Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lieberman and Hillary

While I wanted the Democrats to kick Lieberman out of his homeland security chair--for reasons relating to the potential malignant influence he would have on the Obama administration, not on the basis of "revenge"--Ezra Klein makes some good points about yesterday's vote:

Obama is counting votes, not prosecuting grudges. Lieberman's slingshot into the furthest reaches of the far right was always a sadly transparent reaction to his rejection by the left. Human beings do not enjoy criticism. They gravitate towards affirmation. If he can be flipped yet again, that's a far better outcome from the perspective of passing major pieces of legislation, even if it's not the most "just" outcome from a party perspective.

Regarding the potential for Hillary landing at State, Thomas Friedman provides some caution:

The important question, the answer of which is not at all clear to me, is about the only relationship that matters for a secretary of state — the kind of relationship he or she would have with the new president. My question: Is Obama considering Mrs. Clinton for this job in order to get her off his back or as a prelude to protecting her back?


That backing is the most important requirement for a secretary of state to be effective. Frankly, Obama could appoint his dear mother-in-law as secretary of state, and if he let the world know she was his envoy, she would be more effective than any ex-ambassador who had no relationship with the president.


Foreign leaders can spot daylight between a president and a secretary of state from 1,000 miles away. They know when they’re talking to the secretary of state alone and when they are talking through the secretary of state to the president. And when they think they are talking to the president, they sit up straight; and when they think they are talking only to the secretary of state, they slouch in their chairs. When they think they are talking to the president’s “special envoy,” they doze off in midconversation.

“It takes America’s friends and adversaries about five minutes to figure out who really speaks for the White House and who doesn’t,” wrote Aaron D. Miller, a former State Department Middle East adviser and the author of “The Much Too Promised Land.” “If a secretary of state falls into the latter category, he or she will have little chance of doing effective diplomacy on a big issue. More likely, they’ll be played like a finely tuned violin or simply taken for granted.”


My question is whether a President Obama and a Secretary of State Clinton, given all that has gone down between them and their staffs, can have that kind of relationship, particularly with Mrs. Clinton always thinking four to eight years ahead, and the possibility that she may run again for the presidency. I just don’t know.

Every word that is said between them in public, and every leak, will be scrutinized for what it means politically and whether there is daylight. That is not a reason not to appoint Mrs. Clinton. But it is a reason for everyone around the president-elect to take a deep breath and ask whether they are prepared to have the kind of air-tight relationship with Mrs. Clinton that is required for effective diplomacy.

When it comes to appointing a secretary of state, you do not want a team of rivals.

This seems like a potentially critical issue to me. But as with Obama's intervention on behalf of Lieberman, I'm inclined to give Obama the benefit of the doubt.