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Break-Up to Make-Up

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton probably never imagined how their tale would play. As competitors for the highest office in the land (in a historic year no less), they pulled no punches in criticizing each other. As recently as this week, Clinton’s Secretary of State appointment was in serious doubt as the Obama legal team worked quickly to investigate the Clinton Global Initiative and its ties to foreign funding. 

Of course there was that whole primary thing in which Hillary questioned Barack Obama’s patriotism by way of his absent flag pin, and Barack Obama associated Clinton with the Iraq War vote she cast as a junior Senator. All the mud-slinging and unfriendly exchanges notwithstanding, the rivals probably increased their wherewithal and respect for the other during their contest. Even as President Bill Clinton hesitated to confer the ultimate respect on Barack Obama (acknowledging his qualifications), the Obama strategists moved to involve Hillary Clinton in some aspect of his incoming administration. 

The final verdict? Hillary Clinton will hold one of the highest Cabinet positions as Secretary of State, daring to create a new peace accord in the Middle East, and to sanction terrorist states on the international fringe. The State and Justice departments were in severe disarray under President George W. Bush, and the intelligence organizations like the FBI and CIA felt like outsiders in the security discussion. By employing a key negotiator in Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama will do much to mend the fences between those institutions. And more importantly, Senator Clinton has never been a pushover. World leaders will have to take her seriously or face dire consequences.

What Reporters Are Saying

From Politico

“One of the things that people often make a mistake in doing is assuming that there’s some sort of personal animosity there, when in fact they were engaged in a very intense competition for the nomination,” said Phil Singer, who was a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign. “They both have a very healthy level of respect for one another.”

From NYTimes:  


If Mr. Obama and his team can bring about that kind of shift, it could mark one of the most significant changes in national security strategy in decades and greatly enhance the powers of Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state.

Mrs. Clinton may find, as her predecessor Condoleezza Rice and others in the Bush administration discovered, that building up civilian capacity is easier to advocate than execute.


Reasons why Hillary is a great choice from The Daily Beast


1) Hillary’s Experienced. She may not be the foreign policy wonk like Richard Holbrooke or James Steinberg, but all those years as First Lady—many of them on the road—have given her considerable exposure to foreign leaders. That’s important because Obama himself won’t be able to devote as much attention to foreign policy as everyone assumed six months ago. Until the economy recovers (and who knows when that will be), he’s going to be primarily a domestic policy president. That means he needs foreign policy advisors who can make tough decisions without a lot of Oval Office hand-holding. Hillary fits the bill.

2) She’s No Pushover. Secretary of state is a hard job. In the last half-century, secretaries of state have often been outmaneuvered by national security advisors, who have greater proximity to the boss, and don’t have a big, slow bureaucracy to manage. Now that vice presidents have started to wield real power, life atop Foggy Bottom has gotten harder still. Hillary will have her hands full going up against James Jones, Robert Gates and Joseph Biden, but she’s got a far better chance than, say, John Kerry or Bill Richardson, for two reasons. First, she’s got star power: Other than Obama himself, she’ll be the most famous person in every room she’s in. Second, she has a network of loyalists, inside and outside government, who know how the game is played. She—and they—won’t be easy to roll.

3) She has a domestic base. When it comes to foreign policy, Obama seems determined to do some pretty controversial things: Step up withdrawals from Iraq, launch a diplomatic push with Iran, perhaps shift resources from America’s military to the diplomatic corps. All these things will require a secretary of state who knows how to sell policies in Peoria, and on Capitol Hill. That’s one of Hillary’s big advantages. She thinks like a politician, not a career diplomat, which is crucial since Obama’s Middle East policies will likely require a kind of political campaign at home, so the right can’t successfully paint him as soft on America’s foes.

And the surprise endorsement that no one saw coming. Conservative bigot radio host Rush Limbaugh has called President-elect Obama’s choice of Hillary “a brilliant stroke“:

Says Limbaugh: “You know the old phrase, ‘You keep your friends close and your enemies closer?’ How can she run for president in 2012? She’d have to run against the incumbent and be critical of him _ the one who made her secretary of state.”

Despite the potential friction that remains in this relationship, Barack Obama seems willing to divert their sense of competition into the mechanics of a working relationship. Although this is a risky strategy, it is certainly broad-minded as the U.S. looks to improve its standing in the world and fix a flailing economy.