Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Barack Obama's New Secretary of State

After it was confirmed that Hillary Clinton is to be the next Secretary of State, there have been a slew of articles and opinions on whether Obama is making the right choice. Karen Tumulty and Massimo Calabresi at Time take the view that Hillary will make a good Secretary of State. As a example of her diplomacy and timing skills, they explain how in 1998 when Benazir Bhutto was out of favour with the US government, Hillary received her at the White House. Apparently Asif Zardari remembers this favour even now. They go on to say that Obama is making a brilliant move by co-opting a potential adversary who may otherwise want to make a stab at being President in 2012. The biggest hurdle to Hillary doing a good job is that her job may conflict with her husband Bill Clinton’s various activities, making paid speeches, charity work etc.

Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times gives two reasons for choosing Hillary for this job, one of them being that she might be good at it.

Thomas Friedman at the New York Times takes a contrary view. Friedman says that Hillary will not be able to do well if she is made the Secretary of State. This would be because, there cannot be the necessary amount of trust between Clinton and Obama, considering all that that passed between them. To be a successful Secretary of State, Hillary must be able to convince the world that speaking to her is the same as speaking with the President. Colin Powell was not successful since he did not have his President’s backing. James A. Baker III was a successful Secretary of State since he had the full backing of his President, Dubya’s father, the senior Bush.

Clive Crook, the Financial Times’ Washington correspondent agrees with Friedman. Crook also says that that Hillary will not make a good Secretary of State because of the lack of trust between Obama and her. ‘Will Hillary defer to Obama, and carry out his instructions to the best of her ability?’ Crook asks and answers in the negative. Crook adds that he does not think Hillary is a well-qualified candidate or a foreign-policy expert or a born diplomat.

I really liked the hint which Friedman drops in his article. Friedman asks “Or is it something to do with keeping your friends close and your enemies closer?” Obama is relatively new to the world stage. Though we have listened to his speeches and admired his elocution, we don’t know much about Obama the person, the human being. It’s obvious that one reason Obama would want Hillary to be his Secretary of State is to pre-empt the possibility of Hillary challenging him in 2012. What else could be Obama’s motive? I would like to play devil’s advocate and speculate. Will Obama back Hillary entirely and make it easy for her to do a good job? What if Obama wants to show Hillary to be an ineffective Secretary of State? Obama could do to Hillary what Bush did to Colin Powell, undermining him at every stage and finally forcing him to quit. Do you remember, there was a time when Colin Powell was considered President material? By the time he quit as Bush’s Secretary of State on 15 November 2004, there was not even a whisper of the possibility that he might run for President, his credibility had been so dented. Are we likely to see Hillary quit as Secretary of State a couple of years after the Obama administration takes over and disappear from the world stage all together? Only time can tell.

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