For all the people who have followed the primary presidential elections, and the nasty fight between the two rivals, choosing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is not only scary, but it also seems to be Obama's first move to give up the values and ideals he advocated during the campaign. Yet it could also be interpreted as one of the smartest decision that president-elect has made in regards to his cabinet. How can this be explained?
The scary side of the story is that picking Clinton makes Obama seem a bit unreal. It makes it harder for Americans to believe what he said during the campaign. Millions of people voted Obama not for his experience, which he lacks, but for his vision, integrity, and the new style of leadership that he presented. Now he is picking somebody who one of his most trusted advisors once called a "monster". That "monster" is positioned to lead the administration's key spot. Obama is taking a serious risk.
Foreign policy was the most crucial factor separating Clinton and Obama; otherwise, one cannot find a substantial policy difference between them. Also, picking Clinton as the Sec. of State sends confusing messages to many leaders of the world. The idea that because of her eight years in the White House, she knows world leaders and can work with them is totally absurd. During the primary, Hillary's similar tone to Republican candidates regarding foreign policy resonated with millions of people around the world, who were hoping an Obama victory will end eight years of bully, unilateral, unethical, torturous and intervention-based foreign policy. Also, given the Clinton's connections in Washington and it seems almost impossible for Hillary to just be a messenger and not an architect of US foreign policy.
If things do not go well, firing her would also be costly for Obama. If she stays and does not abide by Obama's agenda, her presence will undermine the president's legitimate authority. This is the main source of concern.
But on the other hand, Obama's pick seems to be the best political move to avoid early criticism, domestic backlash against some of the decisions he will make, and a kind of naïve brand that he has presented himself with since the presidential campaign.
Obama has been criticized for his pro-diplomacy doctrine during the past two years. Once initiated, Obama's use of any kind of talks or negotiations to solve US's problem in the Middle East region, regardless of the process and outcomes, will be targeted by conservatives and republicans as naïve and inconsistent with the U.S. national security guidelines.
But with Hillary at the State Department, given her harsh rhetoric and tone during the primary and the similarity of her foreign policy style to that of John McCain, which was widely welcomed by Republicans, Obama might be able to mitigate inter-party conflict and exercise his new style of leadership and foreign policy doctrine.
Also, given the multiple and diverse foreign policy challenges currently facing the US, from re-structuring its role in the United Nations to managing instability in the Middle East and negotiating with non-Democratic countries like Russia, Obama does not have many options other than trying a new policy.
The United States is not in a position to continue unilateralism and needs to consider a more engaging and responsible role at the United Nations; hence Obama is sending Susan Rice to the organization.
Iraq is the same. Given the latest security pact passed by the Iraqi parliament, the U.S. should follow a firm timetable. There is no other way. Obama is out of options in Afghanistan as well. With Hamid Karzai talking about negotiating with Taliban, Obama cannot entertain the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan anymore.
Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama listen to advisors who believe the United States must talk to Iran and do not see Iran as one of America's strategic threats in the Middle East.
Also, the United States knows the reaction to Russia-Georgia conflict, which was totally manipulated and twisted in the U.S. media in a way Sen. McCain remark of "we are all Georgians", is consistent in many ways with the two countries' long-term strategic relationship. We need Russia as a responsible partner. This does not mean supporting and arming new corrupt democracies.
And as one of the Defense Secretary advisors told me, the U.S. needs to be more serious and focused on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, which were largely ignored during the Clinton and Bush administrations.
There might be differences on how to approach all these challenges. But a strong, respected, convinced, more humble and engaged Hillary could fully help Obama to deliver his agenda. Obama has high public approval for his Cabinet picks and the trust he is gaining about being serious about bringing change to Washington will help transform Ms. Clinton from a "high profile foreign policy tourist" to a "foreign policy leader". As the New Yorker once characterized, Obama is "the master of the game" in politics. If you want to bring change do it through somebody who is the closest possible to your enemies and rivals and can shut their mouth up. For Obama, Hillary is exactly that person.
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