Huffpost Media
Jason Linkins Headshot

Right Still Bullish On Hillary Clinton At State

Posted: Updated:

Barron YoungSmith has a piece up at The New Republic today, entitled "Hawks For Hillary," that continues to relate something we've been hearing about for some weeks now: that "the right" -- specifically the architects of the Iraq War-- are overjoyed that Hillary Clinton is poised to take the reins at the State Department, as if this represented a continued entrenchment of neo-conservative thought in the coming Obama administration. YoungSmith leads with a a giddy quote from Richard Perle, who informs us that "on the whole I'm quite pleased" with the prospect of Clinton reigning at the State Department.

Perle says he would rather have a hawkish Democrat than a Chuck Hagel-style Republican as a token bi-partisan appointment. "I heard about others on the list [for secretary of state] that I wouldn't be happy about," he says. "Those were mostly Republicans."

Perle predicts that Clinton will likely perpetuate the foreign policy approaches that have typified Bush's second term, when the president pursued goals such as tighter sanctions on Iran. "I'm relieved," he says. "There's not going to be as much change as we were led to believe. I think she's very much in the mainstream. By now, I think the Bush foreign policy is, as a practical matter, the same policy as the policy of the Department of State--which is what I'd expect it to be under Hillary Clinton. Contrary to expectations, I don't think we would see a lot of change."

By and large, I see this cheerleading from the right as being mostly denialist, it's larger purpose being the sort of goading that goes on between both sides of the partisan intelligentsia. Talking down the prospects of forthcoming "change" is precisely the sort of thing that will rile up the left-wing blogosphere. Whether or not this deflates the hopes of voters is another matter entirely. This sort of chatter flies entirely over the heads of people who recognize a shift from incompetent to competent governance as "change." That said, I'd beseech Richard Perle to be patient. Before long, he's likely to find plenty of grounds to object to Hillary Clinton. An example of why can be found in David Sanger's New York Times piece, "A Handpicked Obama Team for a Shift in Foreign Policy."

...all three of his choices -- Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as the rival turned secretary of state; Gen. James L. Jones, the former NATO commander, as national security adviser, and Robert M. Gates, the current and future defense secretary -- have embraced a sweeping shift of priorities and resources in the national security arena.

The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states. However, it is unclear whether the financing would be shifted from the Pentagon; Mr. Obama has also committed to increasing the number of American combat troops. Whether they can make the change -- one that Mr. Obama started talking about in the summer of 2007, when his candidacy was a long shot at best -- "will be the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency," one of his senior advisers said recently.

The adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said the three have all embraced "a rebalancing of America's national security portfolio" after a huge investment in new combat capabilities during the Bush years.

None of that strikes me as anything even remotely resembling a perpetuation of "the foreign policy approaches that have typified Bush's second term."

I'd also add that some extra significance should be placed on Perle's criticism of Chuck Hagel and the other "mostly Republicans" that he "wouldn't be happy about." Hagel still likely looms as influential in Obama's foreign policy formulations, as does another Republican, Brent Scowcroft, who seems to have Obama's ear in this arena. Perle is correct in depicting Clinton as a liberal hawk, but where do a Hagel or a Scowcroft fit in the "change" matrix? Let's cut to Matt Yglesias:

To understand the context for this, it's important to recall that the ideological spectrum around foreign policy elites isn't sorted all that well. On economic issues, moderate Republicans are almost all still to the right of moderate Democrats. But on foreign policy, traditional Republican realists have a lot more in common with liberal Democrats than either do with Democratic hawks. Both are likely to have opposed the Iraq War or soured on it early. Both are likely to be skeptical of the idea that we should base our foreign policy on self-righteousness. Both are likely to appreciate the importance of taking a balanced approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. And both are likely to be skeptical of the idea that the highest expresion of humanitarian impulses is launching unilateral wars surrounded by high-minded rhetoric.

Under the circumstances, outreach from Obama to Republican realists would constitute a counterpoint rather than an intensification of outreach from Obama to Hillary Clinton's top level of supporters and advisers.

I'd also point out that outside the sphere of our military engagements, Hillary Clinton would represent a significant change in direction for the State Department, as Ceclie Richards expands upon on the Huffington Post this morning:

In a speech that, by the standards of the Bush administration, sounds positively radical, Clinton addressed the Cairo Plus Five Forum at the Hague in 1999, saying, "Women's reproductive health and empowerment are critical to a nation's sustainability and growth ... we now know that no nation can hope to succeed in the global economy of the 21st century if half of its people lack the opportunity and the right to make the most of their God-given potential. No nation can move forward when its women and children are trapped in endless cycles of poverty; when they have inadequate health care, poor access to family planning, limited education."

All told, I'd suggest that the right's love affair with this alleged lack of change could have a very short shelf life.