12/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

View From Europe: Hillary Would Be Great As Madame Secretary

Berlin--Choosing Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State would be a great move by our president-elect for several reasons, starting with how the selection would go over here in Europe.

The simple fact is, in Europe as in the U.S., Obama cannot afford to overlook the potential problem of not being able to meet the sky-high expectations that have been built up for him - the bold, self-confident choice of Hillary Clinton to restore the office of Secretary of State to its past standing would send the message far and wide that a) Obama has read his Doris Kearns Goodwin and knows the value of putting the talent of past rivals to work for you, and b) the American diplomatic presence in the world will be conducted from top to bottom with professionalism and seriousness and a strong presence at the top.

(Please, would foreign policy commentators stop pretending that Rice's garbage-time posturing on behalf of multilateralism meant anything -- it was too little, too late, and with no credibility or strong relationships to tap, such efforts as her would-be-legacy-bolstering try at Middle East peace were in the end utterly empty exercises doomed from the start.)

The economic meltdown in the U.S. -- and the emergence of what Paul Krugman calls "depression economics" -- will in many ways pin President Obama down over the coming months. When I watched Obama speak to the crowd of 200,000 in Berlin's Tiergarten last summer, I assumed that once he was elected, he would probably make a return trip to Europe early in his administration to address more exuberant crowds, including quite possibly giving a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, his first choice before the Bush administration intervened behind the scenes to pressure the German government not to allow it. Obama still may -- but it seems hard to imagine, with the need to face such grim problems as what to do about Detroit.

As I wrote at the time, Obama backed off of a clear, specific demand for more European troops in Afghanistan in that speech -- a tactical retreat from what his aides had indicated he would say, and a smart one at that. He told the Berliners only that on Afghanistan, the U.S. and Europe must "renew our resolve" and that the "Afghan people need our troops and your troops; our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda." That was vague enough to leave plenty of wiggle room.

Nevertheless, the right has drawn a line in the sand on this issue, ready to pounce. Earlier this week, a Wall Street Journal editorial made the wild claim that "Mr. Obama has promised a multilateral surge of troops into the Afghanistan-Pakistan front."

It's true Obama wants more troops for Afghanistan, but he's been careful on what he has promised -- having a strong figure as Secretary of State, one who is held in great respect around the world, including in Europe, where public opinion polls have shown her doing almost as well as Obama himself, would be a huge asset for an administration looking to make progress in Afghanistan without distracting from President Obama's focus on the economy and jobs.

For the Clinton-haters, and I know there are some of you out there here at HuffPost, first off: Can't we try to stop hating? Isn't that one of the messages of Obama as the kind of potentially transformative leader who only comes along once in a great while? That we can turn to hope for a better future and not let everything curdle into recitations of rancid resentment, carefully preserved, long after the original grounds -- often based on falsehood -- are no longer relevant?

Second, can we review some of the more unfortunate reasoning cited in recent months for distrusting the Clintons as partners for Obama? We were told by smart people that Obama's campaign had been ruined because Hillary Clinton continued to campaign. How does that call look from the perspective of now? The long campaign season helped turn Obama from a good candidate into a great one; it built interest and boosted registration and turned more states competitive, as the Obama team has explained in post-election interviews with CBS and the New Yorker and elsewhere.

Hillary Clinton did more for the Obama presidential campaign than any defeated candidate in history, by whatever measure -- appearances on the stump, money raised, you name it. And yes, her husband was also a major asset, and that great moment on stage in Florida when the former president and the future president stood side by side probably made a difference in that state. If Obama were to choose her for Secretary of State, Hillary would throw herself into it the new role as a team player and she'd have instant respect abroad.

The same cannot be said for Bill Richardson, for example, who seems to believe he's entitled to a plum post in the new administration because the Latino vote supported Obama in large numbers. They supported Obama in large numbers because he was the best candidate. As for John Kerry, it's not really fair, given his command of foreign policy, but he carries the taint of his too-passive defeat at the hands of the fear-mongering Bush 2004 campaign, and it's hard to believe Obama would really make that call.

So is it possible? Absolutely. Would Senator Clinton give up her seat to take the job? Very possibly. Will it happen? Let's hope so.

Back to that recent WSJ editorial, Same Old Berlin Wall" -- it includes the delusional claim: "When Europeans talk about 'multilateralism,' they typically don't mean agreeing on a common policy to carry out together. They mean defaulting global security to the United Nations, where Russian and Chinese vetoes curtail effective action. At best, multilateralism a la Paris and Berlin is short for European approval for where and how Americans may intervene around the world."

This is claptrap, part of a pretty lame effort to fight the "myth" that Bush administration unilateralism and blundering is to blame for the severe plunge in international perceptions of the United States. It says a lot that the WSJ, like the Bush administration, has no idea what it actually means to have respectful relations with allies that involve listening -- and stopping and thinking. President-elect Obama clearly does understand that. His choice of Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State would represent a great show of respect to our allies that he wants the best available person to handle the job of being his top diplomat.


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