of course, events turned out differently. The Iraq War went south as did Clinton's fortunes.
Now Obama has graciously intervened to rescue them. Or has he? If Obama is as crafty as he appears, perhaps he is reckoning that Hillary as secretary of state would provide a quantum of solace-Clinton would take the hit for any foreign-policy misadventures, not him. With Iran moving ahead on building nuclear weapons and Pakistan in ferment and Russia flexing its muscles, Obama may figure that he'll concentrate on the economy, while Hillary embarks on mission impossibles.
For Hillary, the upsides are clear. Don't think for a moment that this would represent a return of Bill Clinton. Quite the contrary. It would give Hillary the opportunity to bestride the world stage with a newly uxorious husband only occasionally in tow. Her biggest competition would be with Condoleezza Rice. The pear-shaped Hillary shows no sign of being even remotely capable of fitting into the sleek black boots that our current buff secretary of state donned at Wiesbaden, Germany.
Still, Clinton might be able to make a bigger impact than Rice did in foreign policy. Where Rice hovered on the margins during Bush's first term, serving primarily as his gym partner, Clinton would undoubtedly have a big voice from the outset. The famed Clinton lack of principles could serve her well as secretary of state. It's unlikely that she's really wedded to the hard-line policies that she enunciated during the past few years. Fidelity, after all, is not the first word that leaps to mind when thinking about the Clintons. Their only loyalty has been to their own personal advancement. So if Obama really does tap her, she could eclipse Bill by becoming the new comeback kid.
Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.