WASHINGTON -- From unpopular wars to the ailing economy, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had their pick of major issues during the first weeks of the Obama administration. But, according to a new book by author and journalist James Mann, the two senior cabinet officials spent the first weeks after Obama's inauguration in a petty turf war.
In The Obamians, an upcoming book about the evolution of Obama's foreign policy obtained by The Huffington Post, Mann wrote that Clinton and Geithner clashed over the lead role in yearly talks with China. Under former President George W. Bush, then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson led the American delegation at the talks, known as the Strategic Economic Dialogue. Geithner, a Mandarin speaker with policy experience on China, expected to do the same under Obama.
But Clinton, according to Mann, claimed that "the dialogue with China had focused too much on economic policy" and that she should take the lead. But when she and Geither agreed to discuss the issue, the turf battle turned oddly, comically literal. Mann wrote:
Geithner and Treasury officials insisted that they should host the get-together at the Treasury Department. No, replied Clinton, you come to us at the State Department. Finally Geithner relented and agreed to have lunch on Clinton's home turf. Even then, the wrangling persisted. How many State and Treasury officials would be on each side in the meeting? There was talk of inviting as many as twenty officials, perhaps ten per side, a full-bore interagency shoot-out. In the interests of harmony, the session was scaled back to a smaller lunch, and then to just the two secretaries, a more intimate meeting. So the State Department set up a small table, just big enough to accommodate only Clinton and Geithner.
At the one-on-one lunch, reportedly marked by "little warmth" between the sparring secretaries, Clinton prevailed. She was named co-chair of the American delegation at the newly renamed Security and Economic Dialogue, with the "and" indicating that economics would no longer be the main focus of the talks. Geithner, Mann wrote, could not compete with the Secretary of State's argument or political power.
Despite Clinton's victory in her opening battle, however, she was soon attempting to "overcome the sense of being kept in check by Obama's inner circle." While keeping her disagreements out of the public light, according to Mann, Clinton nevertheless "chafed at the limits put on her." Among those limits was her lack of control over ambassadorial appointments, in which her choices were almost all ignored by the White House.