On December 1, President-elect Barack Obama will announce his diplomatic and national security team.
I doubt there is anyone in Washington, D.C. or, indeed, this galaxy, who would have predicted that Sen. Hillary Clinton would be his choice for Secretary of State.
In the relatively brief history of the nation, Presidents often found their choice for this position among members of the U.S. Senate. Foreign affairs is one of the most difficult portfolios anyone can undertake, subject as it is to unforeseeable events that can transform policy overnight.
By the mid-point of the last century the job began to be filled by men (and later women) who devoted themselves to diplomacy. One exception who turned out to be ideal was George C. Marshall, a general during World War II who served in the Truman administration. Those that followed, however, were drawn from the intelligentsia and an example would be Condoleezza Rice who will be returning to academia.
By almost any standard, Hillary Clinton seems a very odd choice at best. She has no real credentials as regards international diplomacy. Other than her stint as a Senator, an obvious launching pad for her presidential ambitions, she was a former First Lady.
It is likely she would want to tend to any unfinished work of her husband’s two terms in office and they were eight years in which he and his advisors largely ignored the rising levels of Islamic terrorism directed against the United States, setting the stage for 9/11.
President Clinton devoted a great deal of time to solving the unsolvable conflict between Israel, a sovereign nation, and the so-called Palestinians, led by the father of all modern day terrorists, Yassir Arafat. Nothing good came of it. Or will.
President Clinton did try to focus attention on Africa to some extent, but Africa was and is a continent-sized mental case, replete with some of the vilest despots to trod the Earth. Western nations have thrown billions in charity at African nations to no avail.
The Middle East has understandably held the attention of recent administrations. Earlier administrations, from Lyndon Johnson’s blundering to Richard Nixon’s efforts to extricate us from Vietnam, reflected the long Cold War that ended with the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991. That was brought about by U.S. covert support of the Afghani tribes and the drop in the cost of oil which left Russia without enough hard currency to carry on.
At the top of the list of problems with which to contend when the new administration takes office is Iran. When it announces it has acquired nuclear weapons, the entire balance of power in the Middle East will shift. Arab nations will rediscover how much they really love the United States, though the Gulf nations already know who their real friend is.
President-elect Obama appears to be under the impression that diplomacy will solve most of the problems he is likely to encounter. History teaches another lesson and it is all about a strong military with which to back up our interests. The U.S. has, however, weakened its military over the past five years in Iraq and will need time to rebuild it. The problem is compounded by Obama’s antipathy to the military.
Finally, there is the problem that Secretary Clinton will be obliged to carry out Obama’s view of the world and his foreign policies. They are naïve at best, dangerous at worst.
Will foreign governments take Secretary Clinton seriously? She had minimal control over Bill when he was President and he was a dilettante when it came to foreign affairs. She has never run a huge bureaucracy like the State Department and she arrives in the office with no experience as a diplomat.
History is filled with improbable events. The election of Barack Obama, the first black President, is surely one of them. What follows is anyone’s guess.