Hillary Clinton: a good Secretary of State?, Thomas Ash

A small portrait of the translator

November 22, 2008 @ 14:29 UTC

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Iran, Iraq, Israel, Palestine
Hillary Clinton
International Relations, Government & Politics

A picture of Barack Obama's cabinet is starting to emerge, and it is not pleasing his more left-wing supporters. Some of them were already unhappy about the appointment of Clintonites like Rahm Emmanuel. Now, the New York Times is reporting that Hillary Clinton will almost certainly become Secretary of State. That is disturbing for some Obama supporters, who were told during the primaries that her foreign policy views disqualified her from the nomination.

How you feel about Clinton's appointment - assuming that it does come to pass - will depend on how legitimate you feel those criticisms were. Central among them was the charge that she showed bad judgement in supporting the Iraq war. That may well be so, but she had a lot of company in this. Many liberals, myself included, thought in 2003 that regime change was the lesser of two evils, only to change our minds when we saw the nature of the regime change we got. I would readily admit that was bad judgement on my part. Clinton refused to say that it was bad judgement on hers - this may, in fact, have been what cost her the Democratic nomination. Perhaps she was privy to special intelligence before the war which added support to Bush's arguments. But I find it hard to believe that she had any such excuse, given that she reportedly failed to thoroughly study the briefings given to her at the time.

Nonetheless, that is all in the past. What matters is what sort of Secretary of State she will be over the next four years. It is clear why many on the left are concerned about this. She has been decidedly hawkish on Iran, supporting the controversial Kyl-Lieberman amendment that classified that country's Quds Force as a terrorist organisation. She also has a reputation for pandering to the more extreme elements of the soi-disant 'pro-Israel vote' in the States - and since this voting block's favoured policies would actually harm Israel and the peace process, this is concerning.

However, this history may allow her to play the role of Nixon in China on these questions, providing Obama cover against those who would claim that his positions on these issues are too 'soft'. She and her husband have almost unparalleled knowledge and experience of dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian question in particular. There are already rumours that Obama has charged her with finding a solution to this, and given her substantial autonomy in doing so. If she can accomplish this, few will or should regret her selection.

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