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Michael Carmichael Headshot

Remanent Rivalry: Obama and Clinton

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Amidst the rising tide of reports, leaks and speculation that President-elect Barack Obama will offer the key Cabinet position of Secretary of State to Senator Hillary Clinton, pundits have detected remanent rivalry between their two houses.

Most of the current rash of speculation centers on claims that top political operatives in the Clinton camp have launched the transparent and clumsy gambit of "strategic leaks" designed to "box" in the President-elect and compel him to appoint his former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A report in the New York Times revealed the rising tension between the two political families. Unidentified sources in the Obama Transition Team that is led by former Clinton Chief-of-Staff, John Podesta, are now charging that the Clintons and their retinue are maneuvering to force the President-elect to appoint Senator Clinton.

A growing chorus of pundits predicts that the aggressive maneuvering by the Clintons and their staff presages a potentially troubling tension between the former rivals that could evolve into a complicated relationship between the White House and Foggy Bottom in the Obama administration.

During the campaign for the Democratic nomination, deep fissures emerged between the foreign policy visions of Senators Clinton and Obama. Driven by her need to defend her vote in favor of the Iraq War and her stalwart support of funding for the unpopular war, Senator Clinton adopted a relatively conservative position on foreign policy. In stark contrast to his rival, Senator Obama brandished his opposition to the Iraq War to define his more progressive posture on US foreign policy.

While both candidates argued their cases, the distinctions between the two became much sharper. Senator Obama stated that he would break with the non-negotiation policy of the Bush White House and authorize diplomatic contacts with Iran, Syria and North Korea, while Senator Clinton ridiculed the notion of diplomacy with rival states as, "irresponsible and frankly naive."

While both candidates stated their agreement on the need to end the war, Senator Obama proposed a timetable for US withdrawal while Senator Clinton favored the open-ended approach of the Bush-Cheney administration. The contrast between their positions was starkly revealed when Senator Obama withdrew from co-sponsoring the Feingold-Reid Bill that did not specify the end date for withdrawal while Senator Clinton was a prominent co-sponsor of the bill.

Senator Obama's insistence on a deadline for withdrawal from Iraq and his call for a change in the mindset that led to the war became the focus of a great deal of analysis. The Atlantic Monthly proclaimed that the Senator from Illinois had articulated his "Obama Doctrine," that represented, "the most sweeping, liberal foreign-policy critique that we have heard from a serious presidential contender in decades."

In the primary campaign, the progressive wing supported Senator Obama while the Reagan Democrats and their fellow travelers, the New Democrats, supported Senator Clinton. Throughout the primary campaign it was crystal clear that the division of the Party across the gaping ideological fault line was driven by the glaring distinctions in foreign policy.

Shortly after his victory over her in the Montana primary when he clinched the nomination, Senator Clinton graciously offered her support to Senator Obama. A few days later, stories broke that the two rivals had held a secret meeting in Washington, DC. Speculation about the content of that secret meeting involved ruminations about the role of the Clintons in the forthcoming presidential campaign against John McCain, but it is not impossible that the two rivals might have discussed the details of potential collaboration in a future Obama administration.

In the run-up to the Democratic Convention speculation was rife that Senator Obama and Senator Clinton would form a "dream team," amidst hopeful notions that he would select his former rival as his Vice-Presidential nominee. The Clinton factotums, James Carville and Paul Begala were rolled out on the networks to proclaim the sagacity of such a pairing, but it was not to be.

Further tensions between the two houses emerged when former President Bill Clinton told confidants who leaked the story to the news media that he felt isolated by Senator Obama who had studiously refrained from consulting him. Speculation about the prominent media exposure granted to the Clintons during the Democratic National Convention in Denver were running high right up to the two consecutive nights that they dominated the national media with their speeches endorsing Barack Obama. Both of the Clinton speeches were deemed effective, and both campaigned for the Obama-Biden ticket in the fall.

In the aftermath of his impressive victory over Senator McCain, the Clintons and their team rushed to the forefront to clamor for positions on the Transition Team and in the Obama administration. A Clinton loyalist, John Podesta, was appointed to head the Obama Transition, and another Clintonite, Rahm Emanuel, was swiftly named Chief-of-Staff for the Obama White House.

At that point, the news broke by means of a series of high-level leaks that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would be President-elect Obama's choice for the key post of Secretary of State. The usual Clinton loyalists headed by Carville and Begala were rolled out for the networks and the project gained a momentum of its own.

Ten days later, former President Clinton is reportedly submitting his vast international business operations to the scrutiny of the Obama Transition Team for their vetting of his wife as a potential Secretary of State. Reports that the former president is now "cooperating" with the investigations of the Obama Transition are now flooding the news media characterizing the situation by the veiled implication that William Jefferson Clinton might be the leading suspect in a series of major international crimes.

It should be needless to observe that no President can afford the luxury of a difficult relationship with their Secretary of State or their spouse -- most especially not in a time of war, sagging US prestige and rapidly rising international tensions. The ongoing drama still unfolding around the relationship between the President-elect and his potential Secretary of State augurs ill for Senator Clinton as a leading member of the Obama administration.

Given her history with her former rival from Illinois, the Senator from New York might think better of exposing herself and her spouse to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune should she become the Secretary of State and official lightning rod for President Obama.