Friday, August 15, 2014

President Obama and Foreign Policy: Et tu, Hillary?

I could never ever ever be a politician. There are just too many times that you must smile and eat a big bowl of crap while pretending that it tastes good. And if you're good at pulling off that trick you can expect that many more such bowls will be delivered to you. h/t The Wire. You must occasionally pretend to be all things to all people, be on all sides of any issue at once and come up smelling like roses even as you're wading knee deep in the sewage of backroom deals and donor stroking. One of the most important skills you must have as a politician could be to never take anything personally. It's just business, after all. Everyone is self-interested. Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama are consummate politicians. And Mrs. Clinton is basically running an as yet so far formally undeclared campaign for the 2016 Presidential election. I think that with two years and change left in the Obama Administration it's a little early for her to be getting her name out there but she apparently operates on the principle of don't put off until tomorrow what you could be doing today. 

As a key member of the Obama Administration, former Senator, and Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, should she run, would be wise depending on the President's popularity around 2016, to keep her options open on whether her Administration would represent a break from the Obama Administration or a continuation of Obama policies. Recently, Mrs. Clinton sent a very deliberate message that at least as far as foreign policy is concerned, she would do things differently than President Obama.
This signal was sent loud and clear in a recent interview with centrist-right author and correspondent for The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg. You can read it here in its entirety. I urge you to do so. It's long but gives you a great idea of how much Mrs. Clinton had to bite her tongue during her stint in the Obama Administration or perhaps more accurately how much she might want possible voters to believe she had to bite her tongue. Although she talks about how smart the President is, she unhesitatingly called out his foreign affairs principle by name saying:
  • Great nations need organizing principles, and “Don’t do stupid stuff” is not an organizing principle. It may be a necessary brake on the actions you might take in order to promote a vision.  
  • "You know, when you’re down on yourself, and when you are hunkering down and pulling back, you’re not going to make any better decisions than when you were aggressively, belligerently putting yourself forward.” 
Clinton openly identified with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's refusal to countenance an independent Palestinian state saying that:
  • If I were the prime minister of Israel, you’re damn right I would expect to have control over security, because even if I’m dealing with [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas, who is 79 years old, and other members of Fatah, who are enjoying a better lifestyle and making money on all kinds of things, that does not protect Israel from the influx of Hamas or cross-border attacks from anywhere else. With Syria and Iraq, it is all one big threat. So Netanyahu could not do this in good conscience. 
She also hinted that ISIS might not have become the problem that it is now had the US armed Syrian rebels. In short Clinton as President would tack a bit more to the right than President Obama has. It's not fair to uncritically proclaim, as some have stated, that she sees him as a wimp, but it is fair to infer that she would have a more aggressive foreign policy and would not be as cautious about the use of military power. It's amusing to read what Mrs. Clinton had to say about President Obama considering he has stretched executive authority on drone use far beyond what the second President Bush thought prudent, attacked Libya, and is currently at the time limit for the War Powers Act regarding intervention in Iraq, but life is strange. Obama loyalist David Axelrod not so subtly tweaked Mrs. Clinton for her "stupid" vote for the Iraq war, a signal that President Obama and his inner circle might be more than a bit peeved about Mrs. Clinton's interview.

Now it's not unusual for politicians to work with or even include on their team people they don't like. JFK wasn't very fond of LBJ. Eisenhower was coolly contemptuous of Nixon. Nobody liked Hoover. So it goes. And it only makes sense that Clinton would hint that she would chart her own path should she become President.way. Still, given the nastiness shown between Obama and Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary, I was a little surprised that the President welcomed her into his Administration in the first place, let alone gave her such a high profile position as Secretary of State. If I were the President I wouldn't have hired her. And if advisers claimed I had to do so I would have given her a relatively low profile unattractive position and then micromanaged the hell out of her, all the while leaking to the press how disappointed "high ranking officials" were with her work so far. But that's just me. I would not have wished to help her burnish her resume.

It is a delicate balance to seek to succeed someone for whom you worked. Show that you're your own (wo)man but at the same time show that you're going to provide continuity for successful policies. The issue with Clinton's criticism is not that she made it. The issue is that it hearkens back to charges she made before and which Republicans make today, that the President is in over his head and substitutes sloganeering for action. It's not necessarily a fair critique but I wonder if the President, who has been accused of being rabbit eared about criticism, is at at least in part reacting to such feedback by intervening in Iraq without Congressional authority when just a few months earlier he claimed that he needed such authority to intervene in Syria. If Obama's approval ratings were higher I doubt Clinton would be running her mouth. But as they say about politics, if you want a friend, get a dog. 

So what do you think?

Are Clinton's criticisms just par for the course and no big deal?

Is Clinton disloyal?

Is she putting her name out there too early?

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