As the Phoenix goes to press, the news is that lawyers are beginning to vet Democratic New York senator Hillary Clinton to serve as President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state. It appears as if the only bump in the road to her ultimate approval could be evidence of potential irreconcilable financial conflicts on the part of her husband, former president Bill Clinton.
Before his wife's appointment becomes official, Obama's vetting team will likely look into President Clinton's current international business deals, his foundation's activities, and the names of his library's donors.
President Clinton is, of course, a political wild card. He is irrepressible and, on occasion, cantankerous. But as in-your-face as the Clintons are — as individuals and as a couple — it would be hard to imagine their letting Hillary Clinton's candidacy for the cabinet's signature position go forward were there fatally compromising dirt to be dug. After all, Senator Clinton came close to winning her party's presidential nomination. If she had clinched it, the public scrutiny of her husband would have been extreme.
Media analysis of Obama's bold and, in most quarters, welcome move has been extreme. And it is hard to imagine that there is much new light to shine on the situation, absent fresh developments. It is, however, worth reconsidering the most clear-eyed observations, because they suggest the outlines as to what is on Obama's mind and what Senator Clinton's appointment implies about the future.
It is a given that Senator Clinton's consideration is a unity move, both within the Democratic Party and among women of all political stripes. If Clinton decides, for whatever reasons, to decline the job or further consideration for it, Obama scores a political win. (Hey, he tried.)
That does not mean it is not a shrewd policy choice.
Whoever serves at the State Department must be able to work with the vice-president. And Vice-President-elect Joe Biden has immense foreign-policy experience, which is one of the reasons Obama chose him.
In the Senate, Clinton has enjoyed an easygoing relationship with Biden. It's certainly not as long-standing as that between Biden and Massachusetts senator John Kerry, who also has been mentioned for the post. But neither is it tinged with the air of fraternal competition that is said to characterize Biden's dealing with the Massachusetts senator. (It is interesting to note that all three voted to support Bush's decision to wage the Iraq War.)
Then there are the internal dynamics of the Senate to consider. Those politics will impact foreign policy. With Biden becoming vice-president, Kerry will take over his spot as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If Kerry were tapped for secretary of state, Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold most likely would assume that chair. Since Feingold is to the left of where Obama is expected to lead overseas, that would be (at best) an irritant and (at worst) a hindrance.
From the eastern Mediterranean to the Khyber Pass, the current geopolitical situation is a mess. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with the not-so-secret actions in Pakistan, are the obvious pressing problems. But of equal magnitude are Iran, Syria, Israel, and the issues concerning the Palestinians. Senator Clinton is to the right of Obama on all of these matters, and thus would provide a degree of domestic cover for the new president while serving as a powerful international presence.