We were promised change, and when it comes to U.S. domestic policy we will likely get it. The Obama administration is readying a huge economic stimulus package. The president-elect recently announced that his nominee for secretary of labor is Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), who is great on both labor and environmental issues. And maybe, just maybe we'll see universal health care.
When it comes to foreign policy, however, Barack Obama seems so very 20th century. There's conservative warhorse Bob Gates staying on at the Pentagon. The more- interesting-but-still-quite-conventional James Jones will be national security advisor.
And then there's Hillary.
Bill Clinton took office in 1992 with a lot of high-powered circle of supporters that called themselves Friends of Bill (FOB). Hillary Clinton, by contrast, awaits confirmation as secretary of state in the Obama administration with a wide circle of detractors, particularly on the left.
These detractors of Hillary (DOH) point out that she supported the Iraq invasion (doh!), wants to up the military ante in Afghanistan (doh!), has consistently supported increased military spending (doh!), backed missile defense (doh!), has aligned herself with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (doh!), supported the embargo of Cuba (doh!), and derided Obama for being willing to sit down with the leaders of adversarial countries (the biggest doh! of them all).
As David Harsanyi wrote in The Denver Post, "the prospective appointment clashes with virtually every pronouncement Obama made regarding foreign policy in the past."
Alas, there isn't that much daylight between the president-elect and his proposed secretary of state. Obama, too, wants to boost U.S. firepower in Afghanistan and increase the overall size of the U.S. army. And on the positive side, both support dramatic reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a significant shift in the U.S. position on climate change, a more environment- and labor-friendly trade policy, and the end of the Bush administration's pro-torture approach.
Given this rather substantial overlap in positions, I don't anticipate a clash of titans in the next administration, though of course there will be some turf issues between the State Department and the president's office.
The more intriguing possibility is that Obama gave Hillary the top foreign policy job to sideline her. Say what? How could secretary of state be a backwater position?
Here I'm forced to agree with Charles Krauthammer (for once in my life): "Obama has no intention of being a foreign policy president. Unlike, say, Nixon or Reagan, he does not have aspirations abroad. He simply wants quiet on his eastern and western fronts so that he can proceed with what he really cares about -- his domestic agenda."
In other words, Obama has placated his critics on the right by putting together a thoroughly conventional national security team that will maintain the status quo (with a few Green touches). The real action will be in the domestic sphere.
As Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan points out, however, this strategy is likely to fail. "If the United States chooses to keep the military on its current footing -- including adding more troops and focusing on the use of "direct military force" -- then future wars and occupations will almost certainly torpedo Obama's plans to deliver a more equal and humane society," he writes in Guns, Butter, and Obama.
Hillary Clinton could play a role in reconciling the conflict between guns and butter. As the chief supporter of health care in the 1990s, she knows more than anyone in the national security establishment about the importance of domestic spending. But that was the Hillary Clinton of the 1990s, before she started pumping iron on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
To transform America in a Green, progressive direction, Obama had better resolve this guns and butter tension in favor of the latter. But if Secretary of State Clinton does nothing except push costly military solutions, then her cabinet appointment may turn out to be Obama's biggest "doh!" so far.
Crossposted from Foreign Policy In Focus
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